Looking for a low level dressage horse and prices are insane

I bought a 22yo schoolmaster for less than my saddle cost and learned more from her and had more fun in one year than in a lifetime of riding before that.


Could leasing potentially work? I used to care lease a gelding in his late teens, solid 4th level emergent PSG-trained. Physically comfortable competing through 3rd level with once a year Adequan injections, and very happy doing it. I’m a life-long English rider but was new to pure dressage & wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to go all in. Riding this very correctly schooled horse who was just the right age to have the fire & athleticism to execute the fancy moves & be a fun ride & also have the confidence to deal with a less-than-perfect ride & calmly call me out when necessary was the perfect situation. The first time I got an extended trot from that horse was a meme-worthy revelation – holy crap, I’ve been doing this all wrong for the past 40 years! :joy::confounded:

This was what I personally needed to say, “Hell, yeah! I’m going all in on dressage!” We live in a high cost area for horses. If I’d gone the route of scrounging to find something remotely suitable in my budget, I don’t think I would’ve been drawn to dressage enough to fully commit & annoy all my hunter friends with my dressage stories :wink:.

One last fwiw: This horse is a slightly smaller than average sport bred 7/8 TB (iirc, 1/8 Dutch WB) Just a smidge over 16hh shod & finer boned than most WB. Still has a very favorable uphill build for dressage & always draws compliments from judges & clinicians.


Where are you looking? There is a premium for certain regions, and certain times of the year. How much training do you want? Solid first level? Scores at rated shows? Or simply W/T/C with steering and brakes?

I’ll second that if you are looking for a “dressage” horse, you are paying for training. If you are starting from halter-broke, it takes at least a year to get a horse correctly going at training/first level. That’s a lot of hours in the saddle and a lot of knowledge that did not come cheaply.

I know someone who just bought nice ex-hunter to convert to dressage - he just didn’t want to jump anymore, so he came at a discount.

I’d look at an appendix versus a TB. As you are finding, it’s really hard to find a sound one. The sanity comes with time. And every horse eventually costs $100k - it’s just a matter of how much you pay up front and how much you pay in support and maintenance.


Doesn’t sound like TBs are the horse for you Tbh. They aren’t crazy :roll_eyes:. They do require specific knowledge to retrain and help them blossom though.

Hard to find sound ones? Where y’all looking at TBs??


Thank you. I am in NYC so everything around here is TBs and some WBs which are expensive. We have a TB that my wife’s got from the track from jumping but I haven’t had the same luck with TBs.


That is probably right. TBs are probably not for me. We have one, it’s a Tapit and my wife loves him.

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Do you have a trainer that is plugged in to the local market and can help you on your search? For every horse listed online, there’s another that is not. A trainer - or even a knowledgeable amateur - who has been in the area for a while might know of horses that aren’t on your radar… yet.


Like @Jealoushe said, success with OTTB takes being knowledgeable or having help from someone who is. They were all we had here in VA when I was growing up. What some people describe as being “hot” I find instead is typically behaviors arising from a combination of: 1) People not realizing they come off the track knowing nothing that translates to civilian riding & a lot that is the direct opposite of how a normal riding horse is trained to go. 2) They tend to be people pleasers & perfectionists. A 5yo WB that doesn’t understand what you’re asking is apt to react by saying, " F you, and the horse you rode in on. Riding is stupid. Working is stupid!" A 5yo OTTB is more likely to react with, “OMG, I lightly tapped that last rail! I’m a failure! I have disgraced my line all the way back to the Godolphin Arabian. I must retire to the middle of the arena to weep & fall on my sword now.” (I’m over-generalizing but I’ve definitely observed certain patterns over the years.)

Locally, OTTB seem to be trending larger & taller recently. More of the body type I associate with UK or Aussie TB. Maybe because the ideal in the hunter ring has shifted towards big horses with long floaty strides that can cover the distances of a line & look relaxed doing it? Whatever it is, I’m seeing more that have a favorable build for dressage. Not going GP against Valegro kind of scope. But nice horses that could potentially go 3rd-4th level. Mostly in the $2-5k range.

