Trends in US Dressage – Part 1

This is the first in a multi-part blog series that will review some of the trends and data collected by regarding participation in recognized Dressage shows and events for the 2003 – 2012 show seasons.  For the most part, the trends and analyses we’ll review in this series have not been explored or discussed anywhere else to date.

Dressage in a Recession

From 2003 – 2007, Dressage participation in the US grew at a rate of about 3.3% per year.  During this same time period , however, the # of dressage shows dropped.  (With the notable spike in 2007 and 2008 when the # of dressage shows was at an all time high for the time period).  This increase in participation as well as decrease in the # of shows would have combined to give the average show attendee the impression that dressage was bigger than ever (and indeed it was).

Predictably, though, as the US economy slid into the recession starting in 2007, that impact was felt in recognized dressage showing as well.  Overall, participation in Dressage (as measured by # of overall rides or classes ridden) in the US fell off sharply after 2007.  On average, this precipitous drop (over 19% overall) seems to have ended its downward slide around 2011.  Meanwhile the just-completed 2012 season saw a overall increase and (potentially?) the beginnings of a recovery.

The graphic below tells the story of the overall trends in participation and activity.

Overall Trends in US Dressage

 Fewer Riders with Fewer Rides

The overall decrease in Dressage participation since 2007 doesn’t appear to be just a simple matter of fewer riders (In Part 2 of this series we’ll take a more detailed look at who is and isn’t showing).  The decrease in the # of shows and total # of rides was also accompanied by a decrease in the average # of rides (or show classes) that a rider participated in at the shows.  While the decrease is relatively slight, it does represent a consistent change in the showing behavior of dressage riders, moving from an average of close to 3 (2.8) towards an average that is closer to 2 (2.4).  It is interesting to note the drop in average # of riders in the 2008 show season, but we think this is most likely due to the sharp uptick in the # of recognized shows available during that Olympic year.

10-year declining trend in the # of Rides per Show for the average rider.

Regional Differences

The overall decline was 19% but that is for all regions of the country.  If we look at just Region 3, we see the same continued 3% annual growth continuing unabated.  It would seem that Dressage riders in the Southeast – and presumably mostly centered in West Palm  & Wellington, Florida – appear to be impervious to the economic downturn impacting the rest of the country.  In fact, if you remove the positive effect and volume from Region 3, you see that the downward trend in dressage participation is MUCH worse in the rest of the country.  Regions 4 and 7 were the hardest hit during this decline, showing an overall drop in participation since 2007 of close to 30%.

Region 3 continues to Grow, the other regions… not so much.

Breed Classes:  the Rise of the Arabians

One interesting thing to note.  While the above does not reflect Breed-specific shows and classes, there were some interesting trends there.  Beginning in 2009, there was a significant and distinct uptick in the # of Breed-Restricted classes and Breed shows with USEF/USDF recognized classes.    From 2009 – 2012 there were roughly 4x the # of Breed-Specific Tests and 2x the # of shows offering Breed-specific classes (most of these were Breed Specific shows) when compared to a similar time period prior to 2009.  In addition, approximately 65% of this volume could be attributed to Arabian (Arabian, Half-Arabian, Arab-Cross) breed classes.  In second place (carrying approximately 5% of the breed specific volume) were Morgan classes.  The remainder were distributed throughout a number of different breeds (including traditional warmbloods such as Oldenburgh and KWPN classes, etc.).  If any reader has an opinion or is aware of a change in USEF or USDF policy that would have caused this spike, please let us know your thoughts.

Dressage Recovery:  Too Soon to Tell

Although 2012 showed a very modest increase (of just 361 more rides) over the 10-year low-point of 2011, it is interesting to note that Region 3 (which has shown growth in participation for 8 of the last 10 years and posted a record jump in total # of rides from 2010 to 2011, experienced a decline as well from 2011 to 2012.  Meanwhile, both Region 7 and 9 showed growth.

The activity for the 2013 Show Season is promising – although show activity from October – January is typically skewed towards the die-hard winter warriors – though it is still too early to tell if we are at the beginning of a second resurgence of what was once called the fastest growing equestrian sport.  But, for now, it looks like we may be turning corner.

Look out for the next post in this series on Trends in US Dressage:  2003 – 2012 where we will break down the trends further.



This data was aggregated from the detailed dressage test results visible at for Training through Grand Prix level (excluding Young Horse, Dressage Sport Horse, Materiale and Breed-specific classes – except where noted) earned at USDF/USEF recognized shows for the 2003 to 2012 Show Seasons. is the most complete and most accurate source for dressage scoring and show results data for United States Equestrian Federation recognized Dressage Shows. The site has over 1.6 million dressage scores for shows from 1993 on and serves as the premiere destination for Dressage enthusiasts interested in researching scores and show results for Horses, Riders and Trainers.

This analysis and all associated charts are Copyrighted 2012 by and Black Horse, White Horse, LLC.  All rights reserved.  Do not reproduce without permission.

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