So what can be done to make Dressage more affordable?

There have some threads on the forum about the rising costs of showing and how Dressage is being exclusionary and becoming less accessible .

So what can be done to change it?

Besides the obvious like lowering the costs of showing, and membership fees.

From what I’ve read on other threads, there are fewer shows now and it makes it more difficult for the AA to show enough to earn points .

If you have the resources, you can move to Wellington in the winter and Maine in the summer.

You can go to Germany or Austria or Spain if you are so inclined

But what can the USDF do for the talented but income challenged?
( Does not apply to me, I ain’t got no talent. )

From what I gather, there are some active members of the USDF on COTH that are trying to get the

concerns of the AA heard but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

  1. Can we learn some lessons from Europe and make Dressage more attractive to American spectators?

Do we want to?

  1. What can GMOs do to attract local attention and
    increase membership?

Anecdote: A long time ago I knew a woman who moved to my location from out of state where she had been very active her GMO. She was very ready to join our GMO and participate.
She went to two meetings and quit because she said all they did was sit around and gossip and trash talk.
They did have many volunteers, but only 2 shows per year. The serious dressage riders save all their energy for regionals and clinics.

From what I understand the membership has dropped as have the number of volunteers.

One of the biggest drawbacks I see in my area is that there are no Academy Dressage stables . There are 4 or 5 Hunter barns that have lesson horses and programs and camps geared toward lower level riders but there are no dressage stables that do that.
There are some dressage instructors and there is one who has a training stable but you have to have your own horse.

The GMO does put on a show twice a year, but other than a notice on the Web site they dont advertise or market except to put notices in the tack shops and most of their clientele already know.

There are very few spectators because the venues are rural and on private farms or stables that are not welcoming to visitors.
Most of the venues have no bleachers to sit and watch comfortably or little in the way of amenities.

I think the GMO is missing a great opportunity to reach out to young riders but maybe they dont want to.

Maybe the problem in the US is that Dressage is perceived as inaccessible because its largely unavailable.

  1. Reduce income inequality across the board in society.

  2. Provide government subsidies to horseback riding like we do to virtually every other sport. Imagine if ordinary folks had to cover the full costs of playing fields, tennis courts, ice rinks, swimming pools, golf courses. We’d be back in the age of the country club.

As long as the rich are getting richer and the sport exists entirely in the private sector then the sport will follow the trajectories of income disparity.



Yes, equestrian sports are like the Amtrak of the sports world…


Well that sounds good in theory but it wont probably wont work in practice.
I’m not really into the class envy thing.
And there are some rich people who manage to lose all their money.

And to some people, you are one of the rich .its all relative.

The government can give you money : they cant make you use it wisely.

And I dont know that I want the guvment in my bid’ness. I think there is too much interference as it is.

And yes, I am a enlightened capitalist. I dont apologize for it.


Um, ordinary folks already do. Who do you think pays for all those football stadiums, baseball diamonds, Olympic parks, pro sports venues?

The government? We are the government. And it’s your tax dollars and mine. Whether we agree with it or not.

The tax payers of New Orleans had to pay extra taxes to build the Super Dome . It was paid for long ago but I think they still are paying that tax.

I like pro football, but I think those millionaire team owners can pay for their own damn stadiums. And there’s a lot of fans that cant even go the games because they cant afford the tickets.


locally “regular” dressage is struggling. The club is expensive (sanctioned shows only) and has a reputation for snobbery - those with warmbloods, white breeches and 5k dressage saddles need only attend is the perception of the general population. Lots of people going over to Western style dressage, much more affordable, more welcoming, not seen as elitest and easy to try that first competition - they offer affordable schooling shows that require no investment in new clothing or equipment and ordinary horses are the norm.


Part of the inaccessibility is financial, which is difficult to change, but part is also cultural, which I think is very changeable. I’ve heard more than a few people say in the last few years that “if” they show, it will probably be in western dressage because their horse isn’t “good enough” for regular dressage. I have nothing against western dressage, but if that sentiment is widespread, it does sadden me because dressage used to be seen as a sport that was accessible to any (sound) horse.

I do hold the opinion that some changes could be made to judging that could help close the gap a bit between purpose-bred and non-purpose-bred horses, so maybe the non-purpose-bred enter the ring at 3-5% behind the purpose-bred instead of 7-10% behind. But I don’t want to turn this into a thread about judging. Dressage accessibility is not just an issue of scores and showing.

