Horse show jumping has been a trendy equestrian sport since the early 1900s. Dressage dates back more than 2,000 years.
Showjumping often includes many Warmblood breeds, as well as Thoroughbred and Arabian breeds of horses. Showjumping quickly rose to popularity as a spectator sport thanks in part to its first appearance at the Olympic Games in 1900, where more than 50 riders and horses competed. Most of the horse breeds used at that time included Belgian Warmbloods and Selle Francais.
Dressage is an incredibly old equestrian concept, dating as far back as 400 BC. Horses were often used in Greek battles and were trained to evade and attack the enemy using various body and leg movements, which have now evolved into modern-day dressage. The first dressage presentation was held at the Olympics in 1912 and included 21 riders and horses. This version of dressage differs from the dressage most equestrians know today as it required the horses to perform a series of jumps over both stationary and moving obstacles. Swedish Warmbloods dominated the event and are still a very popular breed today in both dressage and show jumping.
Best Horse Breeds for Show Jumping?
Finding the best breed of horse for show jumping will depend on your personal goals and the amount of training you and your horse receive.
There are so many horse breeds, but which one is the best for show jumping? In many upper-level show jumping circuits, Dutch Warmbloods are by far the most popular choice as they have both the size and athleticism needed to clear even the most difficult jumps. They are also known to be very easy to train due to their high intelligence and determination to please their riders. The Dutch Warmblood has the physical build and mental capacity needed to make it to Olympic level show jumping with the right amount of training for intermediate and advanced riders.
Dutch Warmbloods can help build the rider’s confidence through their sure-footedness and calm disposition for beginning riders. Many training stables throughout Europe use Dutch Warmbloods as their main schooling horses as they are smart, safe, and reliable.
Belgian Warmbloods and Rhenish Warmbloods are also prevalent breeds due to their long legs and excellent bone structure. For riders whose goal is to clear some of the highest jumps, both Belgian Warmbloods and Rhenish Warmbloods should be their first consideration. Many bloodlines of Belgian Warmbloods, for example, have been specifically bred to focus on excellent hoof and pastern structure, giving them a natural edge when it comes to successfully landing high jumps. They are highly sought after for riders looking to excel in both the entry levels of the sport as well. Their calm and easy-going nature makes the Belgian Warmblood and Rhenish Warmblood suitable for a schooling horse. While they might not be as easy to train as the Dutch Warmbloods, both the Belgian Warmbloods and Rhenish Warmbloods can make an excellent schooling horse for a confident or bold rider looking to advance their showjumping career quickly.
The top 8 Horse breeds found in both amateur and professional level show jumping include:
- Dutch Warmbloods
An excellent choice for novice and professional riders, the Dutch Warmblood is known for its ease of training. They are extremely determined to please their rider and trainer, making them one of the best horses for all levels of show jumping.
- Belgian Warmbloods
With some bloodlines boasting the best bone structure of any show jumping horse, the Belgian Warmblood is a great choice for confident intermediate and advanced riders looking to move into the high jumping circuits.
- Rhenish Warmbloods
One of the best choices for amateur riders to learn on, the Rhenish Warmblood has a noticeably calm and easy-going disposition. Often used as a schooling horse, an equestrian can quickly learn how to improve their riding when atop this horse.
Known for their strong back and legs, the Hanoverian is an excellent choice for show jumping at any level. They are smart and quick to learn new tasks, making them perfect for novice and expert riders alike.
Muscular with a long body, the Oldenburg is a prime example of power when it comes to showjumping. Their powerful legs are well-muscled with thick tendons that help them start and finish high jumps with grace.
For a rider looking for a willing and spirited horse, the Westphalian is an excellent choice. They excel in show jumping due to their high level of athleticism and willingness to learn new tasks from any rider they trust.
- Selle Francais
A great multi-purpose horse, the Selle Francais is a tall and powerful horse. They are a very suitable choice for showjumping and eventing and make a great horse for riders looking to make it into the upper levels.
Alert and intelligent, the Trakehner is a powerful option to consider for show jumping at any level. This breed has an abundance of energy and a powerful back and shoulders, making them an excellent choice for riders of any experience level.
Commonly seen at the novice levels of show jumping, the Holsteiner is a calm and laid-back horse. Their temperament is excellent for even timid riders, and they have a natural willingness to please, which makes them great for new trainers to work with.
