Off breed prospect - what would you choose?

All of my horses are rescues, or maybe repurpose is more apt, as they were never truly abused. I bought my OTTB to retrain and sell as a hunter, but I kept her as my hunter then First level horse, and she was partially leased by a kid and did wonderfully. My Azteca was rescued by the person I got him from, and was a real training project! But he did Training level, starter eventing, and given his start, serving as a school horse was huge! My OTSTB was supposed to be a gaited trail/husband horse, now does Intro dressage, low jumps, and working on canter.

I love them all and my journey with each, but I may be in the market for the next horse “soon.” I’ve never shopped for me and my goals, so kind of exciting! I would love to “save” a horse, but I’m also not getting younger and would like a horse with no real limits other than my abilities to meet my goals. So my goals: progress to higher levels correctly, but no major concerns about being a world beater in terms of brilliance. I live near some rated show venues, and nice schooling circuits. I’m in my 40s and fit and rode lots of greenies, so not fearful but also less willing to get hurt as I get older. I’d love to develop a horse up the levels, but also be able to enjoy low level jumping and trail riding, so good brain matters. Up the levels - I mean, if I could train a horse to GP, cool, but let’s say 4th? Set that as the goal, but good at 3rd or hey, FEI dreams, sure. I’d mainly show on the local circuit, and dip my toes into rated just to show what the “off breed” could do.

Outside of the purpose bred WB, what would you put top of your list? Understanding each horse is an individual, but I’m currently thinking I’ll look at OTTB and Saddlebreds. I live in SW Ohio, near KY, so plenty of both. I don’t want to have to spend years just undoing bad training. I’d like a sort of blank slate with enough mileage to know the brain is good, but no major baggage from bad training.

Thoughts? Experiences to share? Cautionary tales?


TB. Hands down. The last one I had went to I-1

supple obedient movement is never wrong.

Not that I think a TB is an off breed for dressage but I think bred for the athletics you wish to attain.


Conformation suitable for dressage more important that breed IMO. That plus work ethic and “goey-ness.”

Personally don’t love the driving breeds like Fresians, Dutch Harness, etc. unless crossbred with something else with less knee action and better top line. But again, it’s more of an individual horse thing than a breed thing.


A quality OTTB or an Iberian cross from a backyard situation :).


I just wasted about 2 minutes trying to work out what you might mean by “gooey - ness”. Cute and cuddly? Supple and bendy? Sweet personality?

Ahhh… Goey. Yeah, that makes more sense. :crazy_face:


Arabians and Arab crosses have had a fair amount of success reaching the highest levels of dressage. They also have their own breed shows with USDF recognized judges, which is nice because you are riding the same tests with the same judges but placed among your peers for awards.

A friend has bred some Welsh and Welsh cross ponies who have been successful up to fourth level IIRC.


Second Arabs! Or Anglos. Always do great in dressage, can be pretty fancy and super sound.


I will second the TB. If you can find one with better-than-average quality movement, then you are set. Saddlebreds (like many driving horses such as dutch harness and friesians) will be harder-than-average to get over their backs and round, and you will be fighting an uphill battle regarding overall shape. TBs will be less likely to have this problem, and have among the best work ethics you can get in a horse!


A good quarter horse if you can find one that is not downhill. Usually very willing and can be very athletic.


Definitely an Iberian or Iberian cross, especially if you loved your Azteca.

I would also consider a draft cross, though you might consider that a warmblood. They tend to be safe and trainable. Agree to avoid DHH and Friesian, though. I would not go OTTB either, though you may love them. I’ve just heard too many horror stories and haven’t had to good experiences others have had.

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I love my DHH but they are harder to get over the back and the basics have to be strong. Once you get them the upper level collected movements are easy. P/P and CP are simple. But you have to find one with not such a upright neck and little less knee action and be good at getting them over their backs.

I love a good OTTB, and if your comfortable going to the track you can find them. I always went end of year and looked at turf horses for my event prospects. There was one I sold on who was to lofty in his gaits and jump that if I could find “him” again would have made up to FEI horse no question.

All that said a purpose bred warmblood with good mind and conformation is the easiest to train up the levels. But the price tag reflects that.

Right now I have a DHH filly who is very nice. I’m on the start of year two with the changes… they are coming but let’s just say not there yet. Same age and timeframe Hanoverian gelding started changes same week. He had a clean change in both direction in two weeks and he’s working 4s and 3s now… he’s not as strong as my girl but he finds the work easier.