There are lower-bar changes that would be easy to make if “we” (official and non-official capacity dressagers alike) chose to make a deliberate effort to market the sport as accessible to everyone. Sure, a purpose-bred horse will have an advantage in competitions. That is reasonable and fine - be honest about that. But it is possible to do fundamentally correct dressage work on a wide range of horses, even if they don’t come out of the womb looking ready to walk into a 3rd level test. So why not fill our magazines with images of a wide variety of breeds doing good correct work? Show people what is possible with their horses. The ones they already have. Use a wide variety of horses for educational materials and articles (like Through the Levels does). That sort of thing.

People get excited to try things when they are inspired by high level performance and can see some glimmer of a path to get even a small fraction of the way there. I think people understand that actual high performance sport requires an enormous commitment in time and money, so I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the things about dressage that we all (I assume) got hooked on: harmony and partnership with our horses, a better more thorough understanding of biomechanics and training, the journey of learning something truly challenging. Come for the passage, stay for the obsession-inducing bottomless learning opportunity.

Market the sport in a way that drives demand. Demand allows more professionals to stay in business and service varying niches. That makes the sport more accessible.


I showed recognized dressage lightly around 30 years ago (Wow! I’m old!) When I got my new horse 3 years ago, I took a look at what recognized shows are like now. A few things struck me.

It is more complicated to show now. There are rider memberships and horse numbers and more fees and more rules. They are trying with the “Opportunity classes” but otherwise the memberships and fees are daunting to someone who might want to do two or three shows a year.

The horse quality is better, even at the lower levels. Maybe it is self-perpetuating, but when you go to a show and dont see a lot of people and horses like yourself you may feel hesitant to sign up so there are fewer people like yourself showing… When I started there were more hunter converts, small stables, and combinations that, frankly lacked basics, trying this discipline out. Now it seems like only more serious competitors are showing recognized even at the lower levels.

The local schooling shows are doing pretty well at Intro, training and First. They are not doing as well as at their peak, but I think that is a reflection of lower horse ownership and show participation overall. Many schooling shows are also offering western dressage as well.

I am not terribly competitive, but have mused about where my horse and I would fit in if we showed. Right now we could fit in at First Level at schooling shows and maybe look at Opportunity classes at recognized shows (Whenever either of those occur again!) The difficulty will be that he is close to Second Level and there is virtually no competition at local schooling shows and the judges are inexperienced at judging the level. But there is no inexpensive path in recognized shows at that level. Still, it would be a nice problem to have…


I was just having a similar conversation today. We were saying how times have changed and non-warmbloods, once called “exotics” by the judges, are now much more common and much more fairly judged. That sort of acceptance should make it easier to get other riders involved.

My GMO has welcomed both gaited and western dressage, as well as drivers. But of course we only have schooling shows - however we go out of our way to be sure all the various “dressages” are welcome and we plan clinics etc on a rotating basis for each. We are known as a friendly club…

Otherwise, as to welcoming in the kids - how? We have had some luck working with a local trainer who specializes in kids, but otherwise… its hard to convince the H/J kids that this is worth it, and hard to convince the 4H kids that if they take a few dressage lessons their scores at their competitions will go up (it seems they just add the class as “something to do”, embarassing for groups from Ocala!!!)


It depends on how you define accessible. I think dressage is as accessible as any other equestrian sport. It’s a matter of the level at which one wants to play.

Anyone with the money can get all the memberships, pay the entries and go to a show.

Equestrian sport is expensive, period dot. I think it’s unreasonable to expect the same level of public support as sports like tennis, swimming, baseball, basketball and football because those sports are more easily funded for far more people than any equestrian sport.

A lesson horse isn’t going to do more than 3-4 lessons a day if that many. One basketball court can service 10 people at a time, and you don’t have to feed it. The return on investment just isn’t there.

Some seem to think of “accessible” as being able to show with the horse they have and get good scores and earn USDF medals.

There’s a lot that goes into that, I’ve seen many people get their bronze medals on all varieties of horses. What they had was good solid basic training, a willingness to learn and a fantastic work ethic. So maybe accessible includes access to qualified trainers. Yet those trainers need to live where they can make a living, so one has to be able to be where the trainers are. Too many people shun the local trainer and want access to a big name trainer before their own skills warrant it. Is that inaccessible? I don’t think so.

I could go on, but the bottom line is that I believe anyone who can afford a horse can learn and ride dressage. Can anyone hop on Bucky, Blaze or Star and go out and win at USDF shows, probably not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot on those horses. I did.


I think the affordable, accessible Dressage for everybody was an anomaly.

