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!