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What traits do you look for in an "off" breed dressage horse?

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  • What traits do you look for in an "off" breed dressage horse?

    Just like the title says, what traits do you find indicate that a non-purpose bred horse has what it takes to get to PSG soundly and moderately successfully?

    What are some training wants and absolutely NOs that you look for when shopping for a prospect that may not be in dressage training currently? For example I tend to turn away from the ones that are ridden with a low super busy hand resulting in a busy mouthed afraid of contact equine...but maybe that isn't so hard to undo?
    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

  • #2
    GAITS!!! I want my dressage prospects to all have 3 pure, true, honest-to-God solid gaits that no one has screwed up. Because those are hard as heck to fix once someone has messed with them (no weird WP lope thing, or the OTSTB lateral canter that some of the ex-pacers do, or the prancy walk-jig crap ).

    Watch them w/t/c. The gaits don't have to be super-flashy, but they should at the very least be correct.

    And I want a horse that has a nice temperament and is a pleasure to work with/ride. I don't care HOW talented they are- if I fear for my life every time I get on, it's not worth it.


    • #3
      I have an "off breed" - a mustang. Granted, my goals are not so lofty as PSG so I can't comment to getting to that level, but if you do want to go there, I would agree that three good gaits are necessary.

      I always look at temperament, trainability, soundness - but since I'm an ammy, temperament is always my number one consideration. I want a willing attitude, a smart horse who thinks and learns well, a horse who wants to get along, and a horse who will put up with my ammy mistakes and not punish me. To agree with oharabear, I want something I feel safe on.

      Conformation is important, but there are no perfect horses so as long as it doesn't have glaring flaws that would impact potential soundness or ability I don't nitpick.

      And feet. I want good feet!
      "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


      • #4
        How much training does this hypothetical horse have? Can you ride it before purchasing it? It is easier to make a judgment call like this on a horse at 3rd level than a horse just off the track.

        I'll assume that the horse has never had any type of dressage training:

        I think great natural rhythm is key. I also keep away from horses that are croup-high or have a neck that ties in low on the shoulders. Those with very upright pasterns, goose rumps, and thick throat-latches seem to struggle as well. I like horses that are naturally more forward and enjoy working HARD. Keep in mind, however, that there are exceptions to every rule, and I have seen to pretty unimpressive looking specimens light up when put together under a saddle.

        As far as their previous training... what kind of a time frame for reaching PSG are you hoping for? If you want to get there "eventually," then there really aren't any training issues that I would specifically avoid... but it all depends on you. If you want to get there sooner rather than later, then I would avoid horses that are stiff due to years bad riding. By stiff I mean they have to counter bend around circles and in corners. I have had to retrain a lot of things, but this problem takes the longest for me to correct.

        Good Luck!


        • #5

          Needs to go barefoot. Good size feet with decent pasterns.

          THat may change later on but for starters.

          Short canons. Some wither with a decent neck tie in. Nothing even vaguely resembling a ewe neck. Doesn't need to be uphill altho desirable.

          Decent canter. I can fix a trot and a walk fairly easily. Fixing a canter is work. Must be strong and true.

          Good free shoulders. Too tight in the shoulders and over at the knee can be exhausting.

          No super base narrow horses. The way they twist on landing can trash their joints years earlier than they should.

          That is all I can think of at the moment.
          “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
          ? Albert Einstein


          • #6


            • #7
              1. Heart

              2. Pure gaits

              3. The desire to please

              4. Likes to canter (ie, trot isn't the preferred gait)

              5. A huge engine (hind end)

              6. Even if the conformation isn't uphill the movement is.

              I've taken an off breed, that defied the textbook conformation of purpose-bred for dressage, to PSG. Reasonably successful? Well winning his class against the others (all purposebred) with a score of 63 the first time out....um yeah, I'll take it. I'm getting ready to take another one there.....so far my list does me well
              Ranch of Last Resort


              • #8
                1. Mind

                I want something kind and sweet that my dead grandmother can ride, because while I *can* ride the difficult ones, I prefer them to be other people's horses. Everything I buy is a resale project (although one has morphed into a keep horse), and I have found that buying with the dead grandma in mind for resale means I also get really trainable, improvable horses.

                2. Three decent gaits.

                3. I don't care about bad training.
                Bad training can be undone by good training.
                Don't buy into the "make one mistake and it's ruined forEVAAAAAHHH" Dressage Terrorism that everyone loves to yammer, good training works wonders. And I speak as someone who HAS fixed up a Western Pleasure trained horse that came to me from doing 4H in the boonies, who also arrived with an extremely lateral canter (so he even failed item 2, but he had a lot of item 1). If THAT horse can become a cute little dressage horse, anything can.

