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Daughter switching to Dressage - please help

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  • Daughter switching to Dressage - please help

    My daughter has recently made the decision to pursue more of a dressage focus after riding hunters and eq for 8 years. So, that means that some shopping, unfortunately, is in order as she plans on doing some rated shows pretty soon. We love her new trainer and she is being very helpful with all of our questions but I do hate to bother her all the time.

    First and foremost is a decent quality used saddle and then the requisite show clothing. This is where I need some help. I know the sites to find good used CC saddles but most of these have limited dressage saddles listed. What are the good used saddle sites for dressage? I am definitely on a budget - like single mom budget - I'm cleaning out my garage and selling stuff to fund changeover kind of budget.... Family is helping and daughter works so she is helping out as well, but.... What are saddle brands to look for and which ones do we avoid? Any saddle will be tried with trainer, of course, but I don't want to waste our/her time either.

    Clothing will all be used or consignment, thankfully boots and helmet will make the switch nicely but she needs breeches and a coat. However, while I know that hunters/eq can be a little "brand aware" there are certain things that would make new people stand out as not knowing what they are doing - know what I mean? Please help us avoid this and tell me what (and what brands - ugh) to avoid while we are shopping.

    Thanks for your help and for reading the above dissertation. She is enjoying her new path immensely as is her mare.

  • #2
    Speaking as a semi-newbie to the dressage world, 99% of the riders and judges don't give a care about "brands". As long as you are clean and within the rules, you are good. Even at rated shows, I think it would be fine for her to wear here hunt coat as long as it is a conservative color (though even those are changing from black/navy to shades of brown and grey.) She can even show in her jumping saddle up to I *think* FEI level but you will definitely need to check the rule book on that. I know at least up to training and 1st level it would be "allowed".

    Breeches can be white, beige, or light grey (I show in a super-light grey -Romfh Dove Grey International breeches- as I cannot keep white clean to save my life).

    My overall suggestion would be to resist the urge to just run out an buy new (or new to you) stuff...especially a saddle. Take your time to research the different brands to find out what FITS your daughter and her horse. A good trainer and saddle fitter should be able to help with this. DO NOT get hung up on brand names (unless it's something like...X Brand has a more curvy tree that follows the horse's topline better than Y Brand that has a flatter tree and bridges)

    Dressage is all about the training of the horse...not a fashion contest
    The only thing the government needs to solve all of its problems is a Council of Common Sense.


    • #3
      Any white breeches that fit will do fine. You want something with enough heft to the fabric that it isn't completely see-through. Dressage coats typically have 4 metal-colored buttons and a single vent in back. That is by no means required though. Fit is most important. While dark colors are acceptable now, you will find that the vast majority are still navy or black. Piping on the collar, velvet collars, and lining are starting to pop up - but you will never be out of place in a solid navy or black coat that fits well. No one cares about brands.

      As to saddles, fit to horse and rider is incredibly important- more so than H/J because the rider spends so much time sitting down in the saddle. The shape of the horse's back will tell you where to start. Generally, there are saddles with curvy trees and saddles with flat trees.

      I'd start by asking trainer if you can put saddles from the tack room on the horse. Literally, one by one, put every saddle on the horse and see what looks like a good fit (no rocking front to back, no rocking side to side, even contact under the panels/no bridging). Write down a list of brands and start there.

      Good quality saddles that can be had relatively inexpensively used are Stubben, Passier, Kieffer, older County. That said, there is nothing wrong with a Wintec, Tecna or Thorowgood synthetic if it is the right shape for horse and daughter.


      • #4
        I agree on the recommendations for saddles and saddles fit. Get what fits both horse and rider well. You should still be able to find something within budget by hawking out all the sites - try as many as you can local to you, remember what works and keep an eye out all over the country for used.

        What I have done over the years to allow both my daughter and I to show dressage (plus I had a son active in competitive trail but fortunately the costs to keep him in style and in the saddle were less):

        1. I got a very nice barely used plain black "dressage coat" for $50 dollars at a consignment shop. It was vented and had the number of buttons like most dressage styles but buttons were plain jane. It fit her very well. So I went on line, found some really nice silver buttons with an equestrian theme and changed the buttons on the coat as well as added two to the back waist band which immediately made the coat fancier and more in line with the popular styles.

        2. Scoped the sales on all the websites as well as consignment shops for breeches and shirts. You will be amazed at what you can find under $20 that's new and decent quality in kid sizes (close outs mostly). If she is already wearing adult sizes you can still find really good bargains and as other have said brand really doesn't matter - conservative colors are always what will allow one to fit in regarding dressage.

