Can you lose marks for not having a warmblood for Dressage?

Xavier Faer at badminton, warmblood for dressage
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When we think about dressage, many of us picture those big flashy warmbloods with gorgeous floaty paces. Warmbloods have been selectively bred for years specifically to produce these impressive paces we love to see. But how pretty the horse’s paces are is actually a really small factor in dressage, only accounting for one of the collective marks. So do we need a flashy warmblood for dressage?

How is dressage scored?

Each movement in a dressage test is scored out of 10, 0 being the worst, 10 being the best. The judge decides what score to give based on how well you performed the movement. Typically, 6 is considered average and 10 is perfect. A rough guide to what the scores mean for the movement are:

  • 0 = not performed
  • 1 = very bad
  • 2 = bad
  • 3 = fairly bad
  • 4 = insufficient
  • 5 = sufficient
  • 6 = satisfactory
  • 7 = fairly good
  • 8 = good
  • 9 = very good
  • 10 = excellent

The scores for the test are then all added together and combined with the collective marks. These marks are for the test as a whole, not specific movements and separated into 4 categories; paces, impulsion, submission, and rider.

  • Paces
    Your horse should be loose in their paces, moving without tension with regular hoof beats. A relaxed horse with flashy paces will be able to score higher here. But a flashy horse with tension can not show or contain their movement, actually losing them marks.
  • Impulsion
    Your horse should be moving forward willingly with energy. They shouldn’t look laboured, or that you are kicking for every stride.
  • Submission
    Your horse should “submit” to the contact and the riders aids. Basically your horse shouldn’t hollow or tense up during transitions, changes in bend or being asked anything by the rider.
  • Rider
    Often referred to as Position and Effectiveness, this mark is for the rider. How good did they look on the horse and how well did they ride them. Were you getting a response when you put your leg on etc.

Collective marks are worth double. So 7 out of 10 for paces actually means 14. Your collective marks are doubled and added to the marks for your movements.

Why are warmbloods more popular for dressage?

Despite dressage not being all about WOW movement, most people choose a warmblood for dressage. Now there are a few reasons for this with fashion being a part of it. Warmbloods are popular in most sports now, because a warmblood is just a generic term for a type of horse what has been bred with certain sports in mind. So warmbloods should have an advantage in many sports and when it comes to dressage, I do think that on the whole, warmblood score higher.

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Why do non-warmbloods score lower?

There are plenty of reasons why non warmbloods might score lower than warmbloods in dressage and it’s not all down to flashy paces.

Professional warmblood for dressage

Professional riders usually want a horse with flashy paces over a horse with ordinary paces. A well bred horse with expressive paces is more likely to be produced and ridden by a professional rider. So of course these horses are more likely to get better scores and compete at a higher level. Taking the horse power out of the equation, it is hard for an amateur rider to compete against professional riders.

Conformation > Paces

Conformation and paces are quite closely linked. Typically a horse with better conformation has more movement through their body to allow for more expressive movement. For example, a ‘downhill’ horse who is higher behind the saddle than in front is going to struggle to lift their front end, let alone show expression.

Many warmbloods are bred with this in mind. Many warmbloods don’t have fancy and expressive movement, but they have the right conformation to make dressage easier for them, allowing them to have more freedom and regularity in their paces. Which gives a nicer overall picture.

Whereas other breeds, in particular Spanish types, can be more compact. There natural way of going can often look a bit tense or over collected. They might find they score really well in the collective movements but struggle to show the extension. Similarly, many thoroughbreds can be long, loose horses who are powerful and look amazing when they extend, but struggle with the collection.

Unconscious bias

Unfortunately, there will always be a certain level of bias in dressage. One judge might see a movement as a 7 and another might see a 6.5. Not only that, but I think that with so many warmbloods in the sport, judges can’t help but see their movement as the normal and judge other horses against it. This could potentially leave room for some non warmbloods missing out on marks because they don’t fit the picture of what the judge expects for certain marks. Hopefully encouraging riders of non warmbloods to compete in dressage will help draw attention to this and improve it.

Don’t want to compete against a warmblood for dressage?

Firstly, you should remember that you shouldn’t lose marks just for not having a warmblood. If your horse moves correctly and you have put the work in schooling them, there is no reason they can’t be a fantastic dressage horse. Michael Jung’s legendary eventer La Biosthetique Sam FBW regularly topped the leader board after the dressage phase despite his incredibly ordinary and unspectacular movement. He was incredibly accurate and obedient that any marks he might have missed from the lack of WOW factor, he made up elsewhere.

If you don’t have a warmblood but want to compete in dressage don’t let it put you off. Not only can non warmbloods be fantastic dressage horses, just look at some of the ex racehorses eventing at top level or the Spanish horses at the Olympics, but there are also more and more championships aimed at non-warmbloods. You can compete as normal and aim to qualify for a championship just for horses like yours.

Last Updated on 10/09/2021

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