Warmbloods cover a wide range of breeds, including some of those mentioned above. You can also find Warmblood crosses that are an excellent choice for a variety of equestrian sports. Warmbloods as a whole are extremely popular due in part to their physical build. They can have long legs and a powerful hindquarter, giving them the ability to clear a wide range of obstacles. They are also brilliant and easy to train, making them the perfect choice for a rider at any level of their career in show jumping. A novice equestrian may find Warmbloods of some types high strung and “hot” when it comes to handling, but these can also be highly sought-after traits in the perfect showjumping horse.
What Makes a Good Show Jumping Horse?
One of the first things you should look for when selecting a horse for show jumping is the overall body confirmation. This is most important in the legs and back, but the entire frame of the horse should complement its overall look. The height of the horse should be compared to your own height. If you are tall, be sure you find a tall horse to work with your size. You want to have good contact with the horse while in the saddle so any cues you give can be felt and understood by your horse.
You also need to pay close attention to the shape and condition of the hooves, as any issues with the hooves can instantly bring your horses’ showjumping career to a halt. Hooves should be uniform in shape, properly trimmed, and regularly shod.
If you are considering a horse for purchase, be sure to ask about any past tendon injuries or issues the horse may have had. Tendon inflammation, strains, or tears can make every movement painful for a showjumping horse, and even a minor past injury can have lasting effects on the horses’ potential.
Showjumping horses are expected to jump and turn tightly and have a powerful sprint between obstacles. This means you want to look for a horse with a strong back and well-muscled neck and hindquarters. A showjumping horse should also have well-shaped shoulders, meaning they are broad and long, giving the horse plenty of reach when making and landing jumps.
Best Horse Breeds for Dressage
Dressage is an equestrian sport that requires refined confirmation, intelligence, and elegant legwork from both horse and rider. As such, a variety of breeds are seen more often than others in the sport of dressage simply due to their natural grace and interest in performing tasks under the saddle. While many riders train dressage to their horses, in competition, a few breeds naturally outperform dressage.
What is the best breed for dressage? Oldenburg is the number one choice for dressage today. As part of the warmblood family, their natural build and grace make them ideal for dressage. Other Warmblood breeds are also highly suited to dressage, including the Dutch Warmblood, the second most popular horse in competitive dressage. Outside of Warmblood breeds, Trakehner and Hanoverian are extremely popular because of their natural athleticism. The top 9 breeds great for dressage include:
Arguably one of the most popular breeds in dressage today, Oldenburgs are part of the Warmblood family. They have a long stride and are highly intelligent, making them an excellent choice for all levels of dressage.
- Dutch Warmblood
An elegant horse with confidence and calmness, the Dutch Warmblood is commonly found performing a wide range of equestrian sports. As a dressage horse, they bring a long stride and beautiful fluid movement to the ring.
Extremely popular for dressage in the United States, the Trakehner has the ability to excel in a variety of equestrian areas. For dressage, they bring athleticism, willingness, and intelligence along with their natural grace.
This breed is extremely obedient by nature, making the Hanoverian a breeze to train. They are also very responsive to cues and have a confident disposition, making them an excellent choice for novice riders.
An extremely versatile horse, the Westphalian is popular worldwide due in part to its calm and gentle disposition. As a dressage horse, you will find this breed is an excellent choice for novice or intermediate riders.
A highly popular horse for various equestrian sports, the Friesian is a powerfully built horse with enough beauty to turn heads at any competition. They are both agile and intelligent, making them an excellent choice for all levels of competition.
One of the baroque styles of the horse, the Andalusian, is a graceful horse with an elite level of athleticism. For riders looking for a horse with the build and beauty to handle highly advanced moves, this is the breed to consider.
- Selle Francais
While not as popular as some other breeds, the Selle Francais can excel in all levels of dressage due to their ease of training. They are highly responsive to subtle cues from the rider and have a willingness to perform.
One of the classical styles of the horse, the Lipizzan, is possibly one of the most graceful horses in the world. Specifically bred for their advanced dressage moves and airs-above-the-ground, this is the breed to consider for elite-level performance.
What Makes a Good Dressage Horse?
The ultimate goal of the dressage rider is to display the horse’s natural grace and the quality of its gaits. Dressage horses need to maintain fluid movement, discipline, and interest in their work under the saddle. Horses that display a willingness to learn, tolerance for soft cues from their rider, and refined movements are often seen as the best dressage horses. This does not limit dressage to any one breed; however, in fact, a horse of unknown lineage can perform just as well as one with a solid pedigree.
