An Introduction to Western Dressage.
By Stasia Newell
Horse Bits Magazine, 3/2013
Dressage for the Western horse! What does that mean to the amateur rider? The beginning western rider? The training of our green western horses? And retraining of many western type horses that head into second careers? Western Dressage is opening exciting doors for many western style horses and western enthusiasts .
I've found many people these days want to have obtainable goals with their horses. They want to be recognised for their skills within the level of accomplishment they can achieve and build on. Many people have horses that have been retired from other disciplines, rescued, or are even in the process of training their first horse for the first time ever! These horses often don't fit into a "type", and are often mixed breed, unique and usable horses. (Interestingly enough, the new wave of horse person often doesn't fit into a "type"either!) Therefore, we aren't seeing horses that fit into the western pleasure horse scene, we don't have cows to work, and barrel racing looks like fun, but is out of the question. Most people trail ride, but don't want to do miles...however, they are seeking knowledge and want to compete in some manner.
I have a number of clients that fit this fun and challenging scenario. So in order to learn more, I attended the first ever 'Train The Trainers Series', (see end of article to learn more about this event) hosted by the Western Dressage Association of America in Castle Rock,Colorado on October 23rd & 24th, 2012. I had the pleasure of going with my friend and classical dressage instructor, Janet Youse from Rome , Pa. Janet had experimented last summer with a couple of western dressage classes added to her dressage/combined training show she'd had at Heaven Bound Farm. She had also been working with me and my young Arabian gelding I had been wanting to show in Western Dressage. So it was obvious who should go with me on this learning adventure.
I have heard many people comment that they believe Western Dressage is nothing other than English Dressage in Western tack. No.... Western Dressage is Dressage within the tradition of the western horse. It recognizes the lightness of contact we ride the western horse in. But, not a draped rein like the western pleasure horse! Rather...acceptance of light contact, balance (engagement of the hindquarters, and lifting of the forehand), freedom of movement, and use of the back, while always looking for a relaxed, confident manner, with rhythm, cadence, consistent speed and tempo.
The gaits are within western working horse tradition. THE WALK: must be a 4 beat gait, executed at the (1)working walk, (2)free walk, and (3)collected walk. THE JOG: a clear 2 beat gait, with regularity, elasticity, cadence, and impulsion, maintaining balance within the (1) working jog, (2)collected jog, and (3)lengthening of strides. THE LOPE: must be a recognised 3 beat gait! Must be rhythmic, light, balanced, showing engagement of the hind quarters and a slight "uphill" tendency. The lope is shown at the, (1)working lope, (2) collected lope and (3)lengthening of strides. THE HALT: is to be presented straight and square. At higher levels, lateral moves, pivots on both the forehand and haunches are added. The higher levels will also introduce THE BACK.
The levels of Western Dressage are...Introductory, Basic, First and Second Level. Introductory: is as it's called, an introduction to Western Dressage. It is shown at a walk and jog, with halt. The rider must show proper position, basic skills, and an understanding of figures. The horse should show relaxation and harmony with the rider. The jog should be a natural gait with some scope and swinging back.
The next level is Basic: Also shown at walk, jog confirming a supple horse that moves freely forward with clear and steady rhythm, while accepting light contact and understanding of the bridle and other aids. Emphasis is on relaxation, submission, harmony, and pure gait.
First Level shows the lope, with development of impulsion, improved balance, while beginning to develop self carriage. The horse demonstrates more consistent light contact with the bridle. Second Level requires more self carriage, impulsion, more of an "uphill" tendency as the horse accepts more responsibility from behind. Lengthening, smaller circles/figures are required, as are lateral movements, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches.
The Western Dressage Association of America is still in its infancy, established in 2010. Therefore, tests, training pyramid, and more levels shall be developed. Tack should be of western style. Bits can be snaffle or western shank type. Bosals are allowed in Intro and Basic levels. Rules and regulations, as well as tests can be found at www.WesternDressageAssociation.org. Also, learn more about "Train the Trainers" at this website.
Western Dressage is accessible to all breeds. Each is to be judged within its "type". For instance, if it's a stock type horse going with a lower flatter frame, shorter stride, less over track, it will be judged accordingly. If it's more of a Morgan/Arabian type, with a higher carriage, it will be judged accordingly. As will the Draft, Warmblood or Pony....This discipline is meant to be all inclusive.
I'm finding myself excited about this sport! Western Dressage will be added to this season's clinics at Newell Farm, along with the Natural Horsemanship and Competitive Trail/Endurance clinics.