Update – Western Dressage Association Of America

Without rehashing everything I find wrong with the idea of creating a specified discipline called Western Dressage – seriously, why can’t they just simply have Dressage classes (tests) at Western Shows and call it a day? – I cringed just a little bit more when a good friend came across a tiny article in this month’s edition of Quarter Horse News.

Apparently, the “WDAA has submitted an application petitioning the USEF for affiliate association status for the discipline of Western dressage.”  They site that the motivation for such an affiliation is multi-fold, and specifically mention “to provide a platform and resources for USEF breeds to offer classes in the discipline of Western dressage.”  They also want such competitions “to be bound by the USEF mission of horse welfare, in particular to the drug and medication rules.”  *sarcasm on* (But not the definition of Dressage gaits?) *sarcasm off*

I suppose becoming affiliated with USEF might add credibility to the sport and a certain set of rules, *sarcasm back on* if you afford the USEF credibility in terms of enforcing the rule book?  *sarcasm back off*

Yeah, I’m still not convinced.


*Note:  I’ve extended my visit an additional week, so new articles (of substance) are likely to cease to exist until such time.  🙂 


49 thoughts on “Update – Western Dressage Association Of America

  1. I feel a little out of the loop here!!! Can someone please enlighten me on this? Is it the same movements as the dressage we all know just add a western saddle and wear cowboy boots?

    • Go to December archive to view a blog article on the topic and see a video that is considered (and used for promotional purposes) a good example of the discipline. Wish that it were simply riding a Dressage test in western clothing and tack.

  2. Other than dressage judges accepting poor horsemanship, is there any other reason to oppose Western dressage? I’m asking because I don’t show, and am out of the loop there, but it seems to me that anything that promotes training, and horses in general, is a good thing. How about it, show people?

    • Obviously, I’m of the opinion that, yes, there are other reasons to oppose the discipline. December archive has some of those reasons listed.

      Yes, the ‘talk’ about the discipline is to promote good training, horsemanship, blah, blah, blah, but considering what is promoted as an exemplary example of the discipline, it’s nothing more than the usual hot air.

  3. it’s better than Western Pleasure. It really isn’t different than watching a lot of lower level dressage riders, except their horses are more forward though over tempo, but usually just as out of balance and broken at the third vertebra.

    This is the triumph of form over function, over the function of the horse and the function of the training. People ride movements in a frame, they don’t ride horses to improve them. But the same can be said of modern dressage as a sport. There is so much more bad than good riding in both. One discipline pays more lip service to the words and philosophies of the old masters, but rarely do they promote it. Search out video of training level tests that placed first, and then imagine what didn’t place first.

    Riding well is really hard, finding good instruction is really hard, watching typical performances and realizing that both disciplines promote more bad than good if you judge it by the standard of what the horse’s body is doing versus what it should be doing. Even the logos USDF uses shows horses behind the bit and pulled in by the reins, shows toe flicking movement with the legs out behind. The best thing that can be said is pretty much USDF frowns on spurs and requires snaffle bits at the lower levels. As ‘sports’ both western and dressage organizations promote good enough to win rather than correct.

    • My first thought too, compared to the WP world, WD is heading in the right direction – for now. When I was younger, competing a reiner, I thought dressage was for the totally uptight, holier-than-thou upper echelon. I felt bad for horses whose mouths never had relief, strapped shut with a noseband, ridden constantly in frame, no freedom. I was taught how to control a horse with minimal rein contact, sharp responses to weight, leg, verbal cues. We loped circles without reins, sometimes without bridles, to test responses. We said whoa and our horses stopped right then and there. I did ok riding a tough, hot little horse. We had fun. Reiners are mostly fun people and don’t take themselves too seriously.

      Fast forward a few years and I realized I had horses with faces that I couldn’t really ‘use’. The lightest touch elicited a response but pushing them into the bridle…not so much. So I started riding with more contact, more leg. I dabbled in Open WP and did quite well. I still held onto my belief in body control, moving hips, shoulders, backing, sidepassing, everything we did with the reiners for spins, stops, circles. I sit. I post. I move hips, shoulder in.

      These days, there are a LOT of all level dressage horses breaking behind the poll so let’s call a spade a spade. It’s not just the cow ponies that overflex. Some of us may want to explore more than rail work in our big old saddles and WD is a nice middle ground between arthritic WP and reining. I’m heading that direction with one of my guys as my mindset is halfway in between. Maybe what WD really needs is some superbly trained horses to lead the way. I find it pretty rude that dressage is viewed as the ONLY viable horse sport. A touch of dressage goes a long way into many other disciplines but it certainly isn’t the only sport to enjoy with horses.

