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The Best Horse Breeds for Dressage and Show Jumping. Top 5

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Many athletic horse breeds compete in multiple equine activities, but few reach the highest levels in more than one. I’ve researched sport horse and organization rankings to determine the five best horse breeds in both dressage and jumping.

The best horse breeds for dressage and showjumping are the Dutch Warmblood, Westphalian, Oldenburg, Selle Francais, and the Irish Sport Horse. These horse breeds compete at the highest levels and consistently rank in both dressage and showjumping.

Most horses that are good jumpers also have the temperament needed to excel in dressage and eventing. You’ll find many common traits in successful sporting breeds.

Picture of a warmblood competing in dressage and jumping,

This article is part of my series focused on horse breeds-I started by writing an introductory piece: Horse Breeds: The Ultimate Guide. The introduction to the series is a comprehensive overview of different breeds and types of horses.

What traits do good dressage and jumping horse share?

When you look at top performers, there is variety; some are tall and lean, and others quite compact and muscular. If there is one common thread, it’s correct conformation.

Conformation generally refers to the overall balance and structure of a horse’s bone and muscles. Horses with correct conformation have fewer injuries and perform better.

When breeders recognize common conformational traits in top performers, they try to duplicate these attributes in their future foals. For example, if most top-performing horses have long sloping shoulders and short pasterns, breeders will try to replicate this.

Solid pedigrees, many of the top performers are from exceptional bloodlines. Although horses make it to the top levels of dressage and jumping competitions without popular pedigrees, it is unusual.

Breeding dressage and jumpers are big business and can be lucrative for those raising elite horses. World-class yearlings sell for close to $50,000, and ones that are in training often sell for much higher.

Good character may be the most critical factor required for success in top-performing dressage and jumping horses. Some people may call it temperament instead of character, but regardless, I’m referring to the animal’s attitude.

To be the best at any equine event takes hours, days, and years of training with your horse. And your horse must have the ability to learn, be willing to work, and have a competitive spirit. One that doesn’t back down from a challenge and thrives on getting better are the characteristics they need to succeed.

And finally, you have to have a horse with physical ability. The top-performing jumping horses are athletic, strong, explosive but remain in control. These animals bring all these traits together to succeed.

Think about human athletic competition; it’s not always the biggest or strongest person who wins; often, you’ll see less impressive ones dominate the competition. The same happens in dressage and jumping events.

It’s not all about size and conformation; a horse needs coordination and work ethic as well.

The best dressage and jumping horse breeds.

BreedJumping RankingsDressage RankingsEventing\
Rankings
Overall
Dutch Warmblood#1#1#3First
Westphalian#2#3IntermediateSecond
Oldenburg#6#4#6Third
Selle Français#5Intermediate#5Fourth
Irish Sport Horse IntermediateIntermediate#1Fifth

To choose the horse breeds in my list of best dressage and jumping horses, I considered the current rankings in the Federal Equine International (FEI), reviewed the ranking in the World Breeding Federation for Sports Horses (WBFSH), and considered the success of the breed historically.

Of course, my list is subjective, and there can be an intelligent argument for the inclusion of some other breeds. However, I wanted to keep the list to the five most dominant horse breeds in dressage and jumping.

Picture of a Dutch Warmblood horse

Dutch Warmblood

Dutch warmbloods are bred to compete; they are true sport horses. Like most warmbloods, Dutch Warmbloods are not purebred horses in the typical sense, such as Arabians or Thoroughbreds.

Their registry is open to any breed. So long as the new blood’s introduction improves the horses’ performance in equine events, including dressage and jumping.

In reality, there are very few horse breeds that aren’t a mixture of different bloodlines. However, most close their books to outside influence once the breed is established.

For example, Thoroughbreds have a strict registry today but were developed with the influence of three Arabian stallions. The Dutch warmblood registry is still evolving and improving with new bloodlines.

The Dutch Warmblood breed is a mixture of German, French, and English bloodlines crossed with horses from the Netherlands. The two foundation Dutch breeds are Groningen and Gelderlander.

Both breeds were primarily used for farming; however, they were transitioned to riding steeds with the advent of farming machines. The Groningen horse was stout and the Gelderland lightweight. The horse’s body types are refined through years of selective breeding.

Temperament

Dutch Warmblood horses are famous for their character, intelligence, and calm demeanor. They work hard and are suitable for any level of rider. But when you need to step it up in competition, these horses will accommodate.

Breed Characteristics

  • Height: These horses average 1.62 hands but can reach 17 tall.
  • Color: Coat colors include chestnut, bay, black, or gray, with white markings often on their face and legs.
  • Physical Traits: Straight profiled face, well-muscled neck, straight long back, and a short croup. Deep chest with well-sloped shoulders. Powerful and highly muscled hindquarters.
dressage and jumping,

Summary:

The Dutch Warmblood breed is a complete horse; its soundness and athletic ability make it the best choice for anyone seeking a top performer in dressage and jumping.

Picture of a Westphalian horse.

Westphalian

Westphalian or Westfalen horses are from the North Rhine region of northwestern Germany. They freely roamed the area as far back as 1 AD during the Roman excursion.

Throughout their history, the Westphalian uses and body have evolved. Selective breeding of the free-roaming horses focused on size, the region needed big-boned strong draft horses to work fields. So they introduced large European blood to the local horse population.

