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Western Dressage

5th March 2013

Here we go again. Yet another “new” discipline harking back to an infatuation with the “Old West” (to pull in the romantics) and then, after dressing up a horse and its rider in western gear, offering nothing that really demonstrates the true qualities of the western horse.

The Western Dressage Association of America  was formed in 2010 with a mission statement that genuinely does embrace the modern approach to western horsemanship (light hands, subtle cues, sensitivity in training methods etc.) but then sets out to compete with the “English” school of horsemanship by adopting standard dressage routines.


Have a look at . Ignore the fact that you have a rider taking a shanked bit in two hands, holding the poor thing’s head so tightly in to its chest that one has to ask how it can breathe, and ask yourself what this person is doing with her horse that puts the “western” into dressage?

Don’t misunderstand me: I am as much moved as every other horse lover by the sight of a good dressage routine but that’s “English” and should stay that way. In the western riding community we all like to claim that Reining is the western horsemanship version of Dressage but, when you come down to it that does justice neither to Dressage or Reining. It’s a just a neat way of telling an English rider what Reining is about.

It’s in the way of being fans of versatile horsemanship that  we look upon any single speciality as a rejection of the true value of the horse but at least Reining is rooted in and demonstrates some of the essential qualities of the western horse. And where Reining starts to get closer to showing what we’re really about is in Freestyle Reining where the rider sets the pattern and you might see a real western horse being put through its paces.

If Western Dressage had a few “bust away” starts, running side passes and backups (to say nothing of spins, sliding stops and so on), it might deserve the name but, just getting done up in western tack and going out and doing a dressage routine? Come on!

What seems to be the case is that the WDAA wishes to show the rest of the equestrian community that a good western horse is more than a Reiner and more than a Western Pleasure Horse and it’s absolutely true that any good western horse can perform the same manoeuvres as an English Dressage horse. But so what? We all know that. Right? The way Western Dressage is being presented, the average spectator will only see a horse and rider in “Old West” get up  and whilst that might add a bit of colour to the staid uniform of the English Dressage competitor it does nothing to show what we’re really about.

In the meantime, in seeking to create yet another specialist activity for the western horse, it further dilutes and moves away from the never ending story of real horses and real horsemen in the western mode. I know we’re on a versatile horse soap box but we can at least see in the specialisms such as Reining Horse, Cutting Horse and Barrel Racer the essence of the western horse. Western Dressage doesn’t come near....

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