    • I agree with jrga. Although the trot is slower, and there doesn’t seem to be any variation in length of stride, otherwise the Western Dressage video from the December archives shows many similarities to what I see locally in lower-level “English” dressage. Including the four-beat canter! Pretty horses with hollow backs, trailing hind legs, and permanently over-bent through schooling with sidereins. With warmbloods, you get more knee action, which is what people seem to be primarily after these days. But you still don’t get suspension, because riding rolled over on the forehand deadens natural suspension, even in horses that show it naturally in the field. You probably really do need a $100,000 Olympic-calibre horse to find one that can continue to display suspension when ridden this way. A mere $10,000 or $20,000 average-good amatuer horse just goes flat-footed 🙂 . I think “competitive dressage” these days is inching closer to bad saddle seat than dressage: over-bent, trailing hind legs, riders with all their weight on the reins, but big flashy knees at the trot, charging straight forward. Can we call it “big lick dressage”? My bias here is that I have a coach that is teaching French classical dressage. I don’t even think “competitive” or big lick dressage and classical dressage are the same discipline anymore. And I’m not sure what Western Dressage is, at all.

        • I agree with Paint Mare, and that was what I was saying at the other place, dressage as a sport has totally lost its way. And that people are forced to change the words they use because they have been so distorted by the bad. Big lick dressage, Great Idea.

  4. I keep thinking about the expression “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Riding well is indeed hard, finding expert instruction is even harder. Most riders want to do better with their horse and because some riders are not worshipping at the altar of dressage perfection does not mean they do not desire to do better. Most riders have real day jobs and grab what instruction and saddle time they can between the rest of their life. They can learn enough to recognize when something is done well and to strive as best they can to be soft in the hand and eye and seek to communicate with their horse. Picking apart each amateur’s attempt to do well and enjoy their horse and mocking their courage to ride into a ring and have a judge mark them down smacks of a certain snobbery to me.

    • Nothing wrong with that at all. My criticism is of the people who a) felt they needed to create a new discipline based solely on the saddle and clothes, b) talk ala the big Dressage buzz words, but then can’t properly define the gaits, can’t give a proper example of Dressage to their members, and c) think that dressage or Dressage needs to be reinvented.

      Do better by your horse, be a better rider, be a better trainer, etc… That doesn’t require a new discipline. It simply requires an honest effort be put forth.

      And I’m the first person to point out crap in the competitive Dressage ring. I play no favorites.

  5. I have always said reining was ‘western dressage’ whenever I talked about and frankly, I still hold to that. I believe if dressage, as a sport (not as the training itself), was converted into western the closest thing is reining. Reining I believe shows the gaits that are ‘ideal’ in a working western horse and also rides with the style of western.

    Dressage is based off of war movements and training required for horses to be ridden into war. Those horses had to be able to move in such fashion, able to extend or collect at a moments noticed, ect, ect. Yes, it is much different from what it once was, but the original point was that. And equestrianism as a whole clings to tradition desperately. Dressage is this ideal, a horse that is highly athletic, flexible, and responsive. He rides on a contact in order to perform for exact and slight movements as would be required in the battle field where straying too far could kill you. Additionally to perform the high school movements that now are rarely found, but once were trained to war horses they required contact.

    Western on the other hand started in America and is strong in America. It’s main use once was for cattle, using the horses to herd and move cattle across long stretched of land. These horses had to quick on their feet, have a good stop, and be super responsive without much rein (after all you don’t want to be trying to keep contact for hours on the trail, hm?). These horses had to be able to go and stop on a moments notice. Reining is placed on a mostly loose rein showing off the movements and obedience of a western horse.

    Western dressage, I feel, crosses the line of the intended purpose of each style of riding. If you want to ride dressage go take up -actual- dressage, honestly the dressage saddle has nearly the same security of a western, heck you can even put a grab strap on in place of a horn!

    I don’t know, I think this new sport is silly. There is a reason that dressage is done with equipment and style its in. Next thing we’ll have English cattle work; instead of foxhunting we’ll go round up some cows! Yeeehaww!

    //rant over.