                Just get on and ride it well and you'll surprise yourself what comes out.
                The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                • #9
                  Same things I would look for in a purpose-bred dressage horse, though I'm pickier about seeing how the parents performed if it is purpose-bred, as that gives me additional information not available with non-purpose bred.

                  I like to listen to a horse move. If I can hear it much, I'm not going to enjoy the ride like I would on a horse who lands more lightly, and if I'm buying for myself for dressage, that makes a difference. What do the hocks do in movement - come up forward or behind the horse? How about all four hooves? I have dealt with toe draggers, and I hate trying to fix that, and have limited success in improving a horse who just doesn't want to pick up its feet. True gaits. Uphill movement as mentioned - uphill build is nice, but movement is more important.

                  I like very long hips and very short backs. The type of backs which are short enough that difficulty with lateral work is typical of the conformation - I just ride those horses best, even if it has its own flaw. The neck not tying in too low in the chest is a big deal to me - I don't care as much if the neck is naturally very arched or not. Training and conditioning can fix that a lot, though a ewe neck would be a hard sell for me.

                  I want to see a horse who naturally reaches well under itself at the canter, who naturally swings at the walk. The trot doesn't bother me as much, which may be part of why I'm so willing to go off-breed if a horse feels right to me. I'm not nearly as impressed by a fancy trot as a great canter.

                  If I can ride a horse I'm looking at, I love to ask them to do something they don't quite understand. My horse tried multiple things until he figured out what I was asking, and once I told him he was good and stopped asking he gave me the response I wanted every time. I've only had one other horse who was as positively responsive and trainable in my test ride, many years ago - and unfortunately he didn't pass a vet check.

                  A horse needs to have a good overall balance and respectable conformation if you want to go PSG. That's something which applies to all breeds/registries/types, and doesn't change. While bone size and width of the barrel change, the correct angles, shorter cannons than upper legs, etc., are all conformation standards which always apply.
                  Originally posted by Silverbridge
                  If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.


                  • #10
                    What is an off breed? When looking for a dressage horse of ANY breed, I want three pure gaits with some natural scope and elasticity, trainability and sensibility, and decent conformation. For me, the horse's mind is the most important thing - I don't want to fight, I want a horse who is people oriented with a desire to please. This is important no matter what type of horse!


                    • #11
                      I'd say three GOOD gaits (not just pure) are necessary. A balanced walk, trot and canter. Legs that move on two tracks when you are in front of them and they are coming towards you. Over reach at the walk by six inches. A back that is neither too short nor too long. Good length of leg. A neck that is slightly higher (not super high and disconnected). A good, free shoulder that has possibility and a good flat knee when reaching/lengthening at the trot. A back side that is level at the croup (read no table top croups), nor one that is so sloped that it looks like a reining QH. Nothing that is bench kneed, camped under, camped over, etc.

                      And, of course, a great brain and personality.
                      "And I'm thinking you weren't burdened with an overabundance of schooling." - Capt Reynolds "Firefly"


                      • #12
                        The book "Selecting a Dressage Horse," although focused specifically on DWBs, has very good advice that can be extended to any breed of horse.
                        The aids are the legs, the hands, the weight of the rider, the whip, the caress, the voice and the use of extraneous circumstances. ~ General Decarpentry


                        • Original Poster

                          I do read a lot of information on functional conformation, in particular the books/articles that Judy Wardrope writes, but it seems I have difficulty with non-warmbloods (which is what she mostly writes about).

                          It seems that sometimes two conformational wrongs DO make a right, and a horse that I wouldn't expect to succeed at the higher levels does.

                          Yesterday I was at a little schooling show on Pony, and I was a tad suprised that the judge (and others) felt she could go up through the levels...sadly she is not mine, and as the Steward pointed out, I am too old to compete on a Pony at PSG at the recognized level...but it made me look at her in a new light. If this little Welsh x Qh shows the potential, then that opens up the market and increases the affordability factor.

                          Last year I was training a Friesian/Paint cross that was also remarked to have FEI potential; when being ridden I could feel it, but to see him standing in the field I wouldn't have guessed.

                          The tendancy to want to canter was an interesting thing to note. I will definately keep that in mind.

