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Saddleseat and Dressage: Compatible?

From: Tara

OK I have a question that I have been wondering now for a while. Is the way a horse carries itself depend on the breed/displine? How is the horse trained to carry itself different ways? My horse is a saddlebred and I ride dressage. I know she was ridden saddleseat before I got her but I am interested in learning to ride some saddleseat. Can my horse do both? Also a lady at our stables put chains on her legs to make her step higher. Will this effect her at all for riding dressage?

Any help would be much appreciated. Thank You Tara and Autumn


Hi Tara! This is one of those good-news, bad-news notes. The good news is that many Saddlebreds are very well suited for dressage, and can be retrained. The bad news is that it's not a good idea to try to do both! Dressage and Saddleseat are very, very different, and ask the horse to build its muscles and carry its body in two completely different ways. If you try to do both, you and Autumn will both be frustrated and unhappy. I would suggest that you pick ONE discipline and work on that! Some disciplines are reasonably compatible, but these two really are not -- everything, from the bit in Autumn's mouth to the shoes on her feet, will be different, depending on which style of riding you choose. Your own riding position will be different, the use of your legs and hands will be different, and as if thost things weren't enough, if you try to do both dressage and saddleseat, you will be trying to teach Autumn two completely different and opposite ways of moving.

I've known a number of people who have TRIED to do this, over the years. They ended up as riders who couldn't place in saddleseat OR in dressage, with horses that didn't move correctly for EITHER discipline. This isn't like choosing between ballet and tap -- it's more like choosing whether to specialize in figure-skating or speed-skating. Yes, both disciplines require skates, BUT......

As for the chains.... one of the lovely things about dressage is that if you do it properly, you can train a horse from green to advanced without using any gadgets. Chains, long feet, weighted shoes, bungee cords, tail sets, and sharp bits are all accepted as "normal" in the training of Saddlebreds. If you want to retrain a show Saddlebred for dressage, you can do it, but it will take time. You'll need to reshape her body and retrain her mind -- and you'll need to stay far away from any and all gadgets while you do it, and forever after.

If there's a good dressage trainer in your area, I suggest that you ask him or her to come out to your barn and visit you and Autumn. Ask whether Autumn is the type of Saddlebred that will find it physically easy to "convert" to dressage. Some Saddlebreds can become good dressage horses comparatively easily; others are of a physical type that makes the transition very difficult.

Good luck!

- Jessica

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