    • I’ll be joining the first English Reining Association as soon as it gets organized. 🙂 (I have (and there is photographic evidence of it) ridden in a cutting lesson in breeches, tall boots and helmet. However, I was exceedingly happy to have had the western saddle horn to press against, preventing me from flopping around in the saddle like a beached fish.)

      • Ha! Giggled out loud at the fish visual.

        Years ago a gal showed up at our annual “Slide In” and entered the Ladies class on a huge gray WB. He came into the arena, feet pounding and rider sitting up straight as an arrow, full contact displaying collected canter and extended canter in his circles. Spins were replaced with pivot of sorts. Stops were the most fun to watch. Bam, bam, bam, “ert!”. Hind feet never got past his stifle. No drop behind, front legs braced, reins straining every fiber. He just stopped moving.

        When she finished her pattern there was dead silence. You could hear hay drop! Thankfully, some kind souls initiated a few respectful claps. I never did find out who she was or why she was there. I can only hope it was a dare….

  6. Adding to this article: There’s another Western Dressage article that just turned up in the August edition of Horse & Rider by Lynn Palm. She walks the reader through a test and gives pointers. And here’s my issues:

    1) It’s stated in the article that Western Dressage is open to all breeds. Well, um, so is Dressage. Always has been, always will be. You don’t need to create a new discipline so that you can ride Dressage on a QH, Paint, Appy. Now hold up you people who are about to pull out the breed discrimination card. Do you honestly think that *Western people* are going to be any less ‘mocking’ if someone pulls into a show in Oklahoma/Texas, unloads a Friesian, or a Saddlebred, or a Belgium (fill in your non-western breed of choice) slaps on some Western tack and enters at A at one of these Western Dressage shows?

    2) It’s stated in the article that Western Dressage people “enjoy the ability to be judged while riding a standardized ‘test’ or pattern, which calls for precision, balance and rhythm…” Funny, but that sounds a lot like Reining. Here’s an honest remark from a very Western friend about the sentiment in the industry, “People who can’t cut on their horses enter working ranch classes. People who can’t rein on their horses (do the spins/sliding stops) enter in Western Dressage classes.”

    3) There are a number of pictures in the article that should have never been used, representing basic riding and Dressage faults. (To be fair, this isn’t the first article, nor the first equine publication, to use incorrect photos to represent a topic.) In the opening picture the rider is riding down the long side with the inside shoulder dropped, the inside hip collapsed, the inside leg too far back and the leg off the horse, the inside hand too high and the hand rotated ‘up’. Picture 1 shows ‘walking down center line to X’ with the rider showing the same collapsed hip, seat shifted to the right and inside leg off the horse, knee lifted. Picture 2&5 shows the rider with the dreaded ‘hunter’ straight arm. Picture 6 is of the freewalk with the horse’s head way too low.

    At the end of the article there’s a couple of quotes from the WDAA; here’s one:

    Their mission is “to build an equine community that combines the Western traditions of horse and rider with classical dressage.” Oh, you mean embrace the likeness of a Vaquero? (And history is cyclical and repeats itself, but *we* need to rename it and claim it as a new invention.)

    • The thing with ‘standardized ‘test’ or pattern, which calls for precision, balance and rhythm…” in the reining world is that the pattern has to be run at speed, one-handed, if you want a chance at a ribbon after your $100+ entry fee. (for Rookies, Ltd Non-Pro) Many people can’t ride at speed or perhaps choose not to. Western dressage opens a door for mid-lifers who want to concentrate on gaits, posture, frame at a slow pace without chancing a stiff-legged non-sliding stop that will shake their teeth loose (and send them flopping like a fish out of water). I’m not going to say that this new sport doesn’t need appropriate guidelines, it does, but there is a group of people this will fit perfectly.

      You’re right that Dressage is open to all breeds but really, you can’t put a QH and WB in direct competition with each other. They are completely different, one has long, light muscling and loose coupling while the other is heavily muscled, tight-coupled with an ass the size of a VW. They don’t and can’t move the same. I can drink a coffee on my stock horses but when I hop on the leggy WB, I feel like he pings and I pong. I finally truly understand schwung and elasticity as I look down from my elevated view of his wither. Neither is better than the other, strengths and weaknesses, but they cannot walk in each other’s shoes – ever.