Both will show 1st this year (no show experience due to Covid last year) and depending on strength and progress may debut 3rd by fall.

Every horse purchase has a compromise… find the one you can live with that supports your weakness and magnifies your strengths and find support from a good trainer.


I like the others recommend on focusing on individuals that based on conformation and having 3 pure gaits are better able to meet the demands. I also put disposition/temperament at the top of my criteria must have’s as well. I have successfully shown a number of welsh cobs, welsh cross breds, morgans, arabians, etc in dressage. They all had their trade-offs in terms of challenges but they all also have had the heart and soul of a lion which has made them priceless. Currently I’m riding a welsh cob at third (showing successfully at second level) and a morgan that is going to start showing (turns 4 in June) soon. I backed/started both and their dispositions have made it a fun process. I will never see the high scores that the purpose-bred warmbloods bring but I still have achieved success and personal accomplishments that no one can take away…I will also say that, at least for me, these guys met the shoe string budget criteria and have no prior baggage for me to overcome (one is a homebred and the other came straight from the breeder) which has always been my choice in minimizing challenges that previous training can leave.


I love my OTTBs, having worked in sales barns for years. My mare was bought as a hunter, very correct but not super uphill. However, had I started on the dressage path sooner, she could have gone farther. I like that most OTTBs are pretty “green” in the mouth. The worst horses in sales barn were badly “trained” dressage types - victims of crank and spank tactics:(

With the harness types, my STB is eye opening. Great brain, but tougher than a TB. Is it training or conformation, likely both. I’ve seen some amazing ASBs, ones not cut out for saddleseat, but have never attempted to convert a saddleseat started horse to anything else.

Hadn’t really put Arabs on the list, but nothing is off the list. Even a WB, but most in my budget have issues;)

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Hint: we know each other IRL - you came to a couple of clinics with Pierre when I rode my gray Arab!

I now have a new horse - 3/4 Arab, 1/4 Saddlebred. So obviously I would second or third the Arab suggestion. My Arab trainer gets calls now and then from people with dressage Arabs - if you want I’ll keep you in mind. We had a really cute and talented one mentioned a few months back - so they are out there. And this one was already restarted as a legit dressage horse, so ready to go. (ETA: he was also VERY reasonably priced - another advantage of Arabs!)

I would also suggest Appendix QHs - I’ve seen some really handsome ones and they seem to be trainable and good natured.

Finally, my dressage instructor has several really good warmblood prospects you might like to see. She’s in Wilmington. They are probably priced reasonably. And she always hears of more. PM me and I’ll put you two in touch.


I agree on arab and arab x along with proper type Morgans, Have seen several in my region do very well in the ring. Pleasant willing nice athletic size for most riders.

Also agree about driving types with longer flat back as well as many draft crosses which can be cold and clunky.

buy type and temperament. Trot can be improved, find a good walk and canter.


Which “off breeds” might suit you depends upon your preferences. A green OTTB will present quite different issues from a green Morgan or Arab, etc. Of course they are individuals, but you can narrow your search if you know, for example, that you prefer a more baroque type or a TB type.

When I was looking, I knew I wanted a calm brain first. And then I didnt want to spend a lot of time trying to undo training. That eliminated a lot of horses for me. The horses started saddleseat were more of a project than I wanted, as were some “western broke” horses. The horses ridden hunt seat generally seemed the easiest to convert to dressage (all else being equal)

I tried a couple of nice TBs that could have worked, but then realized that my heart was still with Morgans (or Morgan type) when I found one without a saddleseat background. I watched him move and knew that he would be quite capable of higher level dressage than I have ridden! And that has proven true as we are already there and knowledgeable trainers are impressed with his potential. But mostly, he makes me smile to see him and work with him and we just suit each other. That is what I had hoped to find! :heartpulse:


Mustangs :upside_down_face: Warm Springs HMA and also Devils Garden HMA are drafty types. Def go-ey. I have three WS starting now and one Beatys Butte also is looking good under saddle. They have a lot of try and do not give up because there is no such thing as being tired. Not sure about the jump part, my WS crew are really heavy horses. My dressage in training is a domestic, she’s a grade mare with curly hair… big shouldered, long-nimble-legged mare. She is lead mare in my domestic band of ten and quite sure of herself. If i ask for something easy, she’ll offer up the harder version determinedly and i just have to laugh. Nothing is too hard for her…(well, not YET anyway, but we’ll get there lol)

i have a lot of different breeds in my domestic herd: A Morgan, an Arabian, a Percheron, a QH cross, a Standardbred, a Missouri Foxtrotter, that curly cross mare i mentioned, two mules and an Akhal-teke sport (dam was TWxArabian). Of them all, only three have what i think is a good body type, and two of those have odd gaits (Foxtrotter gaits and Standardbred paces). I’m putting most of my hopes in the mustangs and that curly mare.