Two factors

For myself, i think the Olympics in Atlanta and the TV coverage of the US team made people aware in a way that hadn’t been done before.

People who hadn’t heard of Dressage suddenly wanted to try it.

(Fu nny story My mom and were watching the Olympic Dressage coverage and she liked watching the horses “Skipping”. It was the 1 Tempis.
She looked at me said. “How come you dont do that? It looks like fun.”
Yeah sure Mom, I’ll get right on that).

The other factor, just my opinion, was the plastic economy and how just about everybody got these crazy high credit limits. And opening 5 or 6 lines of credit. I know someone who had 15 credit cards.
Good times.

I knew people who bought two or even three horses because feed and hay were comparatively cheap and shoes didnt cost much and people could afford to buy trailers and the vehicles to haul them and even the expensive barns weren’t all that much more.

The scarcity of warm bloods at that time, made it easier for people at the lower levels. You could take your TB or Appendix to a local show and do very well, because the judges were American and very few had seen WBs so the scoring was quite different.

i remember talking to a woman who had ridden in a clinic with Dr. Klimke. She was riding a TB . A very nice TB btw. She said he told her. “Your horse is a very nice horse but it is not going to win because its not a warm blood.” And this was back in the late nineties.

Once people got a taste for competing at recognized shows and they weren’t winning against warm bloods, then people who had money bought warm bloods.

And then the plastic economy tanked and imploded and all that credit disappeared. The price of hay went through the roof and all the overhead that goes with keeping horses.

Plus the laws of supply and demand and the fact that those damn hunters and Big Eq switched from TB to WB and the eventers also because once the Germans started winning everything in eventing after they got rid of Roads and Tracks , they started buying WBs .

WB s command such high prices because people are willing to pay such high prices.

But it all goes back to goals.

If you are that motivated you’ll do what it takes to win.

And why is this any different from A circuit hunters ?
Very few people can afford high priced hunters either.


Actually I was thinking about public facilities not big stadiums. I live in a city where my tax dollar helps support a range of swimming pools, ball fields, skating rinks, fitness classes, ice rinks, tennis courts and even public golf courses, through the Parks Board, which also runs classes in all these things. There are small user fees for most of these amenities . And yes they come out of the overall municipal tax budget. But the cost is spread around everyone. Because there is a shared agreement that affordable recreation is a community good even if any given person doesnt skate or swim.

However horses have remained entirely in the private sector. Riders have to meet all the costs.

I was a child before recreation centers existed in my suburb and we joined an expensive “winter club” to take skating, swimming, tennis, etc. Compared to that I think my backyard horse was a bargain!

But today with most sports heavily subsidized by municipalities, horses are relatively much more expensive than other options. If you had to join a full scale country club to swim or play tennis, most people would be much less active!

Indeed our national donut shop (founded by a retired hockey player) runs a hockey find for children who can’t afford gear. The idea that a boy might be shut out of trying hockey because his parents are poor is apparently horrifying. Noone worries about girls who can’t afford to ride however :slight_smile:

I understand the affordable entry level riding lessons in Germany are possible because they have government support.

I don’t know the details of most big stadiums for spectator The ones I’m aware of tend to be public/private partnership often with a major league franchise and have cost recovery theoretically built in.


It isn’t about “winning”…or competing…

Dressage is about learning how to train horses.

Which is available to anyone interested in improving their horsemanship and riding skills.


Well then, you need to accept that the more pure a capitalist system, the more that money becomes the single value and determiner. The more money is the single value, the less other values influence things.

In a country where everything has a price, it only makes sense that you can buy your way into winning at a game. Riding is interesting because the horse matters so much, but obviously you can buy advantage in any sport with a range of quality of equipment. And indeed in other sports that take time and health and good advice, all of which have a price tag.


I remember a few years ago there was a thread about a program in California maybe LA that reached out to inner city kids to introduce them to dressage.

It’s been a few years but I challenge one if the COTH sleuths to find it and bump it up. I’d like to know if it is still going on and how it was funded.

I also cant find the original thread where the poster first called Apassionata Asspants. I saw many references to it but I still cant find it.

So there is a challenge for COTh sleuths who are looking for something to do.

Compton Cowboys?

It may have been. It s been years and I cant remember what I did last week.

No “sleuthing” to do…for anyone who has been around horses for a while, just google 3-time Olympian Kathy Kusner and her “Horses in the Hood”…and she is also a jet rated pilot.

She is a fascinating person…in her riding and breaking barriers for women.


It may have been. It s been years and I cant remember what I did last week.

Thank you .