                          Thanks for the advice and comments. I would love to see conformation shots of any "off breeds" that did make it to PSG or higher!
                          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                          • #14
                            Same traits as in an "on" breed . Just because something was born a warmblood does not make it a dressage horse.
                            "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht


                            • #15
                              What an interesting question!

                              One assumes one can quantify one's answers.....

                              Trainable, trainable, trainable. Some horses are just allergic to leather. I don't care how super the gaits are, or the conformation, or whatever, if the horse has got to appear to be trainable. In a good situation the sire, dam and siblings are doing SOMETHING, and one can read about then. In an ideal situation, one can see them doing something, see how they respond to being asked to work.

                              Good disposition is another must. I don't care what else it has, if a horse doesn't have a good disposition you are screwed. You can't change disposition, and who wants to risk their life and limb, or deal with a pissy mare or a piggy gelding. A horse doesn't have to be my new BFF, but it needs to at least display a reasonable attitude about life in general, and being handled, groomed, tacked up, lunged, ridden.

                              Three good, pure gaits would help a lot.

                              Conformation that means the horse is built to stay sound, to move cleanly, to look uphill.

                              A desire to go forward.

                              A reasonable price and a pretty clean pre-sale vet check.

                              If I had the choice between two very equal horses, I'd pick the one raised with a lot of turnout, preferably in a herd situation.


                              • #16
                                Ditto to ILOR. It's the same for any horse. Here's my list:
                                1. Good mind--I want a horse that doesn't get frazzled at new things, a horse that can handle pressure and isn't apt to get frustrated. My new horse is extremely even tempered, even as a 4 year old. This is making the process so simple and fun! He has energy, but an inner zen and confidence. So, the mind. Confidence+willingness+kindness+drive.
                                2. The walk. Overstride, overstride, overstride. I want to see the horse AT LEAST track up in a lazy walk, and overtrack if he is at all moving. Non-negotiable to me. The walk is SUCH a predictor of dressage ability. I always want to see suppleness, a nice march in the walk, and freedom in the shoulders.
                                3. The trot. Just want to see something light and easy to watch. SO much can be changed here.
                                4. The canter should be pure and in good rhythm. I watch the horse carefully in corners at liberty. If he balances himself, great. If he leans and trips all over himself, not so great. Mainly, I want to see three clear beats with a moment of suspension between strides.
                                5. General confo: I don't like long horses that are hard to put together, so I go for the short coupled ones with big engines. I particularly look for the loin connection--where the back meets the hind end. This should be strong and filled in. I do not want to see a dip, or a hind end that rises up higher than the loin. I want to see a real smooth line. Overall, I like a compact, smooth rounded look. I also look for a nice length of neck that comes uphill from the whithers and doesn't tie in low. Watch up for a too-high neck set though--these horses look fancy but can be tight in the back and hard to get beyond a false frame. A little length and angle to the pasterns isn't a bad thing, as it creates suspension. Too short/upright pasterns should be avoided.

                                My horse was a young 3 year old when I got him and his gaits were goofy. But, he had a great mind, great topline, good canter, and a nice walk. So I got him and couldn't be more pleased/amazed. That nice walk translated into a lovely trot as he's grown up, and the good mind is making it all so fun. He is powerful, round, and supple and full of zeal for the job. So my list worked for me, but YMMV.
                                2007 Welsh Cob C X TB GG Eragon
                                Our training journal.
                                1989-2008 French TB Shamus Fancy
                                I owned him for fifteen years, but he was his own horse.


                                • #17
                                  Based on the OP, I would look for:

                                  1. Rideability and trainability. The horse chooses to make good decisions and works for the rider. A horse who enjoys work. This is is a MUST for me.

                                  2. Temperament. A bit of a spark is better than a dull horse for me. Not nuts, not super sensitive, NOT a horse who makes bad decisions, but a horse with some spark. This is a horse who wants to go forward and react quick off the aids (or has the potential to when it gets more fit).

                                  3. 3 good gaits. I would not need a natural overstep at the walk. As long as the gait is pure, increased stride comes from increasing strength and range and balance dressage work). A good trot and decent canter are good. Personally, I enjoy a lofty trot and prefer a horse who is loftier rather than flatter (why? because I *like* to ride it and I want to ride horses I *like* to ride). All gaits will develop to some degree with good training, and "fab gaits" are not necessary for PSG. Balanced, uphill movementt, an ability to sit, an ability to thrust and move forward off the hind end are necessary.