A lipizzan would almost perfect for what you’re looking for, IMO. My mom’s horse is a lipizzan, and if I was at all interested in dressage I’d probably be getting one for myself as well. Obviously all horses are individuals, but, in my experience, lipizzans have been the most cookie-cutter breed I’ve ever met (it helps that the gene pool is small I think). Our neighbour also has an (unrelated) lippi, and he could practically be a brother of our boy, that’s how similar they are. A lipizzan would absolutely be only limited by his rider in dressage.

Our lippi is a bit of an all-rounder. He was a dressage flower for the first 9 years of his life, and when we bought him it was to do light trail riding and bop around in the arena.

He’s lovely to flat, totally soft, supple, and noodle-y. He’s very forward, but not in an intimidating way. More in an ‘every movement and thought is done in a forwards fashion, as dressage horses are meant to do’ way. On the rare occasion he has ‘taken off’ (either from a big scary sound or from being very fresh and ‘misinterpreting’ a trot cue) it’s with a very excited, bouncy canter that doesn’t go anywhere fast, so he’s fairly easy to get under control. My pony, who has a horse stride, can easily out-pace him at a trot while he canters. He has excellent endurance; even when he’s not in shape he’s happy to go go go all day. His gaits are incredibly uphill - I can’t remember the last time I had to give him even a tiny correction for getting heavy on the front end. That, alongside his soft mouth, makes him feel super-light to ride. He’s uber-adjustable as well. You can have your biggest extension down the diagonal and then bring him right back into a bouncy little collected canter no problem.

He is built for collection, not extension. So if you dream of flying across the arena like Valegro - a lipizzan is not for you. He’ll try, and do his own version - it just won’t be a massive, impressive extension like some big warmbloods are capable of (but it sure is fun to ride!). If we were focused on dressage, the upper level movements would be a piece of cake for him. Piaffe would probably be his favourite, followed by tempis and passage. He’d probably be quite good at the pirouettes as well. His laterals aren’t huge and impressive, but he does them nicely. I’ve actually gotten some rudimentary half-steps from him when we’re fit and in the mood. He’s got a butter-soft mouth; he goes fantastic in a very soft rubber Mullen mouth. I’ve even ridden him bridleless a couple of times for fun - he loved it and was totally responsive and supple.

On the trail he’s generally alert, but happy to explore. Where we live it’s mostly hay fields and ditch riding, with occasional jaunts through some trees, so nothing too crazy. He loves to lead, but is content to follow (especially if there’s something he’s unsure of ahead). He can be a little bit of a chicken with some livestock - sheep and llamas and minis, mostly - but he’s better than my pony with cows, which I think comes down to exposure. He hates getting his feet wet, so puddles can be a bit of a battle, but with consistent schooling he’d probably get over himself.

I trained him to jump a couple of years ago, and he LOVES it. One of the keenest horses I’ve ever jumped; he hunts the fences and locks on. He liked to wiggle around and crochet his leads before the fences when he started, but now he happily takes my mom around little courses like an old pro. He’s jumped up to 3’ in a couple of grids (including one with my mom), but I wouldn’t really be comfortable taking him much over 2’9” for a full course, mostly because because the spreads would start to get quite scary if we had anything other than a perfect distance (he’s good at going up, not so much out). When he’s fit he can make the 1 strides, but you need to be GOING, so he either gets the distances shortened to suit his stride or does the add when my mom is riding.

He’s intelligent. I usually ride him only every couple of months, but he remembers everything you’ve done, zero regression. It feels like you got off for a 5 minute break, not a 3 month break. He likes to watch his surroundings too. The neighbour’s dogs, horses jumping in the neighbouring field, He stares at us through the kitchen window to see when we’re going to come out and throw hay. He notices EVERYTHING. Jump moved? New item in corner? Don’t worry, he’s got his rider covered. He’s not the type of horse to spook ‘out of thin air’ but he will take a look (and maybe cut the corner if he can) if, say, the jumps in the corner are re-arranged. If you keep your eyes open you can usually figure out what will be an issue before he sees it. He’s also the only horse I’ve ever met who will look up. If you’re standing in a loft over a barn and call the horses below, most will look confused and will swing their heads around looking at the ground for where the sound is coming from. Our lipizzan will look up to stare at you.

