Dressage Horse Match

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We know it's possible, even if we have spent weeks, months, or years looking for our very own Dream Horse. We all know people who are perfectly matched with great horses, they love.


Why, is it difficult for some to locate and buy a Dream Horse?

JohnnyDFor starters, it's helpful to remember that requirements often change over time and are highly individualized. A horse in my youth was a Dream Horse at the time but he would not suit me now. As a twenty-something, broke, working student aspiring to turn my passion into a living, any ride that I lived through and learned from was a good ride. Now that I hold all three USDF medals and am approaching midlife my needs are not the same.


You may have longed for an FEI horse to compete Grand Prix at one time and realize now that's the last thing you're interested in; or you may know that you're happiest working independently trying to figure it out on your own, and seek out professional help on an as needed basis. Or you could be looking for a school master that you can learn from through someone else’s training efforts.

The point is Dressage Horses aren't a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.

Your mission is to understand what you're looking for and decide which elements in your wish list are most critical for you; then make and execute a plan to go out and find that horse.

The worst way to find any horse is to shop without a solid PLAN.


First things first, develop a plan and put it in writing.

horse search planWe have all heard the value of planning in life decisions. We believe the reason 90% of serious horse buyers don’t own their Dream Horse after 90 days or make the wrong decision is that they have no “defined” plan.

Jeff and I routinely see better planning done in preparation for a horse show than buying the horse! Show us someone who has been looking for months and striking out and we will show you a flawed planning process.

Buying your Dream Horse is an emotional decision. Emotions are your friend and at the same time an enemy that cannot always be trusted. In horse buying, emotions must be managed to lead to the best decision. Emotional management begins with self reflection followed by written planning to maintain focus while screening then trying horses.

What are your goals?

Your Dream Horse could be one that takes you from here to retirement, or one that gives you a burst of learning and accomplishment and prepares you for the next level in your riding pursuit. Some dressage horse seekers are burnt-out on the frenetic pace and demands of the competitive dressage and want to retreat to a quieter, slower pace. Some just want to have fun and do a few local shows. Others would be bored to tears if they weren't competing in Florida CDI’s or Devon bound. What are your goals and time frames? Write them down, please!


What are your Goals for you and your new partner to be?

  • Do you seek a Dressage Horse that will let you create your masterwork together?
  • Or, are you looking for a partner that will allow you to learn all it can teach you?
  • Is your fondest wish a horse that will partner with you to win year end awards?
  • Or, is it about enjoying the ride and time together every day?

More questions to answer when you are deciding that serve as a reality check:

  • What can I offer my new horse?
  • Who'll train and coach? Is this a do it myself project, a full training situation or a combination of both?
  • What will the timeframe be for accomplishment?
  • What is the budget?
  • What kinds of horses do I prefer to work with?

What are your personal limitations?

Some of us love to work with sensitive, huge moving horses that can explode and be channeled into a jaw dropping performance, while others need a friendly, supportive horse that couldn't care less about our worst mistake.

  • Are you a timid or nervous rider when a horse spooks?
  • Can you handle an occasional buck?
  • Do you have a rock solid position and are you in great shape or do you need a confidence builder?

Sitting on an 18 year old schoolmaster in lessons to learn movements is not the same as training a 3rd level very fit sensitive seven year old. Run this by your trainer and get honest feedback as  any tendency to overstate abilities can get you into trouble later on and possibly hurt.


Creating your plan

As you begin to write your plan, it's helpful to think about your new dressage partner in two separate categories:

In your first category, you'll list the "must have" criteria you will use to pre-evaluate horses:

  • Size
  • Sex
  • Temperament
  • Age
  • Level of Training
  • Issues your Can and Can’t Live with.


Think really hard about these needs, because these criterion, determine what you will need to SPEND and will allow you to stay focused when you start shopping.


fountainpenwebWriting your ISO: (In Search Of) description of your Perfect Dressage Horse Match!

Next, summarize your hard criteria into a written statement and refer to it daily for a week or longer to test and refine your must haves until you are certain and committed that it is truly what you want. Now is time for second thoughts, NOT when you are actually shopping.

Hard Criteria

Be as specific as you can. For instance, "I want a gelding that is competing at second level or higher, has gaits I can sit, will tolerate my ...losing my balance, tendencies to hang on a rein, that is not over 17H or under 15.2H.

A well thought out scope of “deal killers”, also makes it easier to identify potential horses and avoids wasting your, a professional’s, or the seller’s time, effort, or your money on the wrong match.

Hard criteria must be carefully considered in advance and should be non-negotiable. They are a key for sellers to identify you as a potential match when you place your ISO advertisements.

Budget is a major consideration for most buyers and it has to be realistic relative to the hard criteria. So, remember as you are deciding, must have criteria directly influence price and availability. When you begin shopping do not assume that prices are negotiable and shop within your budget.


Soft Criteria

Next, before you finish your profile and descripion for your match, let's revisit our process and identify some 'soft' attributes of your Dream Horse. After all, it's these soft elements that make great partners.

Our extend experience as equine matchmakers is that the soft criteria are where the magic lies. Unfortunately these traits will NEVER reveal themselves on You-Tube video.

On this list, you want to dig into what makes your ideal partner appealing:

  • Personality, the way he nuzzles back when you scratch his withers or follows you around in the pasture helping you look for his missing shoe.
  • These items are your soft criteria that should not be overlooked because they are a big part of your ‘relationship’.
  • Soft criteria are the icing on the cake and areas to explore in conversation with the seller and give them an equal opportunity to evaluate you as an owner and a long term match for the horse.
  • Include a couple of statements in your ISO so you and the seller have something to discuss and get a feel for the horse.

Final Review

Once you have a picture in mind and a written plan of what you're after, begin your research and retest your budget again for reality. This an area where Dressage Horse Match can really help you!

go to DressageHorseMatch.com and complete a search using your hard criteria and making no selection in  "Bugetary Range". This will give you a list to help you see if your Bugetary Range is in line with the market for your required needs.

Planning, research, and follow-up are keys for success:

Congratualtions! If you are following the advice in this post:

  • You have a huge advantage over less proactive horse seekers trawling Facebook.
  • By following the advice in this article, you are using a process proven to get results!
  • You  know what you want and you can spell out clearly what your Dream Horse is and is not.
  • If your ISO is on DressageHorseMatch.com your dream horse can find you!
  • You are directing conversations with sellers that will get you answers and avoid unnecessary trips, saving you time and money.

Having defined goals, a well written ISO Profile and asking great questions shows everyone that you are for real about finding your Dream Horse. People will work harder to help you.

About the Authors: Susan Cooper and Jeff Johnson combined have over 45 years experience specializing in Dressage Horse Sales.  They own and operate Impulsion Unlimited dressage horse sales and representation which is one of the top dressage horse sales facilities on the East Coast. They are located in Virginia and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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