        3. Boots - my child has shown in field boots without nary a negative comment for years. They are far more affordable then full on dressage dress boots which she went through 4 different pair from her start in dressage to full grown. She has also been given barely used pair of ariats (worn one time and didn't like) that no one was using - word of mouth is great. I know you said boots and helmet will make the switch over which is great. Hopefully unlike me your child waited to make the switch after the majority of her growth spurts
        Ranch of Last Resort


        • Original Poster

          Thank you both. Yes, one of things we are enjoying is that it is not a fashion contest and not about the new "it" brand. It is a refreshing change. Mare has a flatter back and CC saddles with the "banana" shape have never fit her well.

          Unfortunately, I would have had to replace her coat this year anyways.... still growing and growing and growing. That's another reason that all clothing is used, Ebay or consignment.

          What are good online used saddle sites for dressage?
          Last edited by MDPONYMOM; Apr. 9, 2013, 11:03 AM. Reason: Forgot something.... as always.


          • #6
            Many people work through a saddle fitter, which I would recommend. If you want to browse online first, I'd try:



            • #7
              Brands really aren't a big deal. If she already has light-colored breeches (cream, for instance) she can wear those. White is most common, but no need to rush out and buy them if she has some light-colored ones that will work. If you do go white, make sure the undergarments are appropriate. Guarantee the day she wears bright-colored underwear will be the day they waive jackets.

              Try to find a jacket in one of the newer washable fabrics. They're cooler, have more stretch, and you'll save yourself dry-cleaning bills down the road.


              • #8
                visit the USEF.org web site and read the dressage rules

                They are dressage 101

                The rules are very clear about turn out. Most of her Hunter/jumper kit will do fine

                field boots fine
                colored conservitive coat fine, most wear black or navy
                light color breeches, fine

                The frock coat, the white breeches the stock tie they can come later

                Almost everyone wears gloves, black are fine, white is more conventional.

                Double check the bit, smooth, conventional snaffles, no slow twists, no boots, except in warm up , no martingale

                square saddle pad is the convention, usually in white, perhaps a small bit of piping.

                The saddle is the most important thing.

                A proper dressage saddle well fitted to horse AND rider will be important for advancement. If it means skipping some shows, consider it a very important investment. You trainer should know a saddle fitter and most saddle fitters have a lead for used saddles.

                A good saddle fitter can evaluate your horse and your daughter and suggest the saddle type that would suit both. I would not try on line until you get a feel for what works. Ask the trainer if you can try different saddles in the barn so you can see how they fit your daughters body.

                An improper saddle will impeed progression. It is challenging to learn the correct seat , with the wrong saddle you will struggle to get the results you want.

                Dressage shows are a different beast from H/J there is far less "social pressure" on the turn out stuff.
                -- * > hoopoe
                Procrastinate NOW
                Introverted Since 1957


                • #9

                  If you are near Middleburg, the Middleburg Tack Exchange offers a wide variety of used dressage saddles. It requires some back-and-forth, but you can try them on your horse. The Tack Box (also in Middleburg) has consignment saddles. Both list their inventories on line.

                  Good luck!


                  • #10
                    Agree with everybody already said, especially the saddle. You will find that saddle will be your biggest pain in the rear for this whole transformation. I went through four dressage saddles before I found the one I love, and she probably will too... For the time being, I strongly suggest her to ride in her own hunt saddle to get a feel of dressage, and sit and ride in as many borrowed dressage saddles as she can (hopefully her trainer can help her with that) until she finds the one she is in love with. She needs to be in love with that saddle. Once she finds it, if your goal is budget friendly, try eBay (that will be where you can find bargains) and then of course the sites listed already. Her hunt saddle is perfectly fine at rated shows on lower levels. If you have the budget, a good saddle fitter is incredibly valuable to help her shortening this birthing pain.


                    • #11
                      Also since you're on a budget, brown saddles aren't really the popular thing in dressage (though appear to be making some sort of a comeback), but can often be had significantly cheaper used than their identical black counterparts.

                      I found my older Stubben on eBay for $300. Its a lovely dark brown (I actually am one of the oddballs that prefers brown tack). It fits both me and my Arab like it was custom made for us.

                      I'll echo what everyone said above - no one really cares about brands. Get stuff that fits both the kid and the horse and you'll be fine.


                      • #12
                        What size is your daughter? I have a beautiful pair of white breeches that I wore 2-3 times.


