Pick a horse that suits you in type and size, and above all has the character type that you like and prefer: bright and eager, quiet and steady, ultra-sensitive, not so reactive to leg and hand, very bold, somewhat shy, etc.
Temperament and character stand high on my list when looking for horses. Rideability and lightness are also very important, with natural agility and balance. These all form the most important base for a good all-rounder athletic horse.
If you are looking for a specialized grand prix dressage prospect, in addition you will be looking for the following criteria:
- A harmonious, beautiful or at least handsome horse with a not-too-heavy poll/jowl connection
- Generous mouth and a well-set-on neck showing musculature on the top line as opposed to the lower neck
- Clearly defined withers that flow into the back line
- Shoulders with good freedom, making it easier for the horse to show good ground-covering strides in all three paces
- Well-proportioned/not too straight back without being hollow-backed. A straight, short back generally has more difficulty loosening and suppling; a too-long back is often a weak back
The dressage candidate shows three good and correct paces and an ‘uphill’ tendency, particularly in the canter. His/her balance is naturally accentuated, the hindlegs do not only push, but show articulation and carrying potential. There is no ‘stringhalt’ tendency.
If you are contemplating purchase, have your prospect carefully vetted, preferably by a vet experienced working with high level sport horses. Despite these guidelines, the truth is there are exceptions to every rule – such as horses with terrible x-rays that went on in competition for 15 years – but it doesn’t happen all that often!