But I agree, they’re not for everyone & you need to buy the horse that makes you want to ride. Good luck!


Find yourself a nice middle-aged QH, Paint, Appy or grade horse. Race or barrel bred quarter horses tend to be taller, cutters tend to be way shorter. Don’t bother with the Friesan or WB labels, you don’t need it. There are plenty of very nice QH-types that will do well at lower levels in schooling shows.


Consider that a lot of washed up hunters have hock issues (hock “maintenance” starts VERY early in most hunters) or riding issues - neither of which is favorable for dressage. A horse that can’t use the hind end nor accepts rider’s hand and direction, lacks “forward” on cue is not desirable for dressage.


This made me laugh. Both of my thoroughbreds are like this.


Yaaaaaasss! I get offered such horses by well-meaning hunter friends sometimes. They just don’t realize how forking strong a horse has to be to lift through his abdominal chain & bring his hind end through. Like I mentioned upthread, it took me forever to learn to coordinate the minutia of balance, counter-balance, & energy to get an honest-to-God extended trot from my leased schoolmaster. And a few trips down the long sides of the arena with that extension & I was pooped despite being pretty fit.

Not for nothing that dessage horses are prone to many of the same soft tissue injuries as jumpers. If you really examine still shots of a horse in a levade the sheer amount of raw strength & biomechnical precision required is mind-blowing. To say nothing of all the careful conditioning to build that degree of stability & mobility through the fetlocks, hocks, & SI joints alone. Far out of the scope of what the OP is looking for, of course. But the same biomechanical principles apply to the lower levels to a degree.


I honestly can’t stop laughing at this. It’s entirely true though!

I currently have 4 OTTBs in work. Every single one of them is a people pleaser but have their different quirks to work through. Being a pleaser does mean they can ride on the hotter side but for dressage being able to channel that makes training a lot easier.


I’m in the area and would be happy to connect and pass along anything I hear about. You are correct that this is a very expensive area.


You probably need to extend your search in multiple ways as others have mentioned. Word of mouth is a huge part of the market. Connect with your local and regional Pony Club, 4H, riding clubs. There are often horses that have been outgrown, or kids off to college, or horse getting older and would like to stop jumping. Or the kids themselves have a resale project and they will make money at $7500 because they’re not a pro doing this for a living.

My barn owner turns over about one unbroken grade horse per year, selling them for under $10k US (highest lately was $10k Canadian). She puts a great foundation on, including jumping, trails, natural obstacles. They are sold unshown usually. She puts up an ad or two on Facebook and they are gone soon after.


Can confirm that this is true.

There are hunters who “wash out” vs hunters who are “washed up.” Training and first level dressage is not out reach for these horses; some of them are simply tired of being pointed at fences and need a different job. Training and first level dressage is not out of reach for horses who need maintenance. Second level might be pushing it.

There is a FB group “Horses and Ponies in CT, NJ, NY, MA” - might be a good jumping off point.


I also would agree with looking at older. If still in good work, you know what maintenance they need (if any) plus you can get out and learn from them real quick if you have a trainer to keep you on the right track.

I know I’ve mentioned my guy before, but I had never had an “older” horse when he was given to me at 17, as a 3rd level horse with prior soundness issues. He’s 21 now and we are hoping to make our GP debut next fall. Taking him in is without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made.


The Humane Society rescues horses from auctions every week or so. They have money from donors and rescue as many as they can. Some are ex-racers, some are ex-show horses or pleasure horses - it’s a mixed bag. But you could Google their rescues – they have found some jewels. They thoroughly vet and evaluate them.


That would be great. Thank you

I snagged my QH from a hunter farm that had basically no use for her because she isn’t naturally fancy enough to pin at shows, and isn’t steady eddy enough to be a little kids’ schoolhorse. I got them to knock a significant amount off of her listed price because they basically just wanted to make a quick sale to make room in the barn for new six figure horses coming in :joy: sometimes you can find the rare “diamond in the rough” aka cheap horse in a fancy expensive barn when the circumstances are right, but agreed with everyone here that connections / trainers / networking are definitely the best way to find those hidden gems!