So what can be done to make Dressage more affordable?

WHat works against us is the American thing of “winning”. The Ribbon. The BIG Ribbon. Dressage may well be for every horse, but until folks realize that “winning” in dressage is about bettering your previous score, not necessarily winning the class, things won’t change. THose of us who ride the non traditional horses MUST embrace this, otherwise we would not find any satisfaction in the sport. We will NEVER beat the good warmbloods, no matter how nice our Luso is. The criteria are stacked against us.

How can we use this knowledge to expand the sport? Maybe offer prizes (you know, the RIBBON) for “most improved” scores (our GMO does). Maybe encourage more riders to compete for those “you didnt win but you are working toward a goal” awards - the medals, the performance awards, the Master’s challenge. Right now those awards aren’t given much push by USDF - and they could easily encourage riders to go for them.
And then there are the breed awards. If the BREEDS really stepped up that would also help - then you are no longer competing against the big warmbloods, but against horses with similar characteristics to yours. SOme breeds go all out. Unfortunately mine doesnt - the other year I won THREE different championships - and what did I get? the three little generic medals USDF gives out, and ONE paper certificate from my breed organization with all three listed on it. Make me feel special… So guess what? I am no longer trying to get 8 scores at four shows to qualify for the all breeds award.
Another example, a few years ago I scribed up at Lamplight for the Childrens’ FEI Championships. The interview after the class was of course with the winner (trains with SP, VERY nice pony, you-know-whose child. VERY nice rider, deserved to win). I would have rather seen an interview with the second place pony rider who had a very cute pony… and you could see how hard she worked. Or the Chincotee pony. Or any of the others who were not the $$$$ kid. Encourage those backyard pony owners and riders…


Eh, even for those of us who don’t care about winning (against others, or in terms of ribbons) the whole “beating your previous score” thing is not always a rewarding approach to showing in dressage.

Score variability is significant enough that you often have to put in quite a few tests at a particular level to see a true signal of improvement through the noise. A lot of us can’t do that. For those of us who are on some American mongrel of a horse (for which the difference between a mediocre test and a maximally well prepared, technically well-ridden test will register as a rather small difference in scores in the current system) and/or reside in regions where shows are far away and far between, showing is simply an underpowered method for finding evidence of self-improvement.

I’ve embraced the self-competition dressage model for a decade only to realize that you can’t find much of a signal in the noise without a lot more showing than is possible for a rider like me. Makes no difference whether you have a “winning” mindset or a “bettering yourself” approach when evaluation is subjective and you ride a sort of horse that puts you in a compressed range of the scoring scale and you cannot afford the time or money to go to many shows per season. I don’t doubt that meaningful self-competition is possible for some riders with a nice Luso in a dressage-dense region like Florida, but I do think that it’s a farce for many AA riders whose circumstances are even more marginal than that.


I am sorry but IMO the main and only problem of US Dressage is financial and this strange AA rule… And it goes along… If you spend all this money for a show you do expect a ribbon… Point… If you only spend 10 bucks for a show you will survive if you don’t make it into the ribbons, because you can go next weekend again… But if you can only go once a year you cannot try again…


I’d like to see a resurgence of quadrille, perhaps with costume leniency and using the standard arena, not the shortened arena. The success of the Challenge of the America’s in Wellington every year shows that quadrille can have great audience appeal. USDF quadrille rules are onerous. Make the rules simple and allow for 4, 6, 8 rider teams.

Bring back prix caprilli’s for those that want to do a little jumping with dressage.


Some USEF demographics for us to chew on:

AffluentӢAvg income is $185,000 Ӣ38%networth>$500,000 Ӣ22% own two or more homes Ӣ40% live on a farm; 66% of those are10 acres or more ӢAverage home $594,000

Active Ӣ30 nights per year in a hotel Ӣ43% take more than 16 airline trips per year Ӣ97.3% hold >1 credit card ӢOwn three vehicles Ӣ53% own a pick-up truck

Decision makersӢ80% make purchase decisions Ӣ63% traded Stocks, Bonds or Mutual Funds in the last year Ӣ85% are women Ӣ66% have college degrees *US Equestrian Federation


Wow! I so dont fit those demographics! Only things that apply are female, college degree, more than one credit card (2) and I guess I am the decision maker, since I live alone.

Dressage is still affordable to me - showing in recognized shows is less so!


