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Why can't downhill horses do dressage?

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  • Why can't downhill horses do dressage?

    Silly question incoming! There's a woman at my barn who does dressage on a massive TB gelding, She's a brilliant rider! I was talking to her the other day because I'm starting to transition from western to English riding and she's a great help when the trainers not around. She said that if I was to try and do dressage on a stocky downhill QH it would be a disaster. I'm not sure if she was referring to performance, lameness or both. I don't doubt her knowledge. But I'm wondering exactly why these horses struggle to perform dressage. Is it because they find it harder to transfer weight to the hind end? Could a downhill horse ride lower levels if they're not downhill to a severe degree?

  • #2
    It depends what you mean by dressage, and what you mean by downhill.

    All horses can benefit from basic dressage training, including lateral work and balance/straightness.

    Not all horses have the gaits, posture, or aptitude to be competitive in a dressage competition. However you could probably take any good minded well broke horse around at Training or even First Level at a schooling show and not be entirely embarrassed.

    No basically sound, correctly ridden, horse will break down in Training or First Level. That said, I have watched low level pros and ammies destroy very nice horses, purpose bred dressage warmbloods, without getting out of Training Level, because they ride them in ways that blow out the suspensory tendons.

    Also, what kind of downhill are we talking about? There are quarter horses out there that are downhill in conformation but are great performance horses in western disciplines that require a lot of collection and sitting, like reining and cow work. Then there are fugly downhill horses with no real athletic ability at all.

    Also how are you defining downhill? There are different ways to quantify "downhill," if the bum is higher than the wither or the elbow is much lower than the stifle, and importantly how far down the shoulder the neck enters the body. It doesn't refer to how the horse habitually carries his head.

    A downhill horse can absolutely be helped to develop himself by slow, correct, dressage training, including doing walk lateral work in hand and under saddle to help him use his hind end under him more (indeed, western trainers do versions of this maybe with less precision than dressage riders). You will want to work on him track up more with his hind legs, and stretching over the back, and shifting his weight backwards when he halts.

    Many QH can do all this just fine, better than for instance a downhill OTTB that is a gangly fast runner.

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    • #3
      ALL horses can do dressage and correct dressage can improve every horse.

      It is my understanding that it may be physically more difficult for a downhill horse to truly "sit" and push from behind to lighten the front end. However, it really depends on how far you'd want to go. If you're happy at the lower levels (like me!), then it's probably not a big deal as if you wanted to go Grand Prix eventually.

      That being said, check out Janet Foy's book Dressage for the Not So Perfect Horse. It's on my book list, but many of my friends have found it immensely helpful.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hogwash! With every horse you have to be careful to correctly develop the horse, and with a downhill horse you must ensure you are correct, not stressing the legs, etc. We have a local horse referred to as a western pleasure reject by his owner who is very downhill in build, but working toward his Prix St Georges debut. I always advise buying the best conformed horse possible, but once you have the horse, limits are more typically caused by (lack of) rider skill and patience rather than equine ability.

        I'm attaching two photos of.my mare whose hind legs never seemed to stop growing, despite neither parent being downhill. We've worked slowly and correctly to develop sit behind and lift through the withers. She also came with a heck of a piaffe from birth, and we use that to teach her the sit we want in other gaits.
        If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.
        -meupatdoes

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        • #5
          On your way make sure to ask small steps because for horses with limits in their conformation it is harder to keep the collection. There are books available that are exactly about how to individually work horses with limits in conformation. Most of all: enjoy your horse and support your horse when changing from western to dressage. Work with patience, stay fair, believe in you and your horse and go for a trainer that does the same.
          Maybe what he says is a motivation for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsTCb0Aswbk

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          • #6
            Trick question.

            Downhill horses can do dressage. Any horse can - but physical build can either help or hinder (and in some cases if the conformation is more extreme it can hinder upper level aspirations - though not in every case as a willing horse with a good rider can overcome many challenges).

            ultimately the downhill horse can face challenges relating to that which requires them to rebalance. Many of the conventionally downhill horses have a harder time sitting and taking weight behind (which frees up the shoulder and changes the balance in the way of going). That isn’t to say these things are impossible. They can be taught to lift the shoulder and sit and take weight behind (which enables greater push from behind, freedom in the shoulder, collection, etc). It just takes time and building of the horse’s strength and understanding. (And this is the same even with horses who have more of a natural tendency to sit, push, and reach from behind/lift through the shoulder&withers - they need to be permitted to build strength and understanding of what the rider asks, but for these horses it may often be easier because they aren’t having to work against their physical build.)

            not every horse has perfect conformation. Even at the very top levels of sport you will see horses with less than optimal body structure competing well - rideability, patience, and rider ability will really factor in. At the end of the day though, and especially at the lower levels where most of we AAs reside in, a downhill horse is not a dealbreaker and in no way “cannot do” dressage.