One of the most important but often overlooked aspects of a good dressage horse is its responsiveness to both rein and leg cues. In dressage, the rider must make very subtle movements to maintain the look of grace and control. This means your horse must be able to not only feel very light cues on the reins or from the rider’s legs but also respond to them quickly and accurately while still maintaining an elegant form and gait.
How Important are Show Jumping and Dressage Bloodlines?
Bloodlines and pedigrees are highly important to many showjumping and dressage riders and trainers. There are two very distinct schools of thought on the matter; one side feels that the best horses have a strong pedigree behind them, and the other side embraces non-pedigreed or non-traditional horses.
Depending on where your personal opinions may lie, a good pedigree can mean your horse comes from a solid foundation of jumping or dressage lines. That not only gives the horse the benefit of having a proven body confirmation but can let a potential buyer know if that horse is worth the asking price. Looking at a horse’s pedigree can quickly tell you if that horse has natural potential for show jumping or dressage. Consider a strong pedigree the foundation of the horse, and future training can help solidify that foundation.
Those who don’t subscribe to the pedigree theory will consider the individual horse instead. This can often be a trial and error way of selecting your next champion, but it can allow a wider range of riders to get into the sport. Not every rider may be able to afford a well-pedigreed horse from the best dressage bloodlines but may be able to purchase a mixed breed horse that shows an individual proclivity to it.
What About Non-Traditional Horse Breeds for Show Jumping?
No rule says a horse has to be pedigreed to compete in show jumping at any level, including in the Olympics. This lack of a breed-specific rule allows any breed to enter the ring and perform to the best of their abilities.
While any breed can almost definitely jump over a small training fence, it takes a mix of traits for a non-traditional breed to perform at the higher levels of show jumping. Even a draft breed such as Clydesdale or Percheron can help a novice rider get a feel for jumping, but it is improbable these breeds will go far simply due to their physical build.
Showjumping puts a lot of strain on joints, muscles, and hooves. The larger and heavier the horse, the more force their body is subjected to when they land from a jump. However, many non-traditional breeds have gone far when it comes to high-level show jumping. Most people think of Warmbloods when asked what breed they expect to see in the ring, but Connemara Ponies are extremely popular small breed jumpers in Europe. Additionally, Akhal-Teke have been seen more than a few times in mid-level show jumping circuits, as have Saddlebred and Standardbred crosses.
What About Non-Traditional Horse Breeds for Dressage?
In comparison to show jumping, dressage can be much more forgiving for non-traditional horse breeds. For example, the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) notices a boldly colored black and white American Paint Horse Association (APHA) gelding named “True Texas Colors” that has competed at professional levels. This paint horse, known as Blue to his owner Lesley Grove, has won multiple championships over his ten-year career. Additionally, Arabians, Gypsy Vanner, and Percheron crosses have made it to FEI levels of dressage competition in the United States and Europe.
One of the most important aspects of using a non-traditional horse breed in dressage is working with the horses’ unique strengths. It may not have the flashy look of a Westphalian, nor the pristine and extremely valuable pedigree of a Dutch Warmblood, but even the most non-traditional breed can excel at the upper levels of dressage if the rider can bring out the best of that horse’s abilities when in the ring.
How Important is Having a Show Jumping or Dressage Trainer?
A trainer can help you improve at all levels of show jumping and dressage for both novice and advanced riders alike. A trainer can be an invaluable asset to have if you want to turn your hobby into a career or if you have goals of making it to the Olympics.
One of the biggest benefits of having a showjumping or dressage trainer is that they can notice faults you might not see. They can also help push you to achieve larger jumps or more advanced dressage moves in a safe and structured manner.
You and your horse must learn to work together and trust each other, and having a trainer can make this process easier from the start. Beginners and intermediate riders may need a trainer to help remind them about the smaller details such as hand placement on the reins, keeping your back straight while in the saddle, and leaning properly during a jump.
A trainer can offer their experience and knowledge in helping you clear just a slightly higher fence or master that perfect piaffe for advanced riders.
Closing Thoughts on Show Jumping and Dressage Horses
Whether you plan on keeping show jumping and dressage as your weekend hobby or have aspirations to make it all the way to the top, finding the right horse can make all the difference. It doesn’t matter if you plan to focus on a single sport or choose to learn more than one, your horse is your partner, and the two of you must make the perfect team.
Find a horse that has the confirmation and willingness to learn, make sure you and that horse get along and find a trainer that can help teach you what you know to reach your goals.