Me too!! That was in a “why to sponsor” brochure at the Liftmaster Eventing show case in Aiken this year. I think I had an extra glass of wine that night… I struggle to afford my horse - yes, I def recognize some folks can’t afford one at all - but recognized shows just seem so far out of reach any more.


I think we also need to invest in coaching. As I see it, equestrian federations are more interested in taking and not providing anything back to incent coaches.

There are two aspect to this sport: performance and riding for the rest of us. We need to make the sport accessible at all levels.


I agree about getting the kids involved too. I have a son who is interested in riding (he’s 7). But somehow I don’t think dressage will be able to compete with the excitement of Minecraft and Mario Kart. He would likely love eventing, and that’s where he’d have to get his dressage foundation. And in trail riding, of course. We don’t currently have a horse, but we’ll likely end up with a small, not warmblood (unless Morgans count?).


I am quoting myself because the posts in this thread since I wrote the above (Post #13) would seem to validate the concept that the only way all anyone can think of “dressage” is in some form of competition/competitive format.

For data geeks, just count the total number of responses to this thread and then count the number of responses that refer to dressage as some form of a competitive event.

I consider “dressage” to be anything from leading a young foal to lead to schooling passage, piaffe, pirouettes & tempis.

The foundations of dressage are build from the ground up.

This foundation includes developing obedience when young… developing obedience in hand or on the long lines …developing obedience at W-T-C…etc.

There is a direct progression in training a horse to understand the very basics to learning advanced work.

Anyone who can afford to keep a horse, can have access to “dressage.”

The problem I see is access to trainers.

There are very few “dressage” trainers that I have seen devote any time to basic horsemanship…which is the foundation to all riding, including dressage.


Perhaps the best solution is to have a organization that is geared to AA alone. I understand that AA have their own classes already but the real problem is that AAs are being shoved out because they cant afford to show.

More and more GMOs are losing members, there are fewer shows and the costs are pricing out many AAs .
As the number of recognized shows drop, the number of schooling shows are increasing.

An AA organization could completely scrap the current recognized show system and create it’s own schedule and redefine what a recognized show is

Creates its own medal system and end of year awards, achievements. Some GMO s do this but not all of them do.

Maybe study the model system of the Hunter Association. I used to attend the local hunter shows and they were a blast. The barns in the local association took turns holding the show and they were well attended and the fees were quite reasonable. They were 1 day shows so there was no need to pay for overnight accommodations or extra hay and feed or shavings.

Have each state in a region hold it’s own regional. like a semi final if you will and then have a final in a central location. Each semi final is a 1 day show.

A lot of the AA budget is spent on logistics. Travel, lodging, meals, stabling. If there was some way to make the smaller shows count. AAs wouldnt have to travel so far, take more time off work etc.

If it is planned well, such an organization could work. AAs buy feed, tack, trailers , etc so getting corporate sponsors shouldn’t be a problem.

Also such an organization could get to define what an amateur is.

I’ve got no problem with an amateur wearing a pair of boots given to them by a sponsor, or using a saddle pad, or riding jacket with a logo on it.

Why? ( Sorry to break it to you folks but wearing designer stuff is not going to make you ride better)
These things wont give you an unfair advantage.

Other sports allow amateurs endorsements swimming, gymnastics, etc so why not equestrian?

Personally I’d love to see Manni01 on a Wheaties Box.


From everything I’ve read and seen, in general the Adult Ammies that are going up the levels have way more disposable income than the pros. After all they hire the pros to help them win. They are the employers of the pros.

I think that the presence of affluent ammies is driving up the costs. Most pros even ones doing well are more pragmatic about their expenses (unless they were born with a huge trust fund).

It’s the presence of the children of the affluent drove up costs in Hunters.


^^^ This!! ^^^

Some want to have all the benefits offered by the current system such as prizes, medals, recognition, competitions, etc but don’t want to pay for it. Is USDF perfect? No, but I haven’t seen anything better with the possible exception of the Western Dressage Association which was clearly a labor of love for some people.

If someone can figure out how to put on a show with $10 entries, at a facility that would meet people’s standards for footing and amenities, and hire a competent judge that people would want to show to, they should do so.

To expect others to donate time and money to subsidize “accessible” dressage shows is incredibly entitled.


You call it coaching. I call it teaching.

