Dressage horse conformation is not an exact science, but using these tips when
buying a horse can help you separate average from exceptional.
Before you begin insure the horse is standing square on level ground. Stand back and observe the overall proportions. Look for balance and symmetry, and the proportions of the head, neck, back, legs and hind end. Ideally the horse should be built ‘uphill’, meaning the withers are higher than the croup, which allows the horse to properly collect and engage the hind end. Level or downhill builds can make it more difficult for the rider to lighten the front end. However, when evaluating a young prospect it’s important to remember that grow spurts may cause them to appear higher in the croup.
Look for a strong and smooth topline, with the neck and back of average length. The withers, which are often overlooked, should be well defined and set into the back. This allows the rider to stay in the centre of gravity. While a short back can restrict movement, a long back can be a sign of weakness and possible soundness issues. The shoulders should have a gentle slope with the joints free of the saddle area.
Although minor flaws in the front legs are tolerable they should be reasonably straight. A long, sloping pastern creates suspension and helps protect the fetlock joint from injury. Since the dressage horse carries itself with the hind end, this is an area where strength and soundness is of the upmost importance. Look for short loins and a long, slightly sloped croup. The hock should flex easily and appear strong.
Since near-perfect conformation is rare; strength, soundness and overall balance should be the main focus of the evaluation. It’s also important to assess the goals of the rider and the level they hope to achieve. Because dressage is both physically and mentally demanding, the horse must be capable and willing to do the job. Beyond the basic dressage horse conformation, the top dressage horses also have an undeniable ‘presence’. Whether it’s a spirited personality or flashy markings they command attention in the show ring and often gain high marks for expression. When buying a horse it can take some time and patience to find the right match, but a talented dressage prospect will be worth the wait.
Looking for Warmblood prospects? Check out Warmbloods for Sale.