He has the best work ethic. He’s pretty much made of heart and try - I don’t think I’ve ever reached his bottom. Even when he’s dripping in sweat he’s happy to keep going. He’s also the most expressive horse I’ve ever met - there is never a question of what he’s thinking. If he’s happy, annoyed, or hungry, you will know immediately (he actually mimes eating when he thinks he deserves a cookie or needs more hay). He can be a little melodramatic - the other day he got an electric shock while being groomed and had a dramatic little shy away - but he gets over himself pretty quickly. The worst thing he’s ever done in the 6 years we’ve owned him was kick out at the dressage whip once or twice when he didn’t appreciate the request to move his hindquarters. Overall I’d call him ‘happy-go-lucky’.

He’s definitely a one-person horse. He likes his mom, and I think I’m a pretty solid second (of course, I’m usually there to make him work and to make sure he’s running perfectly for my mom, so we have a slightly different relationship). I’d say he’s also a solid intermediate+ horse. Mostly because he’s very soft and has a lot of buttons, and because of the occasional sideways spook he can pull (it’s fairly easy to sit, but I wouldn’t want a beginner to try).

Lipizzans are pretty small - 14.2-15.3 hands, give or take. Nice and close to the ground, so you never feel like you’re ‘way up there’. My grandma, who has seen the stallions of Viena, was actually a little disappointed to find out how small he actually was, lol! Conformation-wise: Farriers love his feet. They were a bit of a mess when we got him - but now they’re nice, strong, and fairly big for his size. He’s naturally a bit weak over his loin, so proper work over his back is essential to keep him in tip-top - it’s probably the #1 thing I see conformationally wrong with lippizans, so do watch out for that if you decide to get one.

You can expect to pay between 10 and 25k for one, depending on training and age. I’ve seen a few 2 year olds come up for under 10, and a couple of schoolmasters for closer to 30. I would not go for a cross, especially not an arab-lippi cross. The exception, for me, would be a lippizan X TB cross. They’re usually bred for eventing and I think they’d be very nice and fun for that job, since the cross would lengthen the stride, add scope, and size - but upper level dressage would probably more difficult for them than for a full lippizan.

A lot of people compare them to lusitanos and Andalusians. In my experience - they neither move nor act like those. There’s some similarities, in talent for collection and keenness mostly, but I wouldn’t really compare them (although, if you liked the Andalusians, I think you’ll probably like the lippizzans).

If you want a horse RIGHT NOW, you might have trouble finding one (it seems in COVID people have snapped a lot of them up). But, if you’re willing to look (and possibly wait a little), or buy a 2 year old - you should be able to find one. Tempel Lipizzans is about 5-6 hours from where you live, I think, and they generally have some young stock available, plus there are a couple of breeders in Canada (although the one that bred our boy has long since closed).

Edited to add: he has great gaits too. Nice swinging 4 beat walk, drop-dead gorgeous trot - looks like he should be on a merry-go-round to be honest. Canter is very pretty and bouncy, but not the massive warmblood canter favoured by dressage currently.

The neighbour’s lipizzan is trained up to GP and has all the buttons, and she’s looking to replace him with another lippi when he retires.


Bad training can happen in one ride or first 30 days. Just look for a horse that naturally moves well for dressage and has the brain and personality you enjoy working with. As you will be buying a going horse, by the sound of it, papers etc no longer matter, look at the individual in front of you, regardless the breed. Keep in mind that judges still like big flashy gaits better then very correct but more conservative looking gaits, so if show success is of import, buy the gaits!

Do you prefer a lighter, hotter horse, or a horse that’s not quite so hot but may require more from you?

I’d go with a TB or Arab (or Anglo-Arab, or Morab) myself - but I love both breeds. I prefer a horse that has what I term ‘cruise control’ - when I ask for a gait, I get it immediately, and it’s no trouble to keep them there. Every one I’ve ridden has been so eager to please, and had great work ethics.

I’ve ridden some draft crosses - OMG, never ever again. I rode some Georgian Grandes (Saddlebred x Percheron) for a breeder to get her babies started, and a Belgian/QH cross that was an absolute bear. In my experience, the drafts are eager to please, but harder to keep fit and are more apt to take advantage of a momentary lapse of attention to either a.) quit, or b.) grab the bit and do their own thing. Since I’m short and lighter-weight, those guys were not a good fit for me. For someone taller and stronger, they might be.