The Stock Horse at X: The American Quarter Horse in Dressage

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Charlie with her mom Stacie Jarvis, 2 dogs (Maggie and Jack), and quarter horses Clever Move Rosie (chestnut) and Tricky Hair Connie (grey). (Photo by Brecca Wheaton)

Quarter Horses are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for April! This breed originated in America, and is known for its athleticism and its ability to excel in everything from horse racing, to western sports, to ranch work, to the dressage arena.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Quarter Horses have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories of what makes this breed so special to them.  Here, a Region 9 rider shares about her lifelong love for this ultra-versatile breed.

By Charlie Sokolov

When God made the American Quarter Horse, I don’t believe He originally intended them to be doing the canter zigzag half-pass pattern in the Grand Prix test. That being said, He built a horse with a calm demeanor and mind that anyone from a capable ranch hand to a novice child could ride safely, a horse that could work sunup to sundown and not get frustrated, a horse that could be in the roping pen on a Saturday night, stopping big and turning sharp, and then go for a trail ride on a Sunday afternoon.

In 1940, at the first AQHA Convention in Ft. Worth, TX, the AQHA Executive Committee stated, “All Quarter Horses must be able to run a quarter mile in twenty-three seconds or show that they are capable of Quarter Horse Performance under ranch conditions.”

As time went on, it was no surprise that Quarter Horses were found to be extremely versatile, excelling in just about everything that they were used for. As breeding Quarter Horses has become more discipline-specific, it’s common to see quite noticeable differences among the breed as a whole and what I refer to as “type”.

 If you Google AQHA reining horses, you will probably see photos of 14.2 hh to 15 hh compact and heavily muscled Quarter Horses. On the other hand, if you Google hunter under saddle Quarter Horses you will find images of taller, longer-legged and bodied Quarter Horses. Both animals are Quarter Horses, but they are built for very different jobs.

When talking about the involvement of Quarter Horses in dressage, it is important to recognize that the industry does not yet have an established “dressage Quarter Horse” and therefore today many “types” of Quarter Horses such as ranch horses, reiners, hunters, jumpers, etc. are participating in this all-inclusive sport.

Dressage is a French word for “training” and according to the Oxford Languages is defined as the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. Dressage challenges and teaches horses and riders new ways to connect and grow together.

7 year old Rosie and 10 year old Charlie at a local open show

In 2008, my mom purchased my 2000 AQHA mare Clever Move “Rosie”. I quickly realized by participating in local 4H and some breed shows that Rosie was not the ideal horse that was being sought after in the all-around events. At the time, I was pressured to sell Rosie and find a horse that could take me further in my breed show career. Knowing how bonded I was to Rosie already, selling her was not an option. It was important to me as a 12-year-old horse owner that I find a sport my horse enjoyed both mentally and physically, and that was healthy for her so that I could keep my equine partner as strong as possible for as long as possible.

A friend of mine had begun dressage with her Quarter Horse and invited me over to her house so she could show me what it was all about. Let’s be honest, when she said I should do dressage my first comment was something to the effect of “Don’t you have to have a big fancy warmblood to be successful?” She explained that this was not the case, and it was there that my dressage journey began.

Rosie and I began at Training Level, showing at schooling shows, and over the years have attended many schooling, USDF, and WDAA Recognized Shows. I am very thankful for USDF’s partnership with AQHA that has allowed Rosie and I to earn several AQHA year-end High Point awards including the 2016 AQHYA Year End High Point at Second Level. Most recently, Rosie and I attended the 2020 AQHA World Show where we were finalists in the dressage class and participated in the western dressage class.

2020 AQHA World Show Dressage Finalist. Photo by Shane Rux Photography

At the age of 21, Rosie still competes successfully and happily. A true testament to the versatility and heartiness of the Quarter Horse that I hope more riders come to appreciate in the sport of dressage.

The many accomplishments Rosie and I have earned over the years would not have been possible without the coaches we have worked with in the dressage community that were welcoming to Quarter Horses.

Charlie and Rosie

According to USDF Gold Medalist Whit Watkins, “Quarter Horses, being a very adaptable breed, are often wonderful mounts in dressage, frequently carrying a wide variety of riders, from youth & adult amateurs, to professionals, confidently into local and national levels of competition. The ‘can do’ attitude of the Quarter Horse breed stands them in good company in many disciplines including dressage.”

Whit’s commentary reflects the sentiment that dressage is beneficial to all breeds, ages, and types of horses.

FEI dressage rider and USDF Gold Medalist Amanda Garrett does point out that, “In dressage specifically, while you may sacrifice the huge fancy movement that comes with the warmbloods, Quarter Horses offer steadiness, relaxation, and accuracy that will still get you top scores.”

It is because of the Quarter Horse’s superior mind, athleticism, versatility, rideable gates, as well as the abundance of quality Quarter Horses bred in the USA that I proudly choose the Quarter Horse to be my dressage partner.

For more information on how to participate in dressage with your American Quarter Horse please visit aqha.com and usdf.org

Happy Riding,

Charlie and Clever Move “Rosie”

As YourDressage celebrates this breed all month, check out more wonderful Quarter Horses in our photo gallery.

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