When it comes to spotting potential stars, there’s not much international grand prix rider and trainer Anna Ross doesn’t know. She’s recently relocated to Barons Wood Equestrian Centre in Devon, where she will work closely with British breeders to train, produce and sell talented dressage horses as part of her new business venture with Newton Stud’s Lorna Wilson, Elite Dressage. So who better to take advice from on buying horses? Anna shares some of the things she looks for.
First, consider the “model” of dressage horse you want, that will suit you best.
“A square, more compact model of horse is often better for amateur riders and the main market because they are usually easier to ride and to keep together and in balance,” explains Anna. “A more rectangular shaped horse will often be more spectacular, but harder to collect and balance.”
A good walk is essential — Anna explains that it’s the pace that can be improved the least through schooling. But she also points out that a really massive walk can also be counter productive.
“A really big walk makes it harder to keep the rhythm, so look for a walk that is correct, rather than huge,” she says, using the ‘V’ shape a horse momentarily makes with its front and hind legs as a useful initial marker of a quality walk.
“Look for a horse that retains its correct walk rhythm even when it is a little tense, because after all, none of my horses have ever been totally relaxed when in the main arena at Aachen!”
An active hind leg is another non-negotiable for Anna — she looks at the horse’s natural ability to bend the hocks.
“The hind legs are the engine, but an active hind leg isn’t quite enough on it’s own,” says Anna. “The front leg action is the icing on the cake — the extra flourish that makes a horse really special. We’re looking for a horse to really lift its foreleg through the shoulder.
“However, to start with it’s far more important for a horse to be a good machine than to be flashy — if the mechanics are there, we can make them flashy.”
Your horse can be the most active and expressive the world has ever seen but ultimately it’s all about the happy athlete — a concept that is becoming more and more prevalent in dressage.
“You’re aiming to produce expression, harmony and relaxation — they come together,” says Anna. “It’s when a horse relaxes that we can see the extent of its true movement.”
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