Western Dressage Revisited?

I don’t particularly want to rehash this topic, but Zanhar found a video that represents what Western Dressage should really be all about, in my not so humble opinion.  There are some mistakes in the movements on the first part of the video in the ride, mistakes often made in Dressage as well (and Western riding in general), but still far more representative of what Western Dressage should be all about if we require such a discipline.  The second part of the video is near flawless.

I could get behind the discipline of Western Dressage if it looked like this.  Anything else is hogwash.


51 thoughts on “Western Dressage Revisited?

    • Blondemare, I am putting this up top because my computer is all wonky on the lower posts and I can’t reply where I mean to.

      You mentioned the over tracking and that your horse can’t do it. It is a goal of modern dressage to have horses with large overtrack to their walk but it really isn’t about engagement, which occurs at the lumbosacral joint, but about breeding choices, choices that don’t suit a working cow horse anyhow. So western dressage need not and ought not adopt it as a standard. It looks great for the overlong, over angulated legs that go with the fad of taller is better quarterhorses, but try working a cow with one.

      You may want to find a good instructor or I will point you to some texts if you enjoy reading, because your post down below about engagement/extensions, etc show some basic misunderstandings, and you wouldn’t be the first or only person to have them. Some of what I will say will violate some popular notions for modern competition dressage, aka big lick dressage, but big lick anything isn’t about collection or extension. It is about flailing legs out in front of and out back of a horse caused by hollow backs and improper necks.

      You need good lateral flexibility and control first, the basics of being able to bend the horse. That is a matter of not overstepping the track of the front feet, but of stepping up and under towards the midline. The degree of bend will determine how much up versus how much under you will ask for. One starts with very little bend, achieving more bend requires developing flexibilty and strength, hence a 20 meter circle instead of a ten meter circle is where dressage starts, (a young, totally green horse can’t even do a 20 meter circle because it is still finding its balance under a rider and tends to waller not bend). The give at the poll to unlock it that has been discussed off and on, then timing the aids to ask the inside hind to come under to reach the track of the front foot, but never is it necessary to over track it (that would have a tendency to unbend the horse). This simplest level is to get the horse to move functionally as if its rear end was the same width as its front end so it can be straight, the ultimate reason for dressage balancing out the natural crookedness of all horses so that they move any foot freely and accurately forward, back or laterally at the rider’s command. Also the prerequisite to getting real collection.

      Engagement is not about length of stride, but degree to which you encourage the horse to flex the ls joint. A green or untrained horse, or a horse long ridden hollow, can’t properly engage the ls joint. if the ls joint doesn’t engage much, ie flex, then the rest of the bones of the hip and leg don’t engage much. This is because of the intricate series of ligaments and muscles of the rear quarter, the hip closes, the stifle closes, the hocks close and they can’t close more the the degree of engagement of the ls joint in their natural state (if you mess up hoof angles or use devices enough, you can change this somewhat, but frequently at the cost of laming the horse). If the horse moves hollow, the muscles that move the ls joint can’t properly contract so the zig zag pattern of bones down the hip and leg can’t engage much either. The more the ls joint engages and closes the hip/leg joints, the less forward the leg reaches, ie, properly engaged, that foot should not be overtracking. Since there is actually another plane of movement to the hip and leg, ie not just the closing of the zig zag, but a lateral movement, because rear legs aren’t attached in a plane set 90 degrees to the spine, but at an angle, narrower at the rear, wider as it approaches the belly. That is because the stifle is too narrow to move forward past the belly in a forward step if it doesn’t angle out and concomittantly, the belly swings away as the hip comes forward giving us the nice rockng motion side to side of the rib cage under our seat.

      This has gotten long, I’ll tell you more if you want to hear it.

      • I appreciate the response, thank you. I do have a long way to go and do read extensively to improve. Due to my reining background, bend is of the utmost importance. I teach bend almost immediately when training, gaining control of hips separately from shoulders. I usually start traverse at week 2-3 though I call it haunches in. One or two steps at a time. By this time I have control of the belly from inside aids which are used to establish a circle and move shoulders out. I can’t ride a horse without fixing the belly, it has to be out of the way, as you say, for the hip/stifle to move laterally.