                        • #13
                          Ditto what others have said about the attire. A clean, neat, polished appearance is more important than brand names, newness, or expense. Definitely the most important aspect of dressage is a proper fitting saddle for both the horse and your daughter. One thing I didn't hear mentioned yet is that in dressage the horse uses its body differently than H/J. The horse's top line - ie back, withers, neck will muscle up and change quite quickly and sometimes dramatically with training. Think of dressage as more of a bodybuilding type endeavor. Therefore, the saddle that might fit the horse today may quickly become too narrow to fit over the horse's shoulder and back within months. I've had a great deal of saddle fitting and shopping experience for myself as well as others over the years and time and time again I've had professional saddle fitters tell me that the Wintec saddles with the changeable gullet systems are a great place to start. This means the saddle can be adjusted wider as the muscles increase prolonging the useability of the saddle. They're also well made and inexpensive. There are many on the used market and are not frowned upon in the dressage arena - even in rated shows. If you're not inclined to go with a Wintec then something with an adjustable tree would be your best bet. There are many brands out there that offer an adjustable tree feature. There's nothing worse than purchasing a saddle and within a couple of months needing to buy another. Your trainer should be able to help with the fitting of your daughter in the saddle as well. You can also post pictures here of the fit and her riding in the saddle for additional advice.

                          Here are a few other places I know of with used equipment:

                          www.repeatridinggear.com They have several saddles, but not many listed on the site. You could email them. They also have a great deal of used clothing, boots, helmets, etc. at very reasonable prices.

                          www.pelhamsaddlery.com Lots and lots of used saddles here.

                          The chubby pony is another.

                          I, too, made the switch to dressage after 8 years of H/J - however that was many moons ago! I wish your daughter and her mare well in their discipline change - for me it was one of the best things I ever did!


                          • #14
                            As someone who has a very very hard horse to fit, and who spent more than I should have on shipping saddles back and forth, in hindsight I wish I would have just used a saddle fitter from the get go. I would think you are in a part of the country (MD if I read your handle correctly) where there are a lot of them - so use them. The upfront cost is more than offset by the frustration and cost of using a hit and miss approach to buying a saddle.

                            Other than that - my 16 yo niece showed dressage in 4H last year. Not exactly a rated show, but her turnout looked great - and she was wearing a $20 show coat (purchased at horse garage sale, grandmother tailored it a bit for her), breeches and boots that were given to her by a relative who was out of showing, shirt from the bargain trailer at the tack store, $50 bridle on sale, borrowed saddle. The devil is in the details - her hair was nicely done, horse and tack were spit shine clean, and she took lots of lessons so that she looked like she had a clue. It was a great experience for everyone.

                            We have a lot of tack flea markets around here in the spring and they are a great source of good used clothing and tack. Do you have the same? Also, look at Craigs List - another good source of bargains.

                            Best to both of you and welcome to dressage!


                            • #15
                              Since you are in MD try Bit of Britain tack store, they have a lot of used (nicely broken in saddles).
                              I.D.E.A. yoda


                              • #16
                                I certainly agree with the used tack, and clothing. Nobody cares what you spent on it - Trumbull Mountain Saddlery has a good assortment usually at decent prices.
                                And I have to say I am a little jealous. My daughter went from hunt seat to Western Pleasure ( blech ) so not even the bits and boots cross over. Argh. Oh the things we do to keep them happy enough at the barn so they dont run away with drug dealers
                                bad decisions make good stories


                                • #17
                                  As a recent convert to dressage from hunterland (~ 6 months ago) I can sympathize with the shopping dilemmas! It is HARD to go from "just knowing" where to go and what to get to being a newbie!!

                                  Here are a few observations:

                                  A lot of people suggested that I wait before buying a dressage saddle, riding instead in my close contact. There were some sound reasons (horse's shape may change, the rider position is different and going to feel awkward for a while, making it hard to pick the "right" dressage saddle, etc.) However - although I can ride all the movements through 3rd level in my Butet, I found it pretty difficult to maintain the correct position for myself in my hunter tack. The balance is different (more forward, obviously, as the seat for hunter and eq work is simply different than what is needed for dressage.) I purchased a used Schleese saddle pretty early into my transition and found it helped immensely. Three reasons I chose the Schleese:
                                  1. They are made to fit women and I found it extremely comfortable
                                  2. They are very adjustable and can be easily tweaked by our saddle fitter to accommodate changes in the horse's shape as training progresses (and muscling changes.)
                                  3. It worked really well for my horse.

                                  Along those same lines, I was advised to continue to ride in my field boots rather than obtaining dress boots. Now, I love my lovely, soft, yummy field boots like a child... but the improvement in my leg that resulted from wearing (stiffer) dress boots was instantaneous and dramatic. It was worth spending the money for that, IMO. (And you can most likely find a good pair on Ebay or a consignment place - my local shop has TONS of nice dress boots.)

                                  As for the other stuff - I found I was able to find some great deals on jackets etc on Ebay. I got a really pretty, brand new Cavallo dressage coat - still with the tags on it - for $100 not long ago. The fabric has some stretch to it and it's pretty lightweight and very comfortable. For breeches I've found that there are a number of moderately priced models that were comfortable (and I didn't want to spend a fortune on white breeches, thinking I'd probably get them dirty immediately!!!!) Ovation & Goode Rider are brands that worked for me and weren't crazy $$$.