However, as machinery took over farming duties, the Westphalian duties as a farm horse became obsolete. So breeders began to focus on creating breeding for riding.

To effectuate this desire, horse owners crossbred Westphalian horses with lighter horse breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Hanoverians.

Today, these warmbloods are built for sport eventing and pleasure riding and are the second most populous German horse breed. They are top performers in dressage and jumping.

Picture of a Westphalian mare and her foal.
Westphalian mare and her foal.

Temperament

Westphalians have outstanding character, are willing workers, and because of this, they learn quickly and are easily trained. Because of their easy-going nature, they are suitable for all levels of riders. However, keep in mind they are large athletic horses that enjoy moving.

Breed Characteristics

  • Height: A typical Westphalians is between 15.2 and 17.2 hands tall.
  • Color: Any color is accepted for registration; however, most Westphalians have are solid black, bay, chestnut, or grey coat.
  • Physical Traits: Westphalians are large and have an attractive head with a long, well set on neck. The animals have a deep chest, sloping shoulder, straight back, and powerful hindquarters.

Summary:

The Westphalian breed is top-performing dressage and jumping horse. It is a warmblood breed from Germany with a temperament that works well at any competition level.

Picture of an Oldenburg horse

Oldenburg

The Oldenburg horse is another German breed from the northern area, once known as the kingdom of Oldenburg. The Oldenburg horse is one of Europe’s oldest warmblood breeds.

The development of the breed traces back to the 16th century and Herzog Anton Gunther von Oldenburg. He developed the breed through selectively breeding Friesian broodmares with stallions from Spain and Italy.

Oldenburg horses were used as carriage horses for centuries. However, the German Oldenburg breeding association in the 1960s decided to transform the Oldenburg carriage horse into a new lighter riding horse.

To effectuate this plan, they introduced many bloodlines, including Thoroughbred, Holsteiner, Trakehner, and Westfalians. The program was successful; modern Oldenburg horses are among the top sport riding horse breeds globally.

Temperament

Oldenburgs are famous for their gentle character and intelligence. Just like other top performing sport horses, they are willing workers and learn quickly.

Breed Characteristics

  • Height: Oldenburgs typically stand between 16 and 16.3 hands
  • Color: Most Oldenburgs have a solid coat color; although any color can be registered, the most common colors are bay, brown, or black.
  • Physical Traits: Large frame, with a well set long neck and long sloping shoulders. They have muscular legs, strong back, and loin as a well-developed croup.

Summary:

The Oldenburg is a well-balanced horse that succeeds in both dressage and jumping. Their breeders have combined the bloodlines of many breeds to perfect this horse.

Picture of a Selle Français horse.

Selle Français

The Selle Francais is a French warmblood. Like other warmbloods, it is a mixture of various breeds. However, what is unique about this warmblood breed is the inclusion of trotting breeds.

Local French breeders in Normandy imported Thoroughbreds and Norfolk Trotters to cross with native horses. These crosses resulted in the foundation stock for the modern Selle Francais horse, the Anglo-Norman saddle horse.

As with many other European horses, Selle Francais breeders began developing their horses for riding. They emphasized speed, stamina, and athletic ability. The regional breeders organized their new breed and called it the French Saddle Horse or Selle Francais.

This French horse breed is a top performer in both dressage and jumping and competes in racing and eventing.

Temperament

Selle Français’ have the temperament needed to excel; they are willing to work, intelligent, and patient. They make an excellent mount for all levels of competitors.

Breed Characteristics

  • Height: The Selle Francais has a wide range in their height; they can be as short as 15.2 hands all the way to 17 hands tall.
  • Color: Like other warmbloods, any color is accepted for registration; however, most Selle Francais is chestnut.
  • Physical Traits: Like their height, their bodies vary, but generally, they have a deep chest, sloping shoulders, and a long muscular body.

Summary:

This French warmblood is a mixture of many breeds. The combinations worked to produce an extremely athletic horse and one with a superior temperament and sound body. This animal is a perfect animal for dressage and jumping.

Picture of an Irish Sport Horse

Irish Sport Horse 

Irish Sport Horses are a versatile breed that excels at dressage and jumping. They are a combination of Irish Draught Horse and Thoroughbreds. According to the FEI, the preferred percentage is three-quarters Thoroughbred blood with one-quarter Irish Draught.

These are warmbloods and get their strength and size from the Irish Draught side while gaining speed, athleticism, and refinement from the Thoroughbred bloodlines.

The combination produced a calm and sensible horse with desire, speed, and athletic ability. Irish Sport horses are durable, sound, and have the stamina to excel in a wide variety of equine activities.

Picture of an Irish Sport horses showjumping.

Temperament

Irish Sport horses have an easy-going disposition, are smart and willing workers. They can be used at all levels of riding and even make good horses for beginning riders.

However, some express their Thoroughbred bloodlines and are a little high strung.

Breed Characteristics

  • Height: The height of Irish Sport horses varies greatly depending on their cross, but they typically stand between 15 and 17 hands tall.
  • Color: Any color is acceptable for registration, even paints. However, the most typical colors are grey, chestnut, bay, and black.
  • Physical Traits: Irish Sport horses should have long sloping shoulders with a deep chest and a short compact back, muscular croup, and strong hindquarters.

Summary:

Irish Sport horses are great all-around athletes that excel in dressage and jumping. Most are calm and make good horses for all levels of riders.

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