Pick a Winner
This page is designed to empower buyers with information that may enhance
their skills in choosing a dressage horse. It must be understood
that this information may not be applicable in all situations. A
purchase decision should be made using the consultation of
Everyone believes that they know a good horse when they see it; however, a
wise man knows how little he knows.
Even some of the best horsemen today have trouble predicting which will
end up being a great horse. Even so, the word "potential"
is the word most boldly used by sellers with little experience to draw
from. What makes one horse able to accomplish great
things, while others seem to stall at a particular level? What
clues can a buyer have regarding a horse's potential? At
Graemont Farm we've collected ideas from our lifetime exposures and
experiences in the industry. Here's what we believe very good
dressage horses have in common:
A great dressage horse has a good "work
When trying out a horse, if it wants to stop, shut down, quits
when it's a little bit tired, you should probably walk away. A bit
of a temper can be a good thing but not if it's expressed by
stopping. You should never think that you can change a horse's basic
work ethic. When you try a horse, don't try to make excuses for an
unwilling attitude. Believe what you see. Some of the world's
best horses have been tough or even stubborn, but quitters usually don't
become great horses.
A good dressage horse is "handy".
Not too many years ago it was popular to buy big movers. Big
movement is very over-rated, however. Many impressive movers do not
have what it takes to be trained in dressage. There is more to a
trained horse than extended trot and passage. A good dressage horse
can conveniently change from one gait to another. It can comfortably
trot and canter sideways. It can start and stop effortlessly.
At the end of the ride, the horse should be more tired than the rider.
A horse's technique is very important in its gaits.
Some things you can change a lot, but some things will change very
little. If you have a horse that has a good basic technique in
its gaits, you increase your chances of being able to maintain
ride-ability (in a trained horse) and/or advancing the horse's
training. You want to see a trot that leaves the ground quickly with
an uphill thrust. Don't be fooled by a trot that has brilliance with
a hind leg that stays on the ground a long time. The hind leg must
demonstrate a certain quickness and a dependable articulation of the
The canter is the most difficult to evaluate.
If there is anything that has been a shock over the years to us, it has
been how many bad "dressage" canters are considered "good" or even
"very good" by "experts." So how can you know a good canter
when you see it? First of all, it is often difficult to evaluate a
horse's canter when it is running free. You often see a very
different use of the horse's back as the tail is often held higher and the
back tighter. It is always best to see a horse's canter under saddle
or at least on a lounge with the horse on the bit from use of side reins.
Look for a canter that is comfortable when it is small. If the
horse slows down in its hind legs when the stride is shortened, you may
have cause for concern. On the other hand, make sure the horse is
able to open its stride and "ripple" through the back as it
extends. A horse with a "long" hind leg sometimes has a
great extended canter but has trouble staying straight, uphill and active
in collected canter. Beware of a horse with a clumsy or slow hind
leg in the canter.
With walks, bigger isn't better.
Contrary to popular comment, the walk can change and be changed.
Depending what the problem is, you may have cause to be concerned,
however. If the walk is big (a big over-step), be
concerned that it
will remain pure. A big walk can be dangerous, that is, it can
easily become pace-like. A short walk
will sometimes improve as the horse loosens up or as the horse develops
greater range in its trot and canter. A horse that makes errors in
rhythm because of tension in the back can sometimes be helped, but only by
trainers with particular sensitivity and experience. Generally, you
should be content to buy a horse with a good technique in the walk and an
average to above average over-stride. A walk with a huge stride
frequently has a bad technique.
Conformation of the poll is very important.
If the horse is difficult through the poll, you will never be happy
riding it. If the poll is conformed so that the chin angle wants to
remain too far open, you find it difficult to keep the horse
"through" without having to make very big aids. As the
relative elevation of the poll is higher, this becomes more of an
issue. When this type of horse does come on the bit or flexes
laterally, it usually uses the third and forth neck vertebrae. The
danger to horse buyers is to like a horse because it reaches down
easily. Be sure to try pushing the horse up to a level of the poll
acceptable for a show as part of the evaluation. A horse that is too
soft at the poll can be a problem, especially if it doesn't want to
naturally push forward to the bit from behind. If the horse has some
advanced training (3rd level and higher), you might be wise to try the
horse in a double bridle to make sure this isn't an issue.
Great dressage horses have "heart".
The inner qualities of a great horse are only really proven when the
horse reaches its greatness. Many horses have been deemed "most
likely to succeed" even at third level, and then never moved into FEI.
Many horses just don't have the desire to work that it takes to come out
every day and perform, especially when the work gets hard at upper levels.
This is where knowledge of certain bloodlines, particularly on the
mother's line, can help to "stack the odds" in your favor that
your purchase will end up being a great horse. Working with
experienced professionals like Graemont can expose you to helpful
resources about bloodlines.
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO DRESSAGE HORSE BUYERS:
Making an incorrect purchase is an expensive, time consuming and
emotionally draining experience. You simply can't afford to get
stuck with a horse that won't meet your needs. You greatly
increase your chances of finding a suitable horse as you involve
experienced professionals to make new purchase opportunities available,
and provide valuable counsel on important issues.
Graemont, Inc. is postured to provide a premier and unique service
to you if you are a serious buyer. Contact
us today and find out what we can do for you.
or (717) 664-4988