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  1. #1
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    Jul. 20, 2004
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    Question Which disciplines are the easiest to transition to dressage? What are the hardest?

    Just out of curiosity. I'm not shopping for a horse right now, but just info to file away for the future.

    Aside from the obvious answers (like eventing), what disciplines do you think make the easiest transition to dressage?

    Which seem to result in the hardest work to make the switch?

    I recognize that training differences with disciplines and the actual horse will affect this greatly, but just hoping to open up some dialogue and get some interesting info/perspectives.

    I'm specifically interested in arabian disciplines, as there are several arabian show barns in my area. I've always wondered how a country english pleasure or arabian hunter would transition to dressage. How about saddlebreds or reining horses? Have you found your dressage horse in an unorthodox place?



  2. #2
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    I'm not positive a specific discipline will really make a lot of difference. There are tendencies, but horses with good training can do it regardless, then you want to look for conformation.


    Just looking at Arabians, a typical Country English horse is going to have trouble stretching forward and down. While the higher neck set itself isn't a problem, it takes more correct body usage to do it. The leg movement means the horse is likely to have a lot of tension, too - another problem you'll have to fix. However, the best Country English horses also really push from behind and use their hind end (it's amazing to see the difference in the horses who win and don't - check out the sit some of them have!), so you're ahead of the game there.

    An Arabian hunter is more likely to have a long stride and an ability to reach forward, even if it's being asked to move more upward while showing. The lesser bits and quieter demeanor would appeal to me at that point.


    I would rather have a western pleasure or reining Arabian who can move forward, has a nice length of stride, and can work nicely in a snaffle. Again, as a generalization, with training being hugely important. Arabian western pleasure is slow, but it is usually NOT on the forehand. You can really tell how a horse is going to use itself when it goes, too. Arabians naturally bend their hind legs more than many other horses in breed shows, so you can tell - do the hocks come up behind the horse, or up under the horse? Regardless of discipline, that's the most important thing to me with a fairly typical Arabian, as they are typically light on their feet, typically pretty balanced, typically able to move forward nicely, etc.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed



  3. #3
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    I know two people in the area who have transitioned their reining horses to dressage horses...I think I would choose reining for the answer to your question.



  4. #4
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    Dec. 4, 2005
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    "EASIEST"
    Besides the english events of jumping/eventing, etc....I would also say reining IF the horse wasn't built reallllly downhill. Also endurance/trail riding (my personal favorite crossover).


    "HARDEST"
    QH western pleasure/ Hunt hores also known as "Winglish (english tack on WP horses)"-gaits are not pure, horse is punished for taking contact, etc etc I've seen it done/ridden these horses though, many have a great work ethic. However, its a complete re-training of the mind and reaction to the aids.



  5. #5
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    I think english pleasure and park horses would be difficult to transition. They've got the forward, but they're used to lifting their head with contact, and it seems to me that it would be hard to re-train that. Also might be quite difficult to get them to relax, depending on how they were trained.

    On the other hand, you might do well with a horse that was started in those disciplines and found to be a "failure". Maybe they had the get up and go but not the action or the head set. I say failure in quotes because that would be from the other discipline's point of view. This would be true for both Arabs and Saddlebreds.

    I have a horse that would have been a "failure" at saddle seat and western but is a darn nice dressage horse. I would think that it is much easier to make the switch if you get them while they're young.

    Some folks on the Arabian forums have also reported luck with "culls" from halter programs as dressage horses. Getting the horse before it has been totally fried from halter training is critical.

    You will find some Arab breeders who purpose breed for sport horses now - I got an email blast from one of them today with horses for sale and I thought the horses looked great. Wonderful to see!



  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by oldernewbie View Post
    You will find some Arab breeders who purpose breed for sport horses now - I got an email blast from one of them today with horses for sale and I thought the horses looked great. Wonderful to see!
    *coughcough* Al Marah...
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed



  7. #7
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    Jul. 11, 2006
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    In the Arabian world, the disciplines that are mostly cross-entered with dressage are hunter and show hack. Probably the most difficult to retrain to dressage would be western. While many reining horses tend to be built down hill, they do not have to be. I saw a couple of Bask grandsons years ago that were wonderful reiners, and both of them had the conformation and the "go" needed for dressage. I would say that the biggest handicapp for a dressage rider taking a reining horse is that they cannot seem to stay out of the horse's mouth. Contact is not about pulling back on the reins, but instead, using the rider's seat/weight aids to achieve collection. Reining is all about the rider's weight aids if you want to be any good at it.