                                  4. Uphill way of moving, not significant downhill build.

                                  5. Good feet, good joints, a natural ability to sit some.

                                  6. This said, I don't believe in finding the perfect horse at "first blush". Some horses with a 'tude had bad riding and come around nicely with good experiences. Some horses with minor structural issues do just fine to FEI while others do not. It can be hard to tell, and if you're wondering about an "off breed" then I'm thinking that you have budget restrictions. There are many capable non-WBs out there. I think well-fitting tack and good training/instruction are just as important as natural talent.

                                  Good luck!
                                  Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


                                  • #18
                                    I don't look for anything different than you want in any dressage prospect. I look for the correct conformation, and movement, as judged in sport horse classes. It is a standard you are looking for- which ends up translating to ideals that can be found in a horse of any breed.

                                    Why reinvent the wheel? You aren't going to be competitive with a horse who doesn't have the essential pieces and parts.

                                    And temperament? Also judged in the sport horse classes. You'll find that exception, occasionally, but for the most part, the standards work.
                                    When someone shows you who they are, BELIEVE them- Maya Angelou


                                    • #19
                                      Why oh why can I never keep my posts brief?

                                      Hmm, I would look for the same things I look for in an "on" breed, haha.

                                      Some things I look for in any horse for any discipline:

                                      1) Head. I am a head person, no way around it. So many people say "you can't ride a head," but I've found that when I like a head, I usually like the brains in it and I'll forgive some other flaws in favor of a pretty head. Some call it fiction, but I've found it to hold true for me. If I don't like the head, the rest is going to be a hard sell. That being said, there are a lot of different heads I can like = ) My current horse does not have a typey head by any means, but it is nice and clean and has no glaring flaws and houses a very nice brain, haha.

                                      Deal breakers on a head: weird knots or lumps, but I have found plenty of roman heads I've enjoyed = ) I like a nice straight profile best, and probably prefer a little roman to too much dish. Small eyes, eyes with an odd set to them, or eyes that just don't have a good look about them - hard sell for me. Though it's lovely the kind of changes you can see in a horse's eyes with good training. I'm also a little picky about ears - I don't want too dull or floppy and I like a nice shape to them. "Mare" ears are fine, but I like them to have a relatively alert look about them when appropriate. But I also don't want them too pricked or alert - fine for saddle seat, less good for a dressage horse = )

                                      Okay, enough about heads...

                                      2) I just like an overall well balanced horse. Some conformation flaws seem to balance others out, so no major specifics. I find I like a slightly short backed horse to a longer back for dressage, but there are other conformation points that can balance that. I usually prefer a horse in the 15.3 - 16.2 range (or shorter if I weren't a little too tall for them) because they're often more proportioned to my liking. I prefer compact to rangey generally.

                                      3) A good motor is non negotiable.

                                      4) Feet - I grew up with arabs and then saddlebreds, and I noticed such a difference between the two as far as feet. So many arabs came in with borderline club feet, crazy dishes, or other weird flaws (I blame this on halter breeding...), and it's very true that if you have no feet - you have no horse. Life's just too short for the bad feet headache...

                                      5) Perhaps because of my saddle seat background, I'm a little more particular on necks than some. I would prefer an overly upright to a too low, and I like an uphill look in general. A natural arch isn't necessary (workable with training), but it's nice to see. Too long looks very odd in the dressage ring, but I also dislike the look of a short neck - the horse always looks cramped - so proportion is important.

                                      6) Gaits - I love a big stalking walk, but I've seen nice horses who don't have it. Still, it's pretty hard to improve a walk much, and you will be forever losing points there if you can't get a nice overstride. An overly lateral walk is definitely a deal breaker for me. Trot - this can be improved, but I like to see a nice light trot (a little "dance-y" even) with shoulder freedom and good push from behind. Canter - a horse who has a good canter just puts you ahead of the game. A tough canter is a challenge, so I like to see nice natural balance and clarity of gait to begin with.

                                      7) Attitude: I like my horses a little on the hot and sensitive side. I even enjoy a moody mare from time to time, but I adore my dependable gelding. My perfect type here: most saddlebreds, haha.

                                      That was long... As always, there are individuals out there who are conformation wrecks and do well and vice versa, but these are things I tend to look for to start. Head (and personality/trainability), a balanced look, and nice gaits are most important to me.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Velvet View Post
                                        IOver reach at the walk by six inches.
                                        Well that just seems a bit silly, shouldn't it depend on the actual horse? Six inches is reasonable for a 17hh horse, but my Connemara would look ridiculous (and probably fall down) if she was overtracking six inches.
                                        On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog