The Best Horse Breeds For Dressage


There are many factors which play a part in the best horse breed for dressage. This is an argument that has been sparked among dressage enthusiasts for years, as some breeds have certain characteristics that lend themselves well to the sport. But are there really some breeds that are better suited to dressage than others?

It could be argued that the horse’s breed doesn’t matter, and that any horse can do dressage. And this is most certainly the case when it comes to beginner or hobbyist dressage.

However, if you have your eyes set on grand prix dressage to ride in the hoofprints of Charlotte Dujardin or Laura Graves, then you will need to be picky about the breed you choose.

We’ve rounded up the best and most common breeds used for dressage at beginner, intermediate, and grand prix levels to help you find the horse breed for your needs. It’s true that the beginner and intermediate categories will be purely subjective. 

However, the grand prix section of the best horse breeds for dressage have been selected according to the World Breeding Federation for Sports Horses (WBFSH) rankings. This is an organization that publishes the official rankings for the top breeds of horses which compete professionally in dressage, eventing, and show jumping.

What Are The Best Horse Breeds For Beginners’ Dressage?

New to the dressage discipline and want to try your hand at the artful dance? Then it could be argued that the breed of your horse doesn’t matter. Any horse can take part in beginner’s dressage. 

This is because the whole point of dressage is so that you and your horse can enjoy it together. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy Dutch warmblood if you don’t know whether you’ll enjoy the sport or not. If you already have a horse, then chances are they will be more than perfect to help you get to grips with dressage.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a new horse to try and get involved with dressage, then the below breeds will likely be a good fit for you. Some of these might not be the traditional dressage horses of choice, but they will be more than fitting for beginners’ dressage.

American Appaloosa

  • Country Of Origin: America
  • Color: Colorful spotted coat, mottled skin, striped hooves
  • Height: Average of between 14 hands and 16 hands, some horses can be as tall as 17 hands
  • Temperament: Highly intelligent breed that is generally incredibly friendly

Now, when you think of classic dressage horses, we’re sure that the American Appaloosa isn’t the breed that comes to mind. However, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Appaloosa’s affinity for dressage. 

This is a breed that was originally bred by native Nez Percé Indians in the northern area of what was known as the wild west. They were a breed that was coveted for their versatility, as well as because of how easy they were to train.

Appaloosa horses are famous for their beautiful spotted coats. However, there is much more to this breed than their beautiful coats. Appaloosa has been an officially recognized breed since 1938, and is a versatile horse that continues to excel in whichever discipline they turn their hooves to.

Facts About The Appaloosa

  • There is an Indian legend about three stallions, usually known by the term Ghost Wind Stallions. Legend has it that these three stallions emerged from the ocean to create the Appaloosa breed
  • Did you know that each and every Appaloosa coat is unique? There are no two Appaloosa horses with the same spotty coat

Arab Or Arabian

  • Country Of Origin: Arabian peninsula
  • Color: Bay, black, brown, chestnut, and gray are the most common solid colors
  • Height: Average of around 14 hands, but some Arabians can be as tall as 16 hands
  • Temperament: A friendly breed that is renowned for its kindness

This is a breed that is renowned the world over. Alongside the Thoroughbred, the Arabian horse is one of the most famous breeds in the horse world. There are some people who feel that the Arabian is a breed not best suited for dressage because they think the horse is too highly strung. 

However, providing your Arabian horse has the correct training, they will be more than the perfect fit for dressage. This is a highly intelligent breed that will be more than adept at the sport of dressage.

It’s not known for certain where the Arabian breed originates from. However, it has been noted throughout history that there are horses matching the Arabian horse’s description in rock paintings that date as far back as more than 3,500 years ago.

Facts About The Arabian

  • Whereas most horse breeds have around 18 sets of ribs, the Arabian horse only has 17 sets of ribs
  • A legend for the origin of the Arabian horse features the prophet Mohammad. One of the myths claims that the prophet created the Arabian breed using 5 horses that decided to come back to him, even though they were incredibly thirsty

Frizian Or Friesian

  • Country Of Origin: Netherlands
  • Color: Mostly black, some horses have a white star on their forehead
  • Height: Average of around 15 hands, however, heights can vary between 14 hands up to 17 hands
  • Temperament: An affectionate breed that is often known for being mischievous

Impressively, the Frizian or Friesian horse is known for being one of the oldest domesticated horse breeds in Europe. At one point in history, the Friesian was known to be the favored horse of William the Conqueror. 

This is a breed that originated as a medieval charger, however, in today’s society it is known to be an incredibly graceful horse, which lends itself well to the art of dressage. It is a breed that is able to capture the beautiful movement needed for various movements, as well as the elegant high knee action.

The Friesian horse still has the classic feathers – longer hair on their legs – that comes from draft horse breeds. They also have long, flowing manes and tails which can be so long that they reach the floor. Sometimes this mane and tail are never cut.

Facts About The Friesian

  • Because the Friesian has beautiful movement, it has often been a favorite breed to use on the silver screen. Friesian horses feature in movies such as The Mask of Zorro, Sense and Sensibility, and 300
  • The vast majority of Friesian horses today are used for driving or riding. However, there are around 5% to 7% of Friesians which are still used as a working breed for agricultural purposes

What Are The Best Horse Breeds For Intermediate Dressage?

Consider yourself to be a more experienced dressage rider? Then you will want to opt for a more traditional dressage breed in the arena. Apart from the Irish Hunter, all of the below breeds for this category have ranked in the WBFSH rankings.

It could still be argued that for anything less than grand prix, virtually any horse will be the perfect fit for dressage. However, when it comes to intermediate dressage, you will need to choose a horse that has a beautiful range of movement.

We’ve listed some of the more popular breeds that slightly more experienced riders choose for intermediate dressage.

Pure Blood Lusitano

  • Country Of Origin: Portugal
  • Color: Bay and gray are the commonest colors, however, other solid colors such as dun exist
  • Height: Average of between 15 hands, however, some heights can reach 16 hands
  • Temperament: An intelligent breed that has a reputation for being on the calm side

The Lusitano is an elegant breed that captures the delicate movements needed for dressage. Their movements are often flowing, and this lends themselves well to dressage, as well as other forms of classical riding. 

The Lusitano has been the horse breed of choice for royalty throughout the centuries, much like their cousin the Andalusian.

Throughout history, most Iberian horses have been referred to as Andalusian. This was until around 1966 when Portugal set up their own stud book. In today’s society, there are more than a couple of distinguishing features between the Andalusian and the Lusitano to justify them as two completely separate breeds.

Facts About The Lusitano

  • The Lusitano is a breed that was once used in the breeding of the Colorado Ranger, however, this is no longer allowed
  • In Portugal, the royal family has their own specific breed of Lusitano horses known as the Alter Real. The Alter Real horses are used in the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art

Cheval de Selle Français

  • Country Of Origin: France
  • Color: Chestnut, however other solid colors exist
  • Height: Average of between 15 hands and 17 hands
  • Temperament: A friendly breed that is eager to learn new things

The Cheval de Selle Français, or Selle Français as it is commonly referred to, is the literal French translation of the term “French Saddle Horse”. So it’s easy to see why this breed makes for a great dressage horse! 

In the early days of the breed’s inception, the Selle Français was influenced by trotting horses. This gives them an elegant movement which lends itself well to dressage.

This is a classic example of a typical sport horse. The Selle Français have an athletic, strong build, and a quiet intelligence that means they can pick up dressage techniques easily. They are also very willing to learn.

Facts About The Cheval de Selle Français

  • Up until 1958, the Cheval de Selle Français was considered to be more of a type of horse than a breed. Even in today’s society, there are a large number of crossbreeds often allowed to be characterized as Cheval de Selle Français. There are thought to be around 45% of horses that have a Cheval de Selle Français father, with the other breeds being Anglo-Norman, French Trotter, and Thoroughbred
  • Interestingly this breed was developed by the same government that developed the Anglo-Arabian in the stud book at Saint Lô

Irish Hunter

  • Country Of Origin: Ireland
  • Color: Sold colors including black, brown, dun, and white
  • Height: Stallions have an average height of between 16 hands and 17 hands, mares have an average height of between 15 hands and 16 hands
  • Temperament: Brave, good tempered breed that works well with children

The Irish Hunter – or Irish Draught as it can be known – is one of the most versatile horse breeds. This makes them the perfect fit for dressage, because this is a horse that can give you a beautiful range of movement, as well as being one of the more adept breeds around.

One of the factors that lends the Irish Hunter well to both beginner and intermediate dressage riders is the fact they can handle more weight than a warmblood or Thoroughbred. This makes them great for nervous riders, or those who are older.

Originally bred as a working horse for agricultural purposes. However, it was still used for riding, and over the years some mixing with Thoroughbreds have improved the Irish Hunter’s rideability.

The Irish Hunter is still used as a working horse on some farms today, but this is a breed that has had renowned success in pretty much all FEI disciplines.

Facts About The Irish Hunter

  • The Irish Hunter is an incredibly versatile breed that has been driven, used under the saddle, as well as used for draft work
  • Even though the studbook was only established in 1917, this is a breed that dates as far back as the 18th century. The Irish Hunter’s extinct ancestor the Irish Hobby dates as far back as the 12th century

What Are The Best Horse Breeds For Grand Prix Dressage?

When it comes to beginner and intermediate dressage, choosing the best breeds can be mostly down to personal preference. However, when it comes to the top level dressage or grand prix, you can’t argue that there are certain breeds that stand out from the crowd, and have a reputation for being the best of the best.

Dutch Riding Horse Or Dutch Warmblood

  • Country Of Origin: Netherlands
  • Color: Bay, black, brown, chestnut, gray, and tobiano
  • Height: Average height of around 16 hands
  • Temperament: Friendly horses with plenty of stamina and are willing to work hard

The Dutch warmblood is a breed that has become notorious in the sport of dressage. With famous horses such as Totilas and Valegro storming the competitions in the 21st century, it’s easy to see why this breed ranks so highly. 

This is a breed that’s arguably one of the newest in terms of European warmbloods. To develop the breed, certain Thoroughbreds were selected for their dressage affinity, and then these were crossed with the Gelderland and Groningen.

Both French and German warmbloods were also introduced to the breed which helped to craft a breed that is unparalleled in its dressage ability, as well as its willing and calm nature.

It’s worth noting that there are actually three different types of Dutch warmblood. These include the original Gelderland working horse type, the athletic sports horse type, and the elegant harness horse type.

Facts About The Dutch Warmblood

  • Dutch warmblood stallions have to go through rigorous testing before they are allowed to be used for stud. This includes being assessed for their confirmation as well as passing a ridden test
  • The horse ridden by Théodred Prince of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings films, Brego,  was a purebred Dutch warmblood known by the name Uraeus

Westfalen Or Westphalian

  • Country Of Origin: Germany
  • Color: Bay, black, chestnut, and gray
  • Height: Typically ranges between 15 hands to 16 hands, with the average horse being 16 hands
  • Temperament: Relaxed nature that makes them easy to train

The Westfalen or Westphalian is one of the most popular breeds for dressage that originate from Germany. This is a breed that is only beaten in popularity in Germany by the Hanoverian.

Steeped in a long, rich history, the Westfalen studbook dates as far back as 1888. However, the breed even dates further back to 1713, when the Prussian Stud Administration was set up by king Frederick Willian I.

This then originated the State Stud or Warendorf in 1826, which originally bred working horses for agricultural purposes. As times changed, the breed began to be used more for riding and sports purposes.

There are several other breeds which have all been influenced by the Westfalen at some point in history, including the Anglo-Norman, Oldenburger, and Thoroughbred.

Facts About The Westphalian

  • The famous dressage horse, Legolas, ridden by the Olympic dressage rider Steffen Peters, was a Westfalen
  • It is thought that the Westfalen descends from wild horses that roamed the surrounding area of the Rhine that dates back to Roman times

Oldenburger Or Oldenburg

  • Country Of Origin: Germany
  • Color: Bay, Black, brown, and occasionally gray
  • Height: Average height of around 16 hands
  • Temperament: Friendly natures with a reputation for their strength

The Oldenburger is a breed that was originally intended to be a workhouse. However, as with many horse breeds, this need has reduced with the times. With the invention of cars, there became less of a need for the Oldenburg to be used as a working horse.

Count von Oldenburg, who created the Oldenburger breed, noticed this, and stopped using the Barb and Spanish horses in his breeding program. Instead, he opted for warmblood breeds such as the Hanoverian, Thoroughbred, and Trakehner. This created the Oldenburg as we know it today, which is a lighter horse that has risen in popularity.

What really makes the Oldenburg stand out is the fact that this is a horse that has purely been bred for its quality. Certain horses were selected for breeding to ensure this quality remained, and the Oldenburg has never been specifically bred just for one set discipline.

Facts About The Oldenburg

  • The Oldenburg is also used for the International Combined Driving Championships as well as for grand prix dressage
  • Every Oldenburg that has been registered gets marked with an official brand, a 0 with a crown on top, as well as with the 12th and 13th numbers of the horse’s life number

Dansk Varmblod Or Danish Warmblood

  • Country Of Origin: Denmark
  • Color: Bay, as well as any solid color
  • Height: Average height of around 16 hands, but heights can differ between 15 hands to 17 hands
  • Temperament: An intelligent breed that has a bold nature

The Dansk Varmblod, or as it’s more commonly known, the Danish warmblood, is a breed that has been selectively bred for competition purposes. While this is a fairly newer breed, it has really made its mark on the dressage world.

Interestingly, the Danish government wasn’t involved in the development of the Danish warmblood. It was mostly down to individual breeders, who imported horses from Spain and Germany to create the Danish warmblood. These horses were then crossed with the Frederiksborg, which is Denmark’s oldest breed.

From the very inception of this breed, breeders used very strict selection methods to choose which horses to use. This strict method paid off, as the Danish warmblood has now been established as one of the best competition horses around the world.

Facts About The Danish Warmblood

  • This is a competition horse that not only excels at dressage, but also in showjumping and eventing disciplines
  • While the breed was only established in the 1960s, you can trace its heritage all the way back to the 14th century, when Cistercian monks first started to breed the Frederiksborg

Hanoverian

  • Country Of Origin: Germany
  • Color: Bay, black, brown, chestnut, and gray
  • Height: Average height tends to vary between 15 hands up to 17 hands
  • Temperament: An intelligent breed that is bold, and willing to learn

The Hanoverian has thoroughly established itself as arguably the best horse breed for dressage. This is one of the oldest warmblood breeds to originate from Germany, and comes with an impressive reputation.

Hanoverians have regularly been used in the Olympics, and have made a splash in all equestrian disciplines, especially the dressage.

This is a breed that originated as a cavalry horse, but was crossed with Thoroughbreds to create a lighter horse that was perfect for competition. This is a horse that has a beautiful range of movement, combined with a good temperament that makes them fantastic dressage horses.

Hanoverians are a highly decorated breed that has won countless competitions, from the Olympics to the World Equestrian Games. It has risen in popularity so much that it is ranked as the top studbook for international dressage.

Facts About The Hanoverian

  • Every Hanoverian foal has the Hanoverian brand applied to their left hindquarters, and H featuring two horse heads, as well as the last 2 numbers of their life number under the brand
  • The Hanoverian is a highly decorated horse when it comes to dressage. Since the 1956 Olympics, Hanoverian horses have won 3 individual gold medals, 4 individual silver medals, 4 individual bronze medals. They have also been a part of no less than 7 gold medal dressage teams

In Summary

The best horse breed for dressage is always a subject of great contention. While it’s true that any horse can give dressage a go, and that the breed doesn’t overly matter if you’re more of a hobbyist, when it comes to grand prix dressage it’s a different story.

There are several breeds which are often used for grand prix, most notably from Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

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