The Good: Three Cheers For The USDF

USDF on Western Dressage

I don’t often agree with the USDF but in the case of their current stated stance on Western Dressage, I do believe they got it right. Very right (if there is such a thing).

Where to start? There’s just so much wrong with this discipline, er…pattern riding. It’s easy enough to understand the stated noble intentions of the founders and supporters; to increase the knowledge of participants, who prefer to ride in a Western saddle and sequins, thus making life better for the horse. But there’s just so many problems with how they’re going about it, such that it promotes ignorance of Dressage (uppercase ‘D’).

1. There is a reason that Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) is done in an English saddle, specifically a Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) saddle and not a Western saddle. There’s also a reason why dressage (lowercase ‘d’) can, and often is done in saddles other than a Dressage saddle. But it must be noted, nobody does Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) in anything other than a Dressage saddle…again, there’s a reason.

That reason being a Dressage saddle is designed to help the rider maintain the most technically correct posture and position, while allowing freedom of movement to apply aids accurately and timely. It’s design allows for the horse to have freedom of movement through the shoulder and loin, areas often blocked by the sheer bulky design of the Western saddle. And finally, the restraint of material allows for a high degree of feel between horse, and rider’s legs and seat.

2. Since we’ve now established that Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) is done in a Dressage saddle for a reason, then it must be concluded that you’re not doing Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) in a Western saddle. Therefore Western Dressage is a myth. There certainly is doing dressage (lowercase ‘d’) in a Western saddle, which means ‘training’ in a Western saddle. But there is no such thing as a discipline called Western Dressage, unless…nope, there’s no such discipline as English Reining.

3. According to the Western Dressage Association the Dressage (uppercase ‘D’) tests listed on their site are to be performed in various forms of the gaits; jog and lope. In their own description of the jog, it should have a period of suspension (as a trot would). I challenge anyone to find a video of a jog, that would be awarded in the Western ring, that has a period of suspension. The jog is a ‘stepping’ gait and has been for a very, long time. Don’t believe me? Then check out this video example of what’s considered good Western Dressage on their website.

Besides showing that the jog doesn’t have a period of suspension, this video also shows a horse in a forced, false frame with the throat closed, the neck breaking at C3, the hocks trailing, the haunch being carried to the right, and a total lack of forward. How many times does she cue the horse and pump her seat from the opening halt before the horse moves, and how many times does the horse stall during the test? And then I stopped watching after the freewalk, where the horse got popped in the mouth several times as he tried to figure out what his rider wanted from him. I’ll have to try that technique next time I want to encourage a freewalk from my horse, and I’ll make sure he’s in a shanked curb bit when I do it too.

I quote from their website:

What better way to learn about Western Dressage, than to watch it being performed. Education is the key to success and what the Western Dressage Association® of America believes in! We have gathered some amazing videos here for your enjoyment. Please feel free to browse them and watch them over and over.

What better way to learn about Western Dressage, indeed!

The Ugly: You Call That A Fence?

Horses Killed On Interstate

I’ve been to Webb Ranch. It’s a sprawling facility covering a lot of scenic acreage, and according to their homepage currently boards 250 horses. I can attest to that figure. I can also attest to something else; namely the quality of fencing.

I went to the ranch to meet an Internet friend and her horse for the first time. It was also a great opportunity to stake out a possible boarding facility for one of my horses, since I was new to the area. The driveway is long and winding, so long it acts as an independent road and the ranch itself is more than a 1/2 mile from the secondary road that it’s connected to. But that secondary road is right off a very busy six-lane highway.

Within seconds of getting in view of the barns and stabling area, I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d bring a horse there to board. There’s hardly a fence on the property that could hold a pony. I saw many fences that barely came to chest level of the horses behind them. Lots of broken boards, broken posts or too small posts that moved with a little pressure, and lots of ‘wiring’ jobs. It therefore comes as no surprise to me that these four horses ‘escaped’ the ranch, even though this escape is being blamed on a gate not being locked. I suspect ‘escapes’ are a regular occurrence, at least the condition of the fencing suggests such a thing with all the temporary fixes I saw. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the pictures in the article. And that’s some of the better fencing.

I also know that the cost of boarding at this ranch isn’t cheap and at the time my friend said there was going to be a price increase. Depending on the housing situation, upwards of $750/mo. For that price your horse got a stall in a barn with an attached paddock. Some of those paddocks were pipe fencing and pretty solid. For $100 less per month you got a small paddock with shelter and fencing as seen in the news article, or worse. A lot of the horse owners have done their own fence repair jobs. (I don’t recommend hiring any of them for construction work.)

Raise your hand if you could sleep at night knowing that ‘that’ was all that separated your horse from a possible run down a busy American highway.

The Ugly: Another ‘Trainer’ Gets Away With Murder

Sudden Death Of Show Pony Clouds Image Of Elite Pursuit

When will the participants in the various horse industries grow a backbone and police themselves?  Clearly, dozens and dozens of people; employees, leasees, fellow participants, competitors, peers, etc… all knew Ms. Mandarino was excessively drugging the horses and ponies under her charge, but nothing is said until one drops dead.   And then the person who takes up the gauntlet is a relatively inexperienced ‘pony Mom’.  Shame on all of you who knew and did nothing.

At the end of the article, Ms. Winkel, a show judge and chairwoman of the officials committee for the United States Hunter Jumper Association said,       

“Why don’t we take a little more time and train these horses properly and educate their clients and give them better horsemen skills, other than to bring out a needle and a syringe every time we have a horse show.”

Yes, Ms. Winkel, why don’t we? 

I’ll tell you why, because time and education is money.  And money is the motivator for the scumbags of the world like Ms. Mandarino.  She no more cares about the horses and ponies under her authority, than I care about her being run over by a bus.