      What a stock horse could learn and compete at may not be floaty extension but it could certainly be supple, engaged, bendy and collected. Lateral movements and lead changes could be the key to success, as well as pirouettes and eventually passage and piaffe, in the higher levels. Just like I stated above, the WB in the reining class looked ridiculous as would my stock horse, all 14.3 of him with muscles galore, in a Dressage ring. The DQ’s would laugh me right back on the trailer and down the road.

      • “… you can’t put a QH and WB in direct competition with each other…”

        They are not in direct competition with each other at a Dressage show. That some (many? most?) judges make that mistake and judge that way is on them, not the competitors.

        A horse doing a Dressage test is to be judged against itself and its own way of going, not against the horse/s that came before it. This is the mistake riders make and why so many are concerned about being ‘laughed right back on the trailer’. A little less concern for what the ‘uppities’ are thinking, and a little more concentration on the partnership of horse and rider executing an accurate test that is forward, rhythmic and possesses other qualities of consistency, suppleness, straightness, and acceptance of contact will afford one many opportunities of higher score tests.

        Clearly a cutting bred QH (as an example) is not going to possess the same amount of natural suspension as a Warmblood, but the Dressage test (at the level we’re talking about-for the average rider) doesn’t center around suspension and has every opportunity to score as high as, or higher than, the Warmblood. But let me assure you even the most lead-footed horse can achieve increased suspension when they are rhythmic, supple, accept contact, are straight and have increased their impulsion and collection. That difference should be duly noted and marked accordingly on the Dressage test, NOT compared to the beast that appeared in the ring a few minutes before.

        Having said all that, no where have I seen it stated that Western Dressage was invented so that people with non-Warmbloods would feel more welcomed. And no where have I seen it stated that they’re *accepting* less suspension* (or whatever gait differences) on their tests. Indeed, they’ve gone out of their way to say they want to promote ‘Classical Dressage’.

        • I agree with what you’re saying and I wish it could be that way. I still say that no matter how hard my foundation/cutting gelding tried his heart out, we’d be laughed out of a Dressage ring. Regardless, I’m still training him to be the best he can be, given his trainer’s self-taught limitations. I can’t compete him in breed WP, I’d never do that to him yet Dressage is a whole other party. We’re somewhere in the middle looking for a place to land. WD is the closest thing to what we do.

          • I believe that any horse, with a few exceptions, are fully capable of dressage to a certain level. Our circuit where I live in composed -mostly- of stock type horses, in fact. We have several Quarter Horses, two Oaints, two Appaloosas, several Morgans, Arabians, ect. Warmbloods are minority in our state’s dressage. All it takes in time and training.

            Our highest level competitor is Prix St. George, he’s a Morgan pony.

          • at the upper most levels, given the false standards (and just bad riding) endorsed by the current top judges/riders/trainers in BLD, a qh can’t do well. But quite frankly, in the truly collected movements, canter, piroette, piaffe and passage, that big assed stock horse can do those movements very well. You can’t take a horse bred to the western world’s bad ideas, a low set neck is a low headed horse (ass backwards as we know), sickle hocks or over straight legs let a horse get under himself more easily (as opposed to predisposing a horse to leg problems), but get a halfway decent neck and well angulate rear legs and that big butt, all achievable with lots of horses already out there, and a qh will turn in a very credible test.

            In BLD the general scores on gaits are distorted by a factor in the scoring and many people still talk about overtracking and other things such as toe flicking as being impressive, which just supports Paint Mare in her big lick dressage commentary.

            Part of why reining is not and never will be dressage is it isn’t oriented to trot, canter, roll backs, spins, and sliding stops, but no trot. Further in competitive reining, the spin is not at all like a pirouette, it is down the ‘wrong’ way from the point of view of a ‘forward’ horse, it is not about keeping the gait in place. A neat movement, fun to ride, but not at all about dressage. One last thing, those little letters, that is a degree of precision that even reining lacks.

            Each sport has its attractions, each sport requires specific movements, each sport can be done by training in the best interests of the horse that keeps the movements in line with the way a horse’s body actually works, but the sports unfortunately don’t award movement in line with the horse’s best interest as their primary goal.

            So ‘dressage’ as training the horse’s body in way sympathetic to its body is dying. And if western dressage borrows from, tries to ally itself with USEF, it will go down the same wrong path and be just as destructive of the word dressage.