        I ride my horse in free walk so that he is reaching and lengthening to the best of his ability while maintaining rhythm, swing through the back and energy. In collected walk, I ask him to shorten his stride somewhat, engage the bit but maintain the same energy. If you read ‘the rules’, overtrack is highly requested and he just isn’t going to get that deep; yet he has a decent walk that has no pace to it whatsoever.

        I often don’t explain myself well, this comes from being self-taught and utilization of terminology gets lost at times. I don’t believe my horse is hollow and that we are heading in the right direction and I learn more by seeing than hearing as peoples’ perception of what they’re describing tends to vary quite extensively! My thoughts on these random horses:

        http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4668158184852062&pid=15.1 Hollow, overflexed, hocks trailing
        http://maneeventequestrian.com/babette_surf1A.jpg Better
        http://www.ridemagazine.com/sites/default/files/editorial/1925/western_dressage_kathy_dunn_bd711-161-1880r1.jpg Hollow, overflexed, tense

        I want to have the best ride possible, keep my horse sounder, longer. I’ll probably regret this…but here goes. http://youtu.be/3_EOsZT6t6w First ‘dressage’ lesson, first half pass.

        • It was a very good first attempt, he found his balance best IMO in the last three steps back to the wall, and had benefitted from the exercise coming out with a little more bend and cadence and using his neck a little better. Which is after all the purpose, it is a ‘collecting’ exercise. He clearly demonstrated that he could separate the lateral aids from the forward aids and not get tense or bothered by it.

          In the last picture you linked to, the outside hind leg is folding and stepping under, as I was speaking of above, so that is a visual to help see what I was talking about, the leg should not come too far forward, not because you are shortening the stride, but because you are asking for more engagement and correct placement of the rear foot. That is also a ‘collecting exercise”. Sometimes we forget the purpose is not really to learn a movement, a trick, to go display at a show, but gymnastisizing the horse, building strength and correct movement. So instead of thinking ‘shortening’ strides, which may lead the brain to think too much of holding back and not of the engage, step up and under and put the weight on the hindquarter. The end result is a shorter step, but your goal has nothing to do with shortening per se. That is the kind of confusion I was trying to allude to, if we think of the wrong concepts, we will get in the way of the right actions.

          The half pass, when you analyze it is a very sophisticated exercise that is going to really work the outside hind, it not only steps up and under, it steps so far under so as to pass the midline and bear weight for a significant time under the body, and uses the abductor and adductor muscles of the rear legs as they reach sideways as well as foreward, it greatly strengthens the hindquarter (and belly muscles), the front legs reaching and crossing also loosen and stretch the chest muscles and shoulder and upper leg attachments, building elasticity and loose elbows, which allows maximum stride and manueverability of the forequarters.

          And just in case any one read the first part and started thinking, but race horses engage fully when they are racing, and their strides are long, not shortened, and such thought would be correct, but race horses are never asked to step under, they never have a leg on them, and now one will also see why race horses tend to be straight in the rear and butt high, look back at the horses in Mercedes blog examining why it is hard to convert tb to riding horses, without the angulation in the rear leg, it can fold to a much more limited degree, it is longer in proportion to body height, so it has reach, so it goes forward with relatively less bending, reaching forward and not under, so that the energy is transferred into forward motion not the upwards motion of collection.

          One can ride a good test having learned the motions, the aids to apply, and for most people, that would be enough. But you are looking for the longevity and health of your horse, so understanding the exercises as physical therapy, and thinking of them not as the performance but of the mechanics that achiever the health benefits, will hopefully help you avoid making common mistakes when the result overshadows the means. The means are your goal, the horse’s performance while looking beautiful is just icing on the cake.

          And I know that the overstep is looked for by the judges, it is in the rules. Explain to me the gymnastisizing purpose of the overstep, why is it necessary to a good gait in a biomechanical sense?

