Saddlehorse World vs. Dressage, Part II, Guest Post

Guest post by Contact. Notice the call for questions at the end. [Part I]. Welcome.
Part two! This post is sort of a mish-mash of thoughts. I am trying to summarize some complicated differences without writing a 20-page novel. So again, these are just my own observations.

Myself riding Pippa. Notice her dropped back. Weak topline

Myself on Hampton, a dressage horse. Lifted back, strong topline.


  • Saddlehorses: You will almost always see a hollow, dropped back. This is important in the gaited classes because the “extra” gaits are lateral in nature so in order to get that smooth slow gait, or rack, you have to hollow the back, thus destroying the purity of the trot and they “fall into” the lateral 4-beat gait. I will say that the slow gait is really smooth and quite fun to ride though! Some horses are more naturally gaited than others. The hind end often has quite impressive hock action, but little engagement. That is in general, you DO see saddlehorses who can sit and push but it is the minority. Hocks often trail behind the horse and the trot – especially in the five-gaited horses – is frequently not pure. Almost not even two beats anymore. There is a LOT of diagonal dissociation, and frequent negative DAP (which is another post in an of itself but here is a general link about DAP) I think I will go more into gaits in the next post.
  • Dressage: The back and hind end are the most important focus for much of dressage training. Looseness, lift in the back, engagement of the hindquarters, rotation of the pelvis all come into play as you go into more advanced work. Purity of the gaits is really important. You see more lateral walks in dressage than the saddle horses, but I am going to go out on a limb and say a good portion of that is caused by hand riding. But because dressage focuses so much on correct back and hind end development, dressage horses tend to stay sound and compete much longer than saddlehorses. A 15-year-old Saddlebred is considered quite old for the show ring, whereas in dressage he might just be hitting his peak. There are always exceptions, though. I am just generalizing. 


  • Saddlehorses: There are some people who loop the saddlehorses in with the Tennessee Walking Big Lick horses. This is not true. Saddlebred, Morgan, and Arabian folks do not sore their horses. The trot is the most important gait for these horses so anything that would produce unsoundness and destroy the trot would not be desirable. There is no incentive to sore the saddlehorses. However, they DO use weighted shoes and pads. Most shoes weigh between 12-24 ounces. A couple of divisions do have weight and shoeing rules (like Country Pleasure), as well as rules on how long the hoof can be. Many times a band will be used to keep a heavier show secured. Because of these shoes, most Saddlebreds do not get turnout, except perhaps in winter when they are out of their “show shoes.” By the way, if your horse throws a shoe during your class you can call a time out and the farrier will come tack it back on for you and you can continue the class. For a more detailed description of what shoes are ok for what Saddlebred division, click here, Shoeing for Different Divisions – Saddlebreds.
  • Dressage: Dressage horses are shod according to whatever shoe they are most comfortable in. There are no weights (I think?) but pads are fine, and any variety of shoe that makes the horse comfortable. Many dressage horses are barefoot and compete successfully that way, too. I could not find any specific shoeing rules, other than you can’t paint your horse’s hooves with glitter and such haha. If your horse loses a show during your test, you can either keep going or retire. Tough cookies. ha.

Next: Gaits, tails, riders, misc roundup! And, I will answer questions. Thank you all for reading!

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