          • Good post J….I’ve had this WD thing rattling around in my head a lot this year going back and forth between a stock and dressage horse/saddle. Two completely opposite horses in every stretch of the word except they each have long necks. The QH has that natural low headset, nose pokes out about 20 degrees, poll at wither height. Then the WB with his statuesque neck set about 2’ higher and head wanting to be vertical. The QH kind of shuffles along, smooth as can be, the WB is on springs. The WB learned to pivot, the QH is learning jog half pass. I found myself doing a lot of things exactly the same on both horses. It made me realize that the biggest difference between the two breeds is the rider. I can come up with no logical reason why they should be trained differently from each other. Neither was better than the other over all – what one did easily and well, the other struggled with. The QH does better with strength moves, the WB with extension of gaits. For no other reason than my own interest, I’m going forward with teaching the QH as much as I can with hopes of doing a test on him at some point. For the very reasons you stated without a toe flick or much of an overtrack we shuffle on.

  7. I know of people who ride QHs as dressage partners and do better than people on WBs. There are so many types of QHs these days that some of the QHs look a lot like WBs but often have more forgiving dispositions. Just sayin’ But I’m not fussed about the western dressage thing although I think some of the thinking has to do with using different training methodologies – right or wrong – I don’t know but does it really matter.

    • The papers may say QH on the dressage types but take a look at the pedigree and you’ll find mostly TB influence. I have the old type QH’s, they’d qualify as foundation stock, and they are true to their type. Good minds, heavily muscled, huge hips – athleticism for cow work. Quick, catty and able to stop on a dime. I’d love to dabble in WD with my gelding as he has a trainable mind and is fun to ride. I really don’t see the fuss about a new discipline in western tack and it would save me thousands in saddle, bridle, breeches, boots, etc. just to get to my first test.

  8. I would just comment that the spins and sliding stops of reining are exceptionally hard on a horse’s joints. Perhaps Wessage offers a means to compete without tearing up your colts legs. Yes, the advanced dressage movements are hard on joints as well; that is why it takes years to condition your horse to perform them. How many 3 year old QHs do you see who are pushed into spins and slides? Too damn many.

    • Good point on the soundness factor. Fingers have been pointed at stock horses being started too young, too hard for years. There is a quickly growing trend of putting horses over fences way too early too. “Forcing” babies over 5′ oxers sans riders is ridiculous. And 3 seems to be a popular age to start them over fences under saddle too. Jumping is strenuous! Look at a slow-mo of the hore’s pastern/fetlock on the landing! Eegats.

  9. I find it interesting that many people seem to be saying both that there is a lot wrong with modern dressage, but also, that we don’t need to reinvent dressage in Western tack.

    So, what we have is a segment of the horse world that likes some aspects of dressage (systemic training, riding a standardized test/pattern, not having to gallop all out) but doesn’t care for other aspects.(warmbloods, white breeches, rollkur, who knows?) I don’t think it’s helpful to say if “these people should just ride dressage”, because obviously there is something about dressage that isn’t attractive to them. I mean, surely it would be easier to buy a new saddle and outfit than to create a whole brand new discipline?

    I know plenty of people in the English riding world who are put off by competitive dressage because of they feel it has moved too far away from the true principles of dressage… and because, (wrongfully in some cases I will admit), they feel like they can’t be competitive on an ordinary sort of horse. Why bother if their correct training is just going to come in behind the rich bitch on the expensive imported horse with fancy legs and its face cranked in. The people that I know who feel that way mostly just give up competing altogether.

    So, while western dressage isn’t something I’d be into for myself, I have to admire people who are trying to create a space for themselves to do something competitive with their horses, rather than giving up when they don’t fit neatly into an existing hole.

    I feel like a lot of the objections are really because it is called “Western Dressage” because I’m reading a lot of “but that doesn’t look like how dressage has been traditionally defined” (even though, as folks have pointed out, nether does a lot of ‘dressage’). If it was called “Western Pattern Riding” would it all be okay then?

    Because I really can’t see anything wrong, in and of itself, of coming up with new things to do with horses. I mean, “horse agility” is a thing that seems pretty silly to me (You can do non-mounted agility with a dog and they cost a lot less to feed than a horse!) but the people who do it seem to enjoy it and there’s no harm to the horse so who I am to judge.

    • “Why bother if their correct training is just going to come in behind the rich bitch on the expensive imported horse with fancy legs and its face cranked in.”

      And this sums up what’s wrong with the whole thing. Dressage ‘competition’ was never suppose to be about ‘beating the other entrants’. It was suppose to be about the training of the horse, about the partnership of horse and rider, about correctness of both, and about continued development.