    As far as taking an Arabian who has been trained in English pleasure...it depends...on how the horse was trained for the "up" front end. You can take a dressage horse "up" for English if it is first and foremost a good moving horse. However, many of the English horses have been worked in bitting rigs with sidechecks to get a head set, and then you are talking about more of a problem.



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by netg View Post
    *coughcough* Al Marah...
    YUP! I have an al marah horse and they are WONDERFUL. Stick with the polish/CMK lines for dressage, though Muscat (Russian) arabs can be great. Harder to find though.



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by netg View Post
    *coughcough* Al Marah...
    Nope, Toskhara. Lots of Polish, really really nice.

    I'll probably get my Arab lovers card pulled, but AM horses are not my favorite. Now, mind you, this is based on seeing a few of them at Sport Horse Nationals only, but I like more dressage type movement and from what I saw, the horses have a flatter, hunter type movement. Just not my cup of tea. But I do admire Mrs T's emphasis on performance and type and pretty.

    Modern Arabian Horse had an interesting article recently about the best lines for sport horses. I'll go look for it and post the list if I can find it.

    My horse is a little of everything so no explanation for why he is good at dressage. Just goes to show, ya gotta look at the individual first.



  10. #10
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    I've always wanted to try a reining horse - it seems like it would be a blast. I can imagine that getting the contact could be difficult but the seat and leg aids would be there.

    I kind of thought the County English arabs might be easier than the hunters or western horses because a lot of the arabs I've seen in the latter disciplines do not have the poll at the highest point. Isn't it pretty difficult to fix that, once they are "broken" at the 2nd or 3rd vertebrae? I have no idea...just asking? The CEP horses do have high head carriage, but I'm learning that can be easier to fix than a horse with low head carriage!

    I hadn't even thought of endurance or trail.

    No mention of OTTBs yet - I expected someone to nominate them.

    I'm going with a friend to a paint barn open house this weekend. I always think it's interesting to see other trainers' techniques, habits and set-ups.



  11. #11
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    Reining, at least the training part. Very much a forward thinking sport focused on suppleness and submissiveness.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by oldernewbie View Post
    I think english pleasure and park horses would be difficult to transition. They've got the forward, but they're used to lifting their head with contact, and it seems to me that it would be hard to re-train that. Also might be quite difficult to get them to relax, depending on how they were trained.

    On the other hand, you might do well with a horse that was started in those disciplines and found to be a "failure". Maybe they had the get up and go but not the action or the head set. I say failure in quotes because that would be from the other discipline's point of view. This would be true for both Arabs and Saddlebreds.

    I have a horse that would have been a "failure" at saddle seat and western but is a darn nice dressage horse. I would think that it is much easier to make the switch if you get them while they're young.

    Some folks on the Arabian forums have also reported luck with "culls" from halter programs as dressage horses. Getting the horse before it has been totally fried from halter training is critical.

    You will find some Arab breeders who purpose breed for sport horses now - I got an email blast from one of them today with horses for sale and I thought the horses looked great. Wonderful to see!
    My ASB is a former park horse that was only shown one season as a two year old. He turned out to be too short (he's about 15.3hh, fine for me as I am 5'3") and too stocky to be competitive in the ASB world. Not to mention he doesn't have the hinged neck, as it is too short.

    I "rescued" him a month ago after him sitting for 3 years (In the stall! with the only occasional turn out in a small paddock) and he is coming along nicely. I have been working keeping his head low and on the bit and it is helping to develop his top line and is also learning to drive off of his back end more all the same. I think he is also finding it much more comfortable to hold his head down more like the classic dressage look. Turning him out in the pasture has also encouraged him to hold his head not so high because he grazes grass all day, which he hadn't done since he was a yearling. I think the ASB's shown in saddleseat just don't have the muscles really developed to hold their head lower because in training they are trained to hold their head up, and only develop those muscles.