If you are a lower level rider, there is no point in spending $2-300 for a BNT clinician. Go to the clinic though, listen and learn. If the BNT is saying the same things, and doing the same exercises with emphasis on body usage, and correct figures your home instructor says, stay with your instructor, spend your money there. If the BNT is saying things that are similar, take notes, ask questions. If the comments and exercise are way far dissimilar, audit a few different BNT’s. BNTs are not created equal… Not all can explain and teach. But after research and listening you may find a change in home instructor maybe needed.

There are many local instructors who show and teach, and the results are cringewothy… :lol: There are others who don’t advertise, no longer show but who can produce students who actually can ride, and know what and how to do, when and why.

With an honest instructor who insists on correctness, you can know you are progressing without showing.But, also.if you want to show he/she can help polish your performance in the ring.


Have at it.

Be the change you want to see.

The truth about dressage is that it’s not easy enough for people to want to partake in it.

Got enough money? You can buy an equitation horse with all the tricks and buttons installed, and the average person can stay on and get it around. Are the top flight riders exceptional? yes. But there are THOUSANDS of shows, and millions of dollars made, on horses plodding around the 2’6" with an auto change that are seeing eye horses.

That’s really difficult to do in dressage. There’s just not that much incentive to work that hard at it because it only gets harder as you go. Your horse has to not only be of reasonable athletic ability, but very trainable, and you have to ride at that level all the time or the horse very quickly becomes unfit and untrained. Maintaining school horses for dressage is incredibly difficult past the very basics because the movement must be done correctly every time, or the horse learns to do it the wrong way and it’s difficult to fix. You won’t ever get good at dressage riding one day a week for your $70 lesson and then wanting to go to a show. It’s just not realistic.

As much as we all like to say it’s true, it’s not that someone can just go buy a grand prix horse and have a gold medal in a month. We all saw the video from a few years back where that was attempted. It’s not that simple, and that is why dressage is not that popular.


I agree with you.
I gave up on the idea of showing long ago. I couldnt afford it even at the lower levels. For a time I couldnt afford lessons at all.

But I never expected someone to come along and magically pay all my bills because my talent is too good to waste. (Yeah, right)

I’m not the one who has heartburn over accessibility, or making dressage more affordable.

People generally compete in dressage because they

  1. Are a ribbon ho and if takes lots of money to win then that’s what they’ll do. The horse is no more than a piece of equipment like ice skates or golf clubs or a tennis racket. If they stop winning they’ll sell it and get one they can win on.
  2. They compete because they love the process and because they want to do right by their horse and because they strive to be the best rider they can be.
    Being evaluated gives the rider an idea of where they are and what they need to do progress. And , you get to show off. That’s the whole idea.

I dont judge someone if they are a ribbon ho.
I’m not the dressage police.

I got into dressage , cause

  1. I didnt want to jump on purpose anymore.
  2. Hunt seat seemed to focus more on the mechanics of riding and less on horsemanship.
    Very formulaic.
  3. Cause I love my horse (I’m weird like that.) And I wanted to become a true horsewoman : empathetic, and skilled so that we could learn to trust each other.

Dressage is the art of correcting correctly.
The tests are there as a guideline and direction as you learn new skills.

You build a foundation and then add to as you progress.

The goal to me isn’t perfection.
The goal to me is to use the principles and theories of dressage to create, and sustain the ultimate connection between horse and rider.

Your goals may be completely different and that’s okay.

As far as making an association for AA’s I just put it out there because it appears that the Dressage powers that be are ignoring their needs.

If enough you are motivated and tired of the status quo you can do something about it.

It’s not impossible.
ParaOlympics Games came about because enough people made it happen.


Please explain how affluent AAs are driving up the cost. AAs fill the shows; we pay the pros (as you said), we pay commissions when we buy horses; we pay all the equine service workers and certainly “feed” the tack stores. Not sure how that translates into higher show costs. Do we set the judge fees? Do we set the facility fee or the fees the DF/EF charge? NO.

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@AnastasiaBeaverhousen what would you SPECIFICLY like USDF to do for AAs? Thank you.

Sorry @lorilu I don’t think everyone wants a ribbon, but everyone DOES want to feel they are “part” of the group. And THAT no longer happens. I’ve been involved as a volunteer with the show scene for about 25 years now, and riding for probably 20 years - and back in the GROWTH years of dressage, everyone was welcome. On our Morgans, Tbreds, Arabians, we were part of the sport. Now days, after getting a test with one comment throughout (needs impulsion), or getting comments such as “limited gaits, lacks potential”, or “flat gaits”, or “not really suitable for dressage”, and so on, people get discouraged.