      IMO, if you’re thinking about any other entrant, then you’re focus is misguided. It’s a competition WITH YOURSELF, NOT ‘against’ others.

      In the end, they’ll do what they want and call it what they want, and be no further ahead in correctness than they are now. In fact, I expect the perpetuation of incorrect riding to be accelerated by the existence of Western Dressage. Time will tell.

      • Well, there are a whole lot of entrants in classes, tests, races all over the world right now who would disagree with competition NOT being about beating others. When there is notoriety, cash, saddles or whatnot in the winner’s circle, people are going to fight each other to have at it. People aren’t selfless enough to do it for the personal reward of it, not in the real world. Look at all the rich bitch race horse owners! If their horse wins, they have bragging rights and maybe a cool million to boot. Many have no familiarity with horses; the just want to play the game. Yea, it stinks and I am not in that group, I genuinely love horses – everything about them – but I’m afraid I’m a minority.

        Another strong deterrent for most of us is peer pressure. I often think about taking my gelding to a QH show and putting him in a WP class and doing exactly what the rules state I should do. Based on what I see on youtube, he should win. Thing is, he wouldn’t, not in a million years even though he has the posture requested, poll at wither height (8-10″ above the others) and shows, wait for it….. forward movement! I could go into that ring with my head up and be completely and totally proud of him without a dash of embarrassment. In my heart, I’d know we did well – without the oil rig.

        Yet, take me out of my element, plop me in white breeches, tall boots, a jacket, top hat….I’d feel like a teat on a bull. There would be no peer comfort whatsoever, except friends, and the snobby bitches with their 6 figure imported horses would enrage me. I don’t come from money, I come from the school of hard work and sheer determination and I’m certainly not ashamed of that fact. But if I’m going to spend thousands to get into a Dressage test, I might as well just stay home and hire someone to critique me right in my own backyard! There are certainly some incredible people who care about the people and the horses but we all know that judges become politicians and serve those they choose to serve. You I could ride for…JRGA too. Maybe we need to have a Hooves blog video dressage competition!

        • We’re not talking about racing or other disciplines. The topic is Dressage. There is no money, saddles, belt buckles prestige etc… in Dressage at the level we’re talking about. There’s a 50 cent ribbon involved and a test with extensive judge’s comments for each individual movement, the latter being what you pay your (nominal) entry fee for…to get feedback from a qualified person directly related to the advancement and correctness (or incorrectness) of the training of your horse and to a lesser degree that of the rider.

          All the rest of it is nothing more than distraction for the sake of having something to blame, if or when, it goes wrong.

          Certainly I have no illusion about what people can be (are) about, but why do you care about them? What do they add to your life that is valuable enough that you’d waste resources? Perhaps you just need some one-line zingers aimed at shutting them up? 🙂

          • Good point that dressage is done with the intention of commenting on the results of the test, letting a rider know if the horse is exhibiting the behaviors/performance that would be expected of a properly trained horse at that level. The bad news is, that many horse faults are really rider produced or induced error, and very little of the critique is aimed at the rider. I scribed for several years, it is educational, but obvious rider error in need of correction is rarely commented upon even when the rider’s errors cause low scores. The whole system tends to add to the ‘blame the horse’ mentality so many people display without being equally critical of their performance. I even asked about that one time, rider was sittng the trot, but really bouncing the trot, she needed to learn to sit, judge’s comment was, horse tense, hollow and above the bit (as you might imagine), nothing about rider causing it, judge says we’re judging the horse not the rider. At schooling shows the judges do tend to add some comments to help riders, USDF sanctioned shows, not so much.

            And never underestimate what a human being will do to a horse for the sake of a 50 cent ribbon.

          • I have no problem delivering a zinger when/if needed. Thing is, what I really want is to remove myself from that atmosphere completely, personally and horsily. Life’s too short and I really suck at playing politics, have no use for it. As J commented, she scribed a show and the rider was poor, causing the horse to hollow its back and the judge skipped right over that piece of the puzzle. The test needs to be a cumulation of the horse and the rider. It is a team afterall.

          • It’s understood (was understood, should be understood – passed on by coaches, instructors) that the outcome of the test is on the rider/trainer, not on the horse. We’ve completely lost our way and continue to move further and further away from the original intent. Making up a new discipline continues down that path.