                                  I have found that the dressage crowd is nothing like the hunters in terms of "brand awareness." It is a nice change. However, there IS the opportunity for some "fun" shopping - blingy belts, browbands, spur decoration.

                                  I've also found that there is a lot more of a DIY approach to shows - most riders do all or at least a majority of the work themselves rather than using grooms as I was accustomed to in hunterland. (Why this is true when you are wearing those white breeches is something of a mystery to me, LOL, but I like it, for sure!) TIP: Get a few pairs of lightweight nylon running pants or similar cover ups to put over said white breeches - it really helps!!

                                  No doubt your trainer will help orient you to this new world, but I will share a few things that no one thought to tell me:

                                  1. You need a copy of your Coggins at every show. Not like hunterland where they "say" you need one but you never show it to anyone!
                                  2. Entries are done in advance - you will love having scheduled ride times, but if you are having an issue in your warm up, there is no "move me down a couple spots in the order" ... you go when you are scheduled, or you are eliminated.
                                  3. No one on foot enters the warm up arena - trainers will coach from the rail. That means no walking in to hand someone a bottle of water, or wiping off boots or anything of that nature, either. There will be a person manning the warm up arena (like a starter in hunterland) who will want your number so they can help keep track of people and try to ensure you are in the competition arena at the right time.
                                  4. If you use any verbal cues to your horse in the ring, you will be penalized if the judge hears you - so no clucking, saying whoa, etc.
                                  5. Horses wear their numbers pretty much at all times when out of the stall - attached to the halter if hand walking, etc.

                                  That's all I can think of at the moment... hope you have as much fun with this new discipline as I have so far!
                                  We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by MDPONYMOM View Post
                                    1. First and foremost is a decent quality used saddle and then the requisite show clothing. This is where I need some help. I know the sites to find good used CC saddles but most of these have limited dressage saddles listed. What are the good used saddle sites for dressage? I am definitely on a budget - like single mom budget - I'm cleaning out my garage and selling stuff to fund changeover kind of budget.... Family is helping and daughter works so she is helping out as well, but.... What are saddle brands to look for and which ones do we avoid? Any saddle will be tried with trainer, of course, but I don't want to waste our/her time either.

                                    Clothing will all be used or consignment, thankfully boots and helmet will make the switch nicely but she needs breeches and a coat. However, while I know that hunters/eq can be a little "brand aware" there are certain things that would make new people stand out as not knowing what they are doing - know what I mean?
                                    2. Please help us avoid this and tell me what (and what brands - ugh) to avoid while we are shopping.

                                    Thanks for your help and for reading the above dissertation. She is enjoying her new path immensely as is her mare.
                                    1. As stated any saddle that fits mare and rider will do. BUT I would suggest getting a saddle where the tree can be adjusted to fit the horse. I know the pricier saddle can be changed (and I am NOT talking about the Wintec gullet change system - rather the saddler taking the saddle apart and manually adjusting the tree). That said Hennig, Verhan are two I know for a fact that can be adjusted. I believe Schleese is also adjustable. If a horse is ridde3n correctly (in dressage) they will develop more muscle over gthe topline - hence a saddle that fits today will probably not fit in a year or so. That is why purchasing a used saddle that IS adjustable (not just flocked to temporarily fit the horse) is the way to go.
                                    2. Clothes don't really matter. I would say buying a white saddle (square) pad and white britches are easier to get a "match" than cream - so probably better on price. You can spend hundreds on britches, but for years I've purchased the $99 (on sale) high waisted European style breeches in white for showing (Clarino full-seat) - they look good (fit me) plus are washable. Your DD will learn quickly that white gets dirty easily (who was the fool that started the white around horses trend????) so sewing her an "apron" she can wear when getting the horse ready (to cover front side of breeches until she's on horse thus keeping them looking clean) is the way to go. Pockets in the apron will help store cleaning brushes, etc...

                                    Brands do not really matter in dressage - that's why I love the sport. It's really about results - not looks (so much) - so clean, tucked in (hair net is a good thing), and neat helps you look professional and doesn't cost a fortune.
                                    Now in Kentucky


                                    • #19
                                      I'm guessing that her first shows will be at training level. There is no hurrry to outfit her. Her hunt seat clothes, and saddle will work fine. I will say though, a dressage saddle is very helpful.

                                      Maryland Saddlery has does a good consignment shop. Rick's Heritage in PA is loaded with saddles, and can be checked online.
                                      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Thank you all so much. Saddle is definitely first on list and I will ask her trainer about the adjustable gullet systems and have her help to refine what we are looking for. It will be nice that things will be more of a "horse show" than "fashion show" though she is already coveting a blingy browband. LOL. And she is used to being a DIY'er as the show budget never included grooms. Thanks for the ideas and suggestions for saddles and saddle sites, we will see what we can find.