Saddlehorse World vs. Dressage, Part I, Guest Post

Guest post by Contact. Welcome.

Update. At the risk of creating an infinite loop, the link to this page, including a photo of the author and friend at a sparkling show trot, Contact: When worlds collide.

Saddlebred World Champion Noble Charm who is a full sibling to Royale I Am – the chestnut featured on my blog frequently and who shows first level dressage

I have been asked to do a post comparing the saddlebred show industry (or saddlehorse world which would include Morgans and Arabians as well), and the dressage industry.

I have experience in both, but certainly am no expert. So take my comments with a grain of salt.

I thought the best way to compare and contrast the two, would be to go just go from the front of the horse to the back. Going to break this up into multiple posts. Buckle up, here we go!


  • Saddlehorses: Pretty much any bit is legal (including mule bits, twisted wires, bicycle chains). The curb (Weymouth) shanks are usually significantly longer. Does your horse get his tongue over the bit? Not a problem, most people just tie the tongue down.If there is blood in the mouth in the show ring, the horse may or may not be penalized.  But I have never seen one eliminated. Which is a USEF rule.* Officials “turn the other way.” However, even with these rough looking bits you almost always see very soft hands. You will not see rolkur, overbending, or cranking and spanking. Interesting enough, a single snaffle is often PROHIBITED in many of the saddleseat divisions (along with martingales under saddle and tie downs. But that’s about it. ha)
  • Dressage: Specific rules on which bits are legal both USDF and FEI. Length and port limits to snaffles and weymouths. No tongue ties allowed. Blood in the mouth (or anywhere on the horse for the most part) is elimination. “Kinder” bits in dressage, but I witness much worse riding. Harsh hands, cranking, yanking, rolkur, excessive overbending, hanging on the horse’s mouth, open mouths, tongue problems. Dressage horses learn more finesse with the rein aids. Flexion, bend, half halt, direct rein, indirect rein, etc. Where as the saddlehorses just have Stop and Go and Turn (maybe).

USEF rulebook the Hunter “headset” standard

Poll and neck

  • Saddlehorses: Most horses shown in saddleseat tack are naturally up-headed and have no issue keeping their poll at the highest point. You want flexion at the poll, too. Often achieved with your curb rein. A steady contact is usually rewarded, and above the bit and overflexed is usually penalized. Tossing the head, “fighting the bit” excessive opening of the mouth are frowned upon. Flexion and bend is irrelevant. Tension in the poll and neck is fine and accepted.
  • Dressage: Poll position is a gradual development with leniency allowed at the lower levels and where the horse is in development. Often breeds who are not naturally uphill can develop a more uphill balance and compete at the upper levels. Poll and neck position comes from gymnastizing the horse and working his back and hindquarters. (ideally). Bend and flexion is emphasized within movements of the test. Saddlehorse people put the head and neck first. Dressage people put the hind quarters first (and the training scale) and let the poll and neck develop.

 *The majority, but not all saddlebred shows are run under USEF jurisdiction. There has been some discussion and controversy about this industry breaking away from USEF for various reasons including their rules and Safe Sport. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

Link. USEF: American Saddlebred.

Next time: Back/hindquarters and the feet!

3 thoughts on “Saddlehorse World vs. Dressage, Part I, Guest Post

  1. Thank you for this. I, of course, know nothing at all, but a visit in my teens to a competitive barn and watching a Tennessee Walker being trained was distressing.

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