Dressage is a sport discipline that requires great focus from both the rider and the horse. Clear communication with the animal is also necessary. 

The beginnings of dressage 

Before horses took part in equestrian competitions, they were an integral part of many wars and battles. Horses on a war front had to fully trust their riders, quickly respond to their signals and be eager to work. 

Characteristics that were praised on a war front are now desired in dressage horses. Thanks to selective breeding, dressage horses respond to even the slightest of rider’s signals, which gives the appearance that the pair is simply dancing. 

Characteristics desired in a dressage horse

Horse riding is not an easy sport. It requires a lot of work to achieve success: regular training, extra care for a horse, and understanding of the animal. To have successful development and training of a horse, the animal must be eager to work with humans. To some horses, this positive attitude to work comes naturally, while others might need some time to develop it. 

Dressage horses are selectively bred to have the most desirable characteristics:

  • The lightness of the movement
  • Natural balance
  • Proportional and good conformation
  • Willingness to work and study
  • Temperament
  • Grace and elegance
  • Expression of fore and hind limbs

The most important characteristics are temperament, conformation and the horses’ attitude to work. Balance and movement can be bettered with the right training. 

The best dressage horses

One of the best dressage horses of recent years is a gelding Valegro. This horse in a partnership with his rider – Charlotte Dujardin, is a double gold Olympic medalist. 

Totilas is another famous dressage horse. This stallion established many world records and changed the view on modern dressage horse appearance and movement.

Types of dressage horses

The most common horses in dressage are warmbloods and especially European breeds. In lower-level competitions, you can notice a lot of different breeds. However, on the highest level, only a few best-suited breeds compete. 

What are the best breeds for dressage competitions?

Dutch Warmbloods (KWPN)

These long-legged athletes from the Netherlands are quite a popular breed in dressage. Their temperament is perfect for this discipline and their conformation is similar to the modern appearance of a dressage horse, which is slightly slimmer and taller than the traditional dressage horses. 

They measure up to 175 cm (5′ 9″) at the withers, but the long and muscular limbs are what distinguishes this breed. Thanks to their conformation, which more resembles a jumping than a dressage horse (long legs and neck, short back), they have a natural balance that is extremely useful in dressage. 

The most common coat colors are black, bay, grey and chestnut. 

Dutch warmbloods have already won the sympathy of the public with the most popular horse of this breed being: Royal Kaliber, Ferro, Brietling LS, as well as Valegro and Totilas. 


This breed was first used for jumping; however, their conformation and expressive movement have won them a place in dressage competitions as well. It’s an extremely strong and hardworking breed. 

These horses have been bred since the Middle Ages as a working type. That’s why this breed possesses many characteristics of a workhorse and a riding horse such as a wide chest, square conformation and muscular hind legs. 

For the purposes of sport, the current breeding of Holsteiner strives for an appearance of a modern dressage horse and German sport horse. Horses are built more lightly with the intent to use them for sport. 

Westphalian horse

A shining star straight from Germany. Their expressive movements and great temperaments make them the most popular breed in dressage. Moreover, these horses are also talented jumpers, which makes them a widely known and valued sport breed. 

Westphalian horses are great not only for sport but also for recreation and as a family pet thanks to their amazing temperament. These horses are extremely eager to work with humans, friendly to other animals and frequently ask for cuddles. 

The most popular horse of this breed is Olympic gold medalist Rembrandt. This horse was tremendously talented with a predisposition to high-level dressage. Other famous Westphalian horses are Damon Hill, Bella Rose and Vamos Amigos. 

Hanoverian horse 

This is another German breed with a slightly heavier build due to the solid bone structure, but still, their movement is light and fluid.

Firstly, they were used as cavalry horses, however, over the years people started using them as sport horses. Thanks to their courage and eagerness to learn new things, this breed is easy to train. 

Hanoverian horses measure up to 175 cm (5′ 9″) and come in black, gray, bay and chestnut coat colors.

Fresian horses

Fresian horses are a very old breed, known and used by humans for ages. This breed comes from the Netherlands. The breed was saved from extinction in the 19th century by official breeding that still exists today in that country. 

These horses are of medium height, muscular and have a stocky build; an appearance often described as baroque. 

The characteristic trait of this breed is their black coat, the only coat color allowed in breeding, and tremendously lush mane and tail. This gives them a very elegant and graceful appearance. 

Lipizzan horses

Lipizzan horses come from Austria and are an extremely distinguished breed in history or dressage. Thanks to breeding and development, it’s easy to see that these horses are born for dressage and know exactly what to do. 

Their movements are irreplaceable and almost legendary, written in many books and shown in many movies. 

These horses are historic and traditional, so their appearance doesn’t follow the modern dressage horse. They are muscular with a square body and compact barrel. These horses are mostly grey, other coats are very rare. 

The popularity of this breed allowed for the creation of a special competition only for Lipizzan horses. The award for this competition is given by the USA Lipizzan Federation and it is a decoration that recognizes the outstanding features and achievements of this breed – the Lipizzan Laurels Award.

Andalusian horses

Amazing horse breed that has its roots in Spain. The history of this breed is extremely convoluted and at some point, it was on the brink of extinction, because of numerous crossbreeding to get a better workhorse for carriage pulling and farming. 

These horses are exceptionally intelligent and temperamental. The characteristic traits of this breed include a very lush mane and tail, stocky build and expressive movements – especially movements of the front legs. 

These horses most commonly are gray but other colors such as black, bay or palomino are also possible.