            I agree with your last and why I’m not in support of Western Dressage because though they claim it’s to improve the awareness of the reasons for good training, they provide horrid definitions and examples AND turn right back around and place just as much emphasis on the fact it’s *Western* and thusly about the tack and clothing.

            Even you made comments about feeling out of place in breeches, worry about snide comments from the uppities and such. So your motivation is just as much about your general comfort as it is on the outcome of the training of the horse. I suppose if a person’s comfort is in direct proportion to the quality of horse training and riding, I might then be convinced. Not holding my breath, though.

      • Mercedes, every word of what you’re saying is true, but also, not always compatible with human nature. Dressage IS a competition with yourself, scoring your ride against the theoretically perfect ride. Absolutely true. However, at every single dressage show I’ve ridden in, they announce or post everyone’s scores, and the nice prize for the high score of the day goes to the person who got the highest score as compared to the other riders. Not the person who made the biggest improvement on their own personal learning journey (wouldn’t that be nice!)

        So, absolutely, you can view competitive dressage like a competition against yourself only, to just look at the judge’s feedback and your own scores and how they change over time, and to take satisfaction from your own progress regardless of what ribbon you take home. But it remains a part of human nature to compare ourselves to others. Not always a bad part of human nature; a healthy competitive spirit can be a wonderful thing. Some people can be content to only assess themselves against themselves, while others do feel the need to compete against others. The same is true in many other sports. I know runners, for instance, who just want to improve their personal best time, but other runners who want to do the best in their age category and still others who want to the fastest person in the whole damn race.

        I don’t think it’s my place to tell any of those people that they’re doing it wrong. I find it a bit patronizing to tell someone that if they are care about their performance relative to others and not just to themselves, that they’re “misguided” and don’t understand the sport. Personally, I’m capable of taking satisfaction from rides that go well and represent progress in my training, even if they weren’t a good ride in the competitive sense (heck I am thrilled with a recent horse show where my big accomplishment was that I didn’t fall off); but it’s also a pretty damn cool feeling to learn that a good ride wasn’t just “good for me” but was considered the best ride of that class. Perhaps that makes me misguided and shallow but it’s the 100% truth. So I can understand and emphathize with people who get turned off a sport if they can never win, regardless of the personal growth and learning that they might be taking away from it otherwise, and I don’t fault people for seeking out something else to compete in where they feel like they have a more suitable peer group to be judged against.

        • Don’t disagree with what you’ve said and if you’re a person who must compete against others, pick another sport; there’s lots to choose to from.

          • That was my point – that’s what the Western Dressage people are doing. They don’t like some things about other horse sports so they’re making one they do like. It’s not my cup of tea, but neither are lots of horse sports, and I just don’t think it’s my place to judge people who are riding, training, having fun with their horses unless it’s actually harmful to the horses. And I’m using “harmful” here in the sense of abusive, not in the sense of “fails to conform to classical training principles” because I think we’ve established that these western dressage folks aren’t any worse in that respect than low-level amateurs in other disciplines. When I look at “western dressage” videos, sure I see the head carriage, the gaits… but I also see a bunch of healthy, shiny, well cared-for horses who have good homes and jobs. I guess I wouldn’t make a good snarky blogger because to me once you’re past that threshold of taking good care of the horse and not doing anything dangerous, it’s not my place to pass judgment on these folks.

          • My beef isn’t with the participants (other than if they think they’re doing something new), but rather with the people who made up this discipline to line their pockets. Not for a second do I buy, ‘it’s for education purposes, better horsemanship, blah, blah, blah’. Doing *that* didn’t and doesn’t require a new discipline. If they really wanted to do *that* they would have simply offered ‘regular’ Dressage classes at their shows – ride in English or Western tack, but know you’ll be judged according to classic tests.

          • You think that people came up with western dressage as a money-making scheme? Really? I was on the board of an association that put on all the dressage shows for my province. I assure you, we did not make money, and had to constantly balance where to set show entries so that we could pay our bills but riders could still afford to enter. Perhaps what we were doing wrong was that we did not offer western dressage! I can’t begrudge anyone making money running horse shows because it is not an easy way to make a buck. If western dressage shows are making money, then other horse shows should be looking to see what they can learn.