I was at a clinic specifically for AA riders 2 years ago, and the clinician (a well known judge and competitor) told one rider her (Quarter)Horse would never advance in dressage. Her ONLY teaching tips to that poor rider were to “cut her tail so it looks better”. The next rider, on a fancy Warmblood, got an hour of teaching (15 minutes of that belonged to that prior rider). She was relatively new to dressage, and had a perfectly suitable mount to learn the basics on. AND she had told the clinician that in the beginning!

I find it ironic that the USDF is bemoaning the loss of membership, the loss of volunteers, but then basically treating its base membership as disposable and unimportant. So, there is THAT…

@AnastasiaBeaverhousen gearing toward the AA alone doesn’t really fix the issue - there are plenty of very wealthy AA riders out there that have schoolmasters in full training, and are plenty competitive. If you want to build up the base, you need to find a way to make “fancy horse” less important in the mix…

In some non-rated competitions, they actually attempt to level the playing field, and focus on riding and training instead of big gaits. Specifically, intercollegiate competitions do this, and OPRC (Old People’s Riding Club) does it too. I’ve judged both, and have judged intercollegiate several times - the judges are told at the beginning - quality of gaits is NOT part of this competition. It puts a whole different spin on things.

@ several people - the cost of showing is eclipsed by the cost of a fancy horse in full training. That is just reality. Back in the days, most of the competitors were not in full training - they might haul in for a lesson weekly, or be in a part time program, or have a horse in training for a few months to help with a specific issue. But the vast majority of people rode their own horses - and they were “regular” horses. The European invasion changed that - suddenly our American horses weren’t good enough.

Most people showed at Training and First Level. Getting your bronze medal was a BIG DEAL. Most never really intended to go much beyond that. Our lower level classes were FULL, even at USDF Regionals - it was pretty common to have over 30 horses in each division at those levels (AA and Open). The classes got much smaller from 2nd level onward. Now 3rd and PSG are the biggest divisions (at least in my Region).

So, we’ve lost our grass roots - well reality is, we haven’t lost them. But they aren’t showing at rated shows, and they aren’t members of USDF (and the GMOs) because, well, why? They aren’t WELCOME. So instead they show Western Dressage, or they show at schooling shows (we have schooling shows that are two-ring now because there are so many entries).

Horses are expensive. But full training and fancy horses are MORE expensive. It cost me about $200/month to keep my horse at home. It costs me 3.5 times that to board a horse. Add training to the mix, and now we’re talking a house payment! Add the cost of buying a nice horse into the mix - I hear what people are paying - it is WAY out of the price range of the average rider. $30,000, $50,000, $80,000, over $100,000? For a HORSE? I didn’t pay that much for my car! And that is where we lost the grassroots membership…

I still remember when gaits was not the first part of every single score. The fancy moving horses got a few bonus points in the collective marks at the end of the test. For the rest of the test, we were all on the same playing field. And dressage was a rapidly growing discipline.

So, if you really want to make it affordable, its going to go back to less emphasis on fancy, more emphasis on training. I went through the L Program about 20 years ago because I wanted to understand WHY the scoring was changing so dramatically. I learned. Gaits are a huge part of EVERY. SINGLE. MOVEMENT. The sport has evolved - it is not just about training - that is a component of it, but not the only component, or even the main component. And yes, we can train our horses and develop their gaits, I do understand that - but everyone on a fancy Warmblood needs to understand - they have an innate advantage. Carl Hester couldn’t make MY horse into an 8 mover, but YOUR horse comes out the gate an 8 mover. And the judge is going to comment over and over about my horse’s lack of reach and impulsion, so why bother - I KNOW my horse lacks scope, but I love my horse, I’ve developed him, he has good basics, can’t I get some feedback and acknowledgement on that, instead of 25 comments about his lack of fancy?. THAT is where you are losing people (please note, I’m not necessarily talking specifically about MY horse, but talking collectively, because there are a lot of us out here who ride “that” horse).

And yes, good affordable instruction is part of the challenge too. It is all over in Germany, Holland, even the UK - and hard to find and expensive here. I doubt that will change - no one wants to use tax $ to fund horses - a “rich man’s hobby”. Horses are part of society in Western Europe; Ball sports are part of society in the US.

I don’t think you can fix it - I think that horse has left the barn…