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            • #7
              I am riding a QH in his 20's who is REALLY croup high, and his neck is set on very low, and has an extremely thick upper neck, side to side.

              He is also the only horse I have ever ridden that has actually shown interest when I tried to introduce basic "fine riding" exercises. He tends to be super sullen, but instead of glowering down he actually perks up a little bit while he figures stuff out.

              I school him a decent amount at the "counted walk" (a super slow 4-beat walk.) The last time I did it my riding teacher told me he was starting to collect behind. When she rode him I saw that he brought his hind hooves forward, more under his body, when he halted. Usually his hind legs sort of lag behind.

              He usually "asks" me to go into half-seat when he is trying to figure something out, that gives his weaker back room to come up under the saddle. When I sit in full seat including my seat bones he just can't seem to figure everything out, and he seems to get a little frustrated because his body is not free enough so he can find the best way to move his legs and body to give me what I ask for.

              Give your horse a chance. He might actually surprise you and everyone else.

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              • #8
                OP, I think the difference between the jobs that quarter horses were selectively bred to do and what dressage horses have been bred to do** has to do with *holding* an uphill posture throughout movements and over time versus the quick "pick up your front end and turn it hard to keep facing a cow." That cutting horse move requires a great deal of core strength and lift, and that horse certainly is taking weight on his hind quarters. But he's not staying there very long.

                I agree with the people who are "keeping the faith" that correct riding which really means correct muscle-building will produce a horse who might surprise you with what he can accomplish. I think more horses can move up the levels than we think.

                ** I do think that the selective breeding that produced the present day "specialist" quarter horses of the reining pens, the cutting pens, halter horses, hunt seat horses has been more intense, more focused in these "silos" and longer than has the same kind of selective breeding that produced the dressage horses that most amateur Americans today are riding.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat

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                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Well these gave me hope, I don't think the horse I ride is necessarily downhill. But he also doesn't have great confo. When I leased him I didn't have intentions of doing anything but flatwork and trails. Nobody has never mentioned anything to me but I've never asked...doesn't he appear to have a wickedly steep croup, or am I just used to super muscled up quarter horses? Is there anything about his confo that screams weakness? I know a lot of people say not to worry cause it's just a lease but It's still good to know what the horse may struggle with. And I may eventually buy him once I become more experienced. (Don't mind the halter, it was loose).

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Pinto.powerhouse View Post
                    Well these gave me hope, I don't think the horse I ride is necessarily downhill. But he also doesn't have great confo. When I leased him I didn't have intentions of doing anything but flatwork and trails. Nobody has never mentioned anything to me but I've never asked...doesn't he appear to have a wickedly steep croup, or am I just used to super muscled up quarter horses? Is there anything about his confo that screams weakness? I know a lot of people say not to worry cause it's just a lease but It's still good to know what the horse may struggle with. And I may eventually buy him once I become more experienced. (Don't mind the halter, it was loose).
                    He does have a steep croup.

                    You seem to make this statement as a negative. A lot of people I know like and look for the long sloping croup and low-set tail as a conformation that allows the horse to close the hip angle and tuck it's butt.

                    I see nothing negative in his conformation. His neck comes straight out of the withers. He doesn't have any muscle or condition, but there is no "dip" in front of the point of the wither. The horse in the picture seems to have a relatively high-set neck in spite of his lack of condition.

                    I rode with an old cavalry colonel who said "dressage does not start until PSG." His point was that everything below FEI is basic training of the horse. If you have ever seen the George Morris Horsemastership Clinics on USEF TV his flatwork includes a lot of the elements of 4th level dressage.

                    Every horse can do up to 4th level......the limits to horse's progression are only the limits of the horse's rider.
                    Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
                    Alfred A. Montapert

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Blah... don't let "brilliant rider" get you down.

                      Your horse looks lovely, and plenty of non-typical breeds have gone on to do MUCH more than anticipated, given the right program and training. As others have said, dressage is merely "training" -- balance, stepping under, carrying weight in the hind end, lateral work -- all things that transfer to other disciplines or carry on through GP dressage.

                      Will your guy go out and give a purpose-bred Warmblood/PRE a run for his money at Grand Prix? Probably not. But that's OK and who cares?

                      Another thing not mentioned yet, at least that I've not seen, besides "conformation" is the just as important trait (if not more so) --- "trainability" and willingness to work. A forgiving attitude, some try, and enthusiasm for the work can overcome a purpose-bred horse who doesn't want to work any day of the week. Remember, Rhythm, Relaxation and Connection are the building blocks on the training scale, and you don't need to be fancy to achieve those!