  10. I agree with Chestnut Mare. If people want to compete in a new arena with a new pattern, good for them.
    As the saddle seat and in-hand classes shrink even further, we see hunter pleasure and now western dressage growing (at least in the Morgan world). Any class that attracts enough entries to keep a horse show in the black has my support, even if it is not my cup of tea. I sort of remember the early days of carriage driving when all sorts of rigs came into the ring. Wessage will settle down eventually and have particular standards that will be expected. The anal-rententives will start drawing up slews of rules and the professional trainers will gradually take over the classes, as they are wont to do. Enjoy the free-for-all while it lasts.

    • Another huge problem…when the professional trainers ARE the judges! They aren’t going to knock those in their peer group even if they’re not riding to the standard. Where are the judges who care more about being right than being cowards?

      • That’s a universal issue in pretty much every sport on the planet where judging is subjective. That’s not exclusive to Dressage and if you think just because a class is called *Western Dressage* that that somehow is going to make it immune to poor judging…well, just watch and wait. The same crap that happens in the Dressage ring will happen in the Western Dressage ring. That problem hasn’t been resolved.

  11. Watch this for some comic dressage relief – see 2:15 for correct position / extended trot and 4:45 for tempi changes. This is freaking hilarious and what a gorgeous (???) stallion!

  12. while the test is ridden for the comedy, the unintentional issues about modern dressage are still revealed, horses move how they have been trained, as a draft, a large cresty neck is typical, but he still rarely achieves poll as highest point even accounting for the crest, frequently behind bit, always being pulled into a shape, several times you can see the stallion struggle to get his head up so he can move more easily, and the rider wrestles his nose down and in. Everybody gets mad when the few people who take the biomechanics seriously point out this is just plain wrong. At no point is that rider helping that horse to move comfortably and correctly even outside the exagerated postures used as part of the comedy.

    This blog is supposed to train our eyes to see what is right and what is wrong, and why movement ‘rewarded’ in the show ring sometimes ought not to be rewarded. We haven’t gotten that far in the biomechanics, studying the what is still, not how the what is should be helped through good riding, and how the structures we are learning about should function in locomotion, but ultimately, that is the goal. Not to pick a perfectly conformed horse, though starting with a great horse is a good thing, but more to understand the strengths and weaknesses of any horse and work to get the best movement and the best for the horse out of our riding. Ride to improve your horse, it is very possible to get a lot more out of an average horse than most people realize. Compete if you want, but only because it allows you to show off the horse you’ve improved. Reject all things taught or demanded of you by competition rules that are actively bad for your horse. Lose if you have to in the best interest of your horse.

    • Thank you, that’s the point exactly.

      I do not accept the excuses people offer for one thing or another. I know there’s a whole pile of crap going on the competitive Dressage ring from the judges on down. Putting on different tack and clothing, and calling it something else doesn’t turn the crap into gold, no matter how it’s wrapped; bow and all.

      There are limited examples of what’s correct, and that’s the real problem. We’re on this ever quicker spiraling path of lowered standards, being complacent and accepting, moving ever further away from horsemanship. Not cool.

      I found the video both funny and sad at the same time.

    • I very much agree – well put and applicable to all disciplines. Also I’d like to reply to your previous entry re: scribing and seeing the horse criticized and not the rider (there seems to be no ‘reply’ button on that post). The judge is there to judge the horse’s way of going – it is up to the rider to extrapolate what needs to be done to correct mistakes. My coach will say to me ‘he’s above the bit – relax your shoulders, use more seat and leg.’ The judge simply says ‘above the bit’ and I should know where my error was – or know who to ask! There are also marks given (or not) for ‘rider’s position and seat’ and for ‘rider’s correct and effective use of the aids’. so this is and should be a learning experience. I only ‘dabble’ in dressage but the detailed critique of every movement is extremely helpful and (maybe I’m showing my ignorance here) I don’t know of any other discipline that does it.

      • Zanhar – as far as I know as well, dressage is the only discipline that gives a detailed, broken-down score and comments like that. Hunter and equitation judges will keep a sheet and jot down comments about particular jumps or moments on a course, and sometimes hunters and equitation get numerical scores. But the judges keep the notes and the rider only gets the score (if the score is used). And it’s often quite obvious that the reason Rider A got a 79 was because the judge liked her ride but didn’t want her to place about Rider B who was scored an 80 (whereas the dressage judge doesn’t know exactly where the final score is going to come in, someone else is going to do the math later).

        I would LOVE to ride an equitation course and have it scored like a dressage round with marks for each jump, the turns in between, collective marks and comments. That would be a cool new discipline. Jumping dressage!

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