    I am unsure if I will keep training him in dressage as I had intentions of him going in the jumper route, but he seems to like dressage so who knows. I definitely agree with your statement of former failure saddleseat ASB's making nice dressage horses. Since my boy is fairly young (5yr old) and was only shown one show season, I have hopes for him.

    I think the only issue here is the fact that 90% of ASB's have their tails cut whenever they're put in training. While I am trying not to generalize, every training facility that I've seen cuts EVERY TAIL in the barn! In turn, you see a significant number of ASB's with deformed tails from the whole process being done improperly, or the horse messing with his tail set so the ligaments don't grow back the way they should.

    My horse holds his tail so weird -- straight up and about three inches or so it falls down to the right. He has done this so much that when you feel his tail bone while being relaxed it almost feels like it is broken. His tail bone is "s" shaped. I will be working with a chiropractor to see if it is possible for this to be fixed....

    That being said, I think saddlebreds mentality are way too complex to go around and round a ring at the W/T/C, and get way too bored. They seem to find dressage work quite fun!
    "The bare necessities of life will come to you." -The Jungle Book



  13. #13
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    When I was last horse shopping I passed on an arabian because he had never been out of the barn. He lived in a stall 24/7, came out each day to be longed for 20 mins and then ridden for 30. That is such a huge leap from my rustic backyard setup that I just didn't want to take the risk. I'm sure he probably would have settled in, but I was looking for very low maintenance and I just didn't think he was it. But while I was there, I watched some of their other horses being worked and I just remember thinking, I wonder how that would look with a normal shoe job and a french link snaffle...

    I watched some video of reining at WEG and was struck by the lack of resistance in most of those horses. Now obviously I don't know what their training looks like behind the scenes, but they were fluid, obedient, responsive, supple. Obviously those guys are the top of the sport, but I just thought it was amazing the level of responsiveness they had achieved on those loopy reins.



  14. #14
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    Jan. 25, 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by meaty ogre View Post
    When I was last horse shopping I passed on an arabian because he had never been out of the barn. He lived in a stall 24/7, came out each day to be longed for 20 mins and then ridden for 30. That is such a huge leap from my rustic backyard setup that I just didn't want to take the risk.
    I once refused to sell one of my Arabians to a particular buyer because the mare would have gone from an environment with lots of turnout (24/7) to a show barn with almost no turnout. Plus the buyer wanted to turn the mare into a WP horse even though the mare is dressage trained and is a forward moving long strided horse. I eventually sold the mare to an open dressage/eventing rider who appreciated the value of the mare's "rustic" keeping on both her physiological and social well-being as well as her aptitude for dressage.

    FWIW, I do breed my Arabians specifically for sport ability (emphasis on dressage, but eventing and jumping are also given attention.)

    IME as a rider, I have seen (and ridden) a number of horses *really* struggle to adopt to dressage training after a saddle seat career. The tightness throughout their "frame" and the jazzed up manner of going that is central to saddle seat riding is extremely difficult to overcome. It CAN be done, but it takes a lot of tact and patience and a looong time.

    Reining horses are sometimes reluctant to accept any rein contact (as are many "pleasure" trained horses--WP, HP), but this is usually *much* easier to fix than the hyper-tight and "backed off the bit" carriage of saddle seat trained horses, IMHO.



  15. #15
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    Good to know. From someone without experience riding saddle seat trained horses, it doesn't always look like it would be a huge leap to dressage, but as usual, things are not always as they appear.

    When I was looking at the arab hunter, a kid's country english horse was being schooled and I really liked his attitude and way of going. Very tolerant of his rider, and what I thought was a really nice canter, though the trainer said that was his weakness. I was tempted to try him while I was there (had seen him for sale on the website).

    I tried to hide my shock but the hunter I was trying literally only saw the light of day when he was taken out for a senior photo shoot or when he was walked from the barn to be loaded on the trailer to head to a show. I've heard of hothouse flowers but had never seen it before to this extent. The horses all looked healthy and well cared for but I just kept thinking, don't they get rickets and scurvy from never getting any sunshine/vitamin D?!

    I will say that they had one of the most efficient systems I've ever seen as far as training and working horses, I guess out of necessity.



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