                      Don't underestimate your guy. Google QH in dressage, Haflingers in Dressage, Cobs in Dressage, OTTB in Dressage.... you'll find many 4th++ level horses to emulate.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        He has a weak loin tie-in. Are you planning on riding 4th level? That looks to be difficult.

                        I think any horse can do up to second level. Upper second level starts to separate horses based on ability. It's not fair to ask a horse who can't really "sit" to "sit". Sitting is required at second or third.
                        Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation

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                        • #13
                          Would I buy the pictured palomino as an upper level dressage prospect?...no

                          Would I ride the pictured palomino, and expect that with good riding he'd progress a good ways in dressage?...yes

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                          • #14
                            Don't write your horse off yet! I know a horse who is moving thru 3rd level with elbows way below hocks. I knew another horse who was short with a long back and sickle hocks who made it to PSG. My horse has a steep croup and is butt high on a regular basis because, well, he's 4.
                            I've ridden physical talent with mental meltdown. I'll take a flaw or two with a good attitude and try.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I know several upper level QHs with less dressage-favorable conformation than yours. It's more about his brain and your own ability as a rider.

                              Also, someone mentioned "purpose-bred" P.R.E. Yes some are being bred for dressage now but let's not forget that the PRE/lusitano is basically the Iberian version of a cowhorse.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Shiaway View Post
                                I know several upper level QHs with less dressage-favorable conformation than yours. It's more about his brain and your own ability as a rider.

                                Also, someone mentioned "purpose-bred" P.R.E. Yes some are being bred for dressage now but let's not forget that the PRE/lusitano is basically the Iberian version of a cowhorse.
                                Well, more specifically a bull fighting horse. What I love about them is that you get all the cattiness of a good QH plus uphill build and dressage ability. Less pure speed than a QH though.

                                OP I would not call your horse a stocky downhill QH. I was expecting something very different. He should have no trouble up to First or Second level, if he enjoys the work.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I think of dressage like yoga... anyone can do it, but it will come easier to some than others. But all will benefit from it, and with the right attitude, will also enjoy.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by Shiaway View Post
                                    I know several upper level QHs with less dressage-favorable conformation than yours. It's more about his brain and your own ability as a rider.

                                    Also, someone mentioned "purpose-bred" P.R.E. Yes some are being bred for dressage now but let's not forget that the PRE/lusitano is basically the Iberian version of a cowhorse.
                                    Iberian horses were more of a bull fighting horse or in some cases a war horse used for combat where they had to be agile. Some argue that dressage stems from the maneuvers that had to be used by a battle horse. Therefor the Iberians have this knack for collected movements, and having good sit. They've always been bred for dressage in some sense if you look at it that way. They've been bred to sit, collect, and have powerful controlled movement. Some are used as stock horses but you just don't see as many built like a traditional QH, that isn't the aim of the breeds. They have different requirements. Iberian horses were bred to be more sensitive and reactive (while still being sensible as these were horses often used as royal gifts).



                                    I'd try dressage with any horse though as I think that some basic dressage can benefit any horse. You don't know how far the horse will go until you try. You can attempt to make a reasonable assessment based off of conformation, but I had a WB with good dressage breeding and conformation that was very difficult and did not make a good dressage horse. It just wasn't his thing. He rather jump. It would have been a fight to get him past the basics.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Dear Original poster,

                                      Meet 'Toolman' the quarter horse, in levade. He is a school master at a local classical barn, and I've ridden him from time to time to brush up on my position and aids. Toolman, for a QH, is wither high and his neck comes very nicely out of his shoulder. He has all the GP work, piaffe, passage and pirouette, tempis, and Spanish walk. He has great aptitude for the work, combined with the QH intelligence and work ethic. I own a warmblood, and ok its a different feel, not the massive, 'time in the air' - floatiness of your wbs, but this little chap is the cat's pyjamas!

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by doctordarling View Post
                                        Dear Original poster,

                                        Meet 'Toolman' the quarter horse, in levade. He is a school master at a local classical barn, and I've ridden him from time to time to brush up on my position and aids. Toolman, for a QH, is wither high and his neck comes very nicely out of his shoulder. He has all the GP work, piaffe, passage and pirouette, tempis, and Spanish walk. He has great aptitude for the work, combined with the QH intelligence and work ethic. I own a warmblood, and ok its a different feel, not the massive, 'time in the air' - floatiness of your wbs, but this little chap is the cat's pyjamas!
                                        He looks sweet, however the photo doesn't show anything of his talent under saddle and is at an angle that makes it difficult to see his conformation and what he is actually doing.

                                        It would be nice to see pictures of him under saddle. Has he been shown at the Grand Prix level?

                                        Photos of him doing his Grand Prix work, even if ridden by a student, would be very helpful, to show his conformation and his ability to perform the movements.

                                        Comment

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