          • I don’t know why a walk should have to track up beyond the front hoof print. I can only imagine this started to weed out any horses dragging their toes and not taking the gait as seriously as the trot and canter. My guy can’t do that so we will walk as well as we can and concentrate on what we can improve on.
            We did a lot of bending with my trainer years ago. It was the first part of every ride to loosen them up, tune responses. The favorite being haunches in followed closely by half pass. Both performed at a walk to encourage good hip control. I have a better understanding of its importance now than I did 25 years ago as controlling the hip allows the ribcage to move as well. I’ve only recently begun shoulder in and at first it felt quite odd but is now an exercise I use to build a better circle. We used to do a great deal of backing years ago and applied bend to backup. They really have to work to do that well but I find that when one can change bend and continue to back, there is great strength, balance and obedience in the effort.
            My guy is an obedient type and will try anything I ask. He doesn’t get very flustered even when he probably should be getting mad at me for not knowing what I’m doing. I was shocked to see the vid of him in half pass, I never imagined he could cross over so well given his massive front end. I guess all the exercises paid off in his understanding of the aids, if not the maneuver, so he tried it. But what I wouldn’t do to have an experienced, talented Dressage rider get on him to see what he could do!
            Both Mercedes and you offer sound advice on a higher plane than I ride but the knowledge you share doesn’t go unheeded so keep the information coming. I’m not able to name all the muscle groups and their effect on each other. I can only try to position the horse’s body in various shortening and lengthening exercises with the hope of utilizing all of the body to build a strong, happy horse. I don’t agree that Western Dressage has no place in the show world. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that point. I also find my QH’s to be a pleasure to ride, easy on the body and mind. Perhaps not the top pick for a GP horse but suitable for the levels we hope to ride in.

          • Blondemare, I don’t like western dressage not because it isn’t something western horses should do or even show at, but because unfortunately, all the worst things of big lick dressage are being copied by too many people. I watched a youtube of a very nice young Azteca that was overbent, the rider couldn’t sit the trot or the canter well, and the horse was fighting the bit, gaping its month, constrained and on its forehand and just miserable. No one needs to copy what is bad. The only thing that stops someone copying what is bad is to know it is bad and why, and most importantly, to know what is right and do it. So more power to you to ride and show western dressage. Your guy is nice, and don’ t fret a stupid rule you can’t change at this point.

            Most warmbloods have long legs proportionally, and can over track at a walk, way back in the late 19th century, as the idea of center of gravity was being explored, it was pushed by an influential German trainer, Walter Seunig, that the horse had to step under the rider and its own center of gravity, which isn’t true, clearly highly collected movements such as piaffe require the hind feet to be under the horse’s butt, not the rider. It got into the rules and stayed there, now it is being transferred to WD, for no good reason and will encourage leggy spindly TB crosses instead of good solid working cow ponies. So it is an actively bad thing. A free walk with a good stride coming from true engagement, not a long leg being pushed forward rather than properly bearing weight should be rewarded.

            You ride well, your horse understands aids, you should be proud to do whatever you do so long as it isn’t hurting the horse and you won’t be if you take classical principles and biomechanics as your guide, not modern sport dressage.

            Shoulder in, btw, forces the inside hind to do more work, it is the sister exercise to the haunches in It is a properly activated inside hind that creates nice bend, which creates the circle. As you increase the bend, you decrease the size of the circle naturally. It has little to do with the head and a lot to do with properly displacing the foot and ribcage as you have noticed. As the bend increases and your ability to create a circle with bend increases, you will find the horse offering the collection you seek. Don’t try to hold in a horse, try to ride a smaller circle with good bend and very little rein.

          • Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I do believe there is a place for western dressage and a place for us to go play. First and foremost, if we’re not having fun, it’s over. I’m too old to get all wound up in the game for the sake of winning at all costs. That said, I do have my own beliefs of what a wd horse should be and I will stay true to that. I want something that is between classical and western;Something that doesn’t look like WP currently does, something discernable at quick glance as being unique and more inviting and natural than what’s seen at breed shows. I want the lateral control, I want to be able to ride a test perfectly in such that bend is correct, corners are utilized, my horse is relaxed and obedient but involved in his work, not half asleep and checked out. At this time, there really aren’t any tests near the GP level, they haven’t even been developed as far as I know. I see no reason why a wd horse can’t achieve the same high level movements as GP with perhaps a few typical western movements like backup, spins and stops – just not sliding stops, NO PLATES. Everything natural, no crank nosebands, preferably none at all IMO, up the ante and ride as cleanly and lightly tacked as possible. That is my vision for the sport and what I can support. Time will tell where it goes, though, and it might not be pretty.

          • Blondemare

            I think there is room for something that allows a western horse to move correctly but not necessarily a high school horse that does passage and piaffe as they have no real meaning in cow work, but yes, add rollbacks. Old fashioned ‘bridle’ horses in the more spanish traditions, Californios and buckaroos (vaquero anglicized in the old west), would seem to be a good place to start with looking for role models. Also the doma vacaro competitions have some merits for incorporating an obstacle/speed division. It would be more like the old fashioned cavalry school where horses always jumped, learned to do ditches and berms, as well as basic dressage movements. A more freely forward but collectible horse demonstrating working gaits and dry work manuevers would be great. Anything to rework the image of a western horse from crippled dog lope to real horse again.

        • This is a far nicer halfpass than I have seen most of the “dressage” riders do at my barn, in part I think because in WD you are being allowed to ride with a slightly loose rein.

          • Thank you for your very nice compliment!!!! One of the harder things for me to learn is how to ride with constant contact as by nature I want to lower my hands and leave drape in the reins. There is a ‘sweet spot’ that I aim for allowing me to communicate quickly without too much pressure on the reins. I don’t want my horses lips pulled up over his ears! I want a soft, quiet mouth that looks relaxed. Somewhere between these disciplines is a happy medium – finding that is our journey.

  1. One must keep in mind this is an entirely different type of horse compared to the standard American “western” mount (e.g. Appaloosas, QHs, Paints, and crosses of the aforementioned). The Spanish/Iberian breeds are used for Dressage under english saddle at high levels. Your typical QH is simply not capable of this degree of collection due to conformation faults. It’s rather like comparing apples and oranges. Why not stick to the type of competition these horses excel at? No, I do not mean western pleasure but rather working cow horse competitions, team penning, cutting, reining, roping and my favourite … the Cowboy Challenge. If you want to do dressage, great, but do it on a horse that is designed for that purpose otherwise choose a discipline best fitting for the horse you have (low level dressage is perfectly suitable for all breeds, what I am referring to are the higher levels requiring advanced movements).

    The Cowboy Up Challenge

    • Wait a minute, the Iberian IS a ranch horse. People use these horses all over the world for ranch work AND Dressage.

      What the Iberian is demonstrating in the video is obedience and adjustability required to, oh…say…cut a bull in a bullfighting ring.

      The Iberian performs rollbacks in his ‘Dressage’ test. He performed…albeit not a great one…a sliding stop. He performed flying lead changes, large and small circles at various speeds just like a reining horse – often considered the Dressage horses of the Western world. I’m sure if you asked him to spin, he’d do it too.

      The American Quarter Horse most certainly can collect to a very high degree…or at least the ones built correctly. A correct sliding stop or the ability to ‘get down in the dirt’ to cut cattle requires tremendous collecting ability.

      This video is far more Western Dressage than current Western Dressage that’s simply trying to copy competitive ‘English’ Dressage. It incorporates many aspects already required of Western horses.

      BTW, there’s already ‘Iberian’ competitions where those horses have to ‘go over bridges’ and negotiate obstacles. If I could just find the video…

        • Yep, that on too. If this isn’t ‘Western’ versatility all wrapped up into one package, I don’t know what is. If this is what Western Dressage became, again I say, I’d support it all day long, every day.

          This is taking the best of Dressage AND all Western requirements and putting it together. You’ve got barrel racing, trail class, reining pattern stuff, one-handed riding requirement, moments of high collection et al… represented in this video and the original one I posted.

          If people want to show off the greatness and versatility of the American Quarter Horse and promote correctness of riding and movement, then this is where it’s at, not what’s happening now in Western Dressage.

          • doma vaquero, the working spanish cow horse tradition, similar history of course in Portugal, is part and parcel of classical riding that has now devolved to dressage the sport. Hundreds of years before the high school equitation developed, bulls were being caught first in the wild, and then domesticated on ranches, and the knights of the ages, the same knights from whom battle manuevers were refined, took part. The Spanish Horse. The Spanish Riding school, the baroque horse, they were all born of working cattle as well as battle manuevers. The fact that american working cow horses have been bred poorly by letting the downhill build be exaggerated past usefulness is no excuse for the quarter horse industry not to take their collective breeding practices out of their asses and return to breeding versatile horses which have both speed and an ability to collect sufficiently to do high school collection as necssary. But there is some hope, to the extent that someone like Buck Brannaman and a select few others in the western field are out promoting their bridle horses which have appropriate neck sets and are ridden ‘straight up’ in the bridle gives me some hope for the skill sets to survive the current stupidity of the western show scene.

            Too many people don’t know their history, don’t know horses. Keep plugging Mercedes. Maybe someday people will in fact know enough to not down rate comments based on what all riding horses should be able to do.

        • Wow. Just Wow. This is what I always thought a speed event could be with a collected horse! Once you see this, barrels with flailing riders and pole bending can never be looked at the same. This is what the baroque Morgan could be. Thank you for a wonderful introduction to something I have never seen before.

        • Zanhar, compare the kind of overflexed and on the forehand to what is in the spanish tapes, there were a number of rides in that first video, as well as your second, some better than others. None came as close to over flexed and diving into the dirt that was in the cowboy challenge video. American riders/trainers etc in the western show disciplines have lost all sense of how a horse is meant to move. But I appreciate you bringing the videos, they were excellent.

          The next part isn’t directed to Zanhar personally:

          Mercedes is right, western dressage, even the cowboy challenge, is patterned after much of the spanish working events, and yet, it is all imitation without understanding. Western dressage should be nothing more or less than showing proper work by a using horse, and using horses out in rough terrain don’t need to be on the forehand with their nose pointed at their chest. Look at any real cow horse picture from the late nineteenth century in the US, they don’t look like modern quarter horses. And for a reason. The standards should not be, is that horse moving well to a bad idea of what a horse should look like regardless of discipline, be it western dressage, hunter challenges, or dressage the sport. Good movement (non-racing), while varying in some superficial aspects between disciplines, and varying because of some of the conformation differences we have been studying, is good movement. The characteristics that connect good movement are far more important than the differences between breeds or disciplines. But too many people see them as separate and distinct because of fashion and fad, not the basics that should be in all riding horses.

          • Whoa jrga – my comment re over-flexed and nose down was in reference to the Cowboy Challenge video. I sent those videos precisely because I believe that they show a well balanced happily working horse. I also believe that the Cowboy Challenge looks like a fun event – and I don’t think the hyperflexion is a necessary component of it.

      • Working Eq at our local Andalusian show is an obstacle course the first day, run once for precision and once for speed: bridge, water, pick up hoops with a pole, back around a keyhole, open a gate, etc. The next day it is a dressage competition (I haven’t seen this part) but with a different pattern than regular dressage, ridden one handed I believe, so very much what is being shown in this video but I think the video is at a much higher level than our local folks! 🙂

    • I think this looks like a fun class both to watch and too compete in – but the horse – a lovely horse by the look of it – is hyper flexed and on the forehand for a lot of it. I nearly choked when I saw him asked to jump that way and from what I can see he isn’t built downhill..

    • …and the mouse takes the bait. QH’s are absolutely capable of high degrees of collection. Their haunches are built not only for speed, but strength to hold themselves for stops, turns, thrust and to carry their own bodies as well. As Merc said about the QH stallion in the confo critique threads, that strength can in some cases offset other formidable conformation faults. The haunch is the engine. What QH’s won’t have are high stepping, lofty gaits. Their bone and muscling doesn’t promote action. BUT, as a QH owner for many years, and in defense of my guys, they are extremely versatile animals. They sacrifice flashy movement but can out-stop and out-maneuver your typical Dressage horse ten-fold in power movements. A QH can ‘sit’ for a sliding stop, spin or rollback on a dime. Their haunches give them the strength to piaffe, capriole and levade and I’d be willing to bet they would find it easier than most WB’s, though this Iberian horse would be superb at those maneuvers.

      I’m heading to the WD world and taking much of Merc’s teachings on this journey. We started in August and already have shorten/lengthen walk/jog/lope, shoulder in, traverse and starting half pass. My horse has a long back which will impede movement but his strength is allowing us to progress at a decent pace. I had a “D” judge critique our gaits and though wd is new to most judges, she gave us pointers and said she’d score us in the 70’s and that my horse has a nice canter. (silly gal, it’s a lope!) 70’s works for me.

      So, heckling QH’s only makes me want to get out there even more. Why shouldn’t we have the opportunity of bettering our animals to make them the most that they can be in movement and obedience? Horses should be judged against themselves, judges should know how much effort the horse is putting into its test, not just how much they flick their hooves. I would love to see WD expand to include spins, rollbacks, pirhouettes, tempis. These are on our ‘to do’ list. How many “D” riders can ride to that level?

  2. Psst – Here is this Iberian doing more working equitation, this time in the speed section. Truly a joy to watch. Is every step perfect? No. However, the horse is trying his heart out and enjoying himself.

    There are other videos of other horses too if you want more examples.

    • I love a good debate. I am certainly open to changing my mind but I don’t see this becoming popular here (North America) for a number of reasons.
      In reference to blondemare’s comment about QHs, I have no discrimination against them as a whole but the quality (much as in TBs) has certainly gone downhill. I’m not referring to the multi-million dollar horse here, I’m referring to the typical amateur horse and the type that most will be using to compete WD. What I don’t understand is, if you would like to do dressage why not just trade in the saddle? They are completely different disciplines requiring different horses, gaits, aids, etc. If you would like to ride western why not try a discipline related to dressage but made for western horses (e.g. working cow horse, equitation, ranch horse competitions, reining)? All of these require the movements you’ve mentioned before but in a manner more befitting your typical QH. If you want to compete in open dressage competitions on a QH, go right ahead, many do. As for higher level correct movements I haven’t seen many/any QH on the open circuit competing (and winning). The only one I’ve seen even demonstrate some of these was Rugged Lark and even he wouldn’t have even placed in open competition. If you have other examples, by all means I’d love to see them!
      Do I agree with what is passing for Dressage in some of the upper levels? No, however perhaps that is now changing thanks to the resurgence of classical training. Hopefully someday Dressage will return to the form it was meant to be (not just “toe flicking” and rollkur).

      • My understanding is that QH breeding is changing so that those who are ‘serious’ about Western Dressage will have more ‘dressagey’ mounts in the same way that QH breeding changed to accommodate HUS, reining, cutting etc…

        If Western Dressage was more along the lines as shown in this videos, then I believe QH breeding would change yet again and for the better of the horse.

        But even if it doesn’t, our QH stallion in the conformation articles could do what’s demoed in these videos. He wouldn’t have the fanciness of movement, but he’s has the physical potential to execute the movements well.

        I am of course in agreement with you and have no idea why they don’t just put a Dressage saddle on the QH and have at it in ‘regular’ Dressage or stay in reining, equitation, ranch horse etc… The whole Western Dressage thing never made sense to me in the first place, but if they’re going to make such a discipline then I think it should look like these videos rather than what it currently looks like.

      • As you stated above…even Rugged Lark wouldn’t have placed in Open competition thereby negating why a separate discipline is needed for QH’s. There are a lot of Morgans competing WD and those horses, along with the QH’s, are developing this sport into what it will become; good, bad or indifferent and although this is where I’m heading, it isn’t being done per the rules. THIS is the biggest problem of all. You ask why we ‘western’ people don’t just switch tack and the answer is quite simple. I’m most comfortable in my western saddle. I am not a tails and high boots kind of gal and neither are my horses. I prefer to ride varying speeds of jog and lope as well as having a horse with flexibility and ability to do lateral work. HARD lateral work. As the sport evolves and high level tests are developed, it might just be the true WD that people feel it should be. But what bothers me most about this debate is that there are many people supporting Dressage who are riding training level and there are WD riders competing at Basic (training) level who also don’t have the ability to ride at upper levels. So, what’s the difference? Why are WD riders getting blasted for their inadequacies when D riders at the same level are not? There are so few WD horses out there to base an opinion on and few are competing according to test required movement. You might like it better if you read the Rulebook as the movement I’ve seen on youtube is not what is being requested. It isn’t supposed to be a shuffling, flat movement – engagement, impulsion, contact with the bit are all required as well as shortening and lengthening of stride, bend, softness. How are ‘we’ diminishing Classical Dressage in any way? The D judges are holding the cards; judge it correctly and the sport will appeal to more people.

        • I definitely agree that the judges should judge right and proper and according to the rules, HOWEVER, don’t make it sound as if only they have the responsibility.

          Competitors can read the rulebook just as easily as the judge, and have as much responsibility (if not more, imo) to get it right long before they enter the show ring.

          • I totally agree on the competitors having that responsibility but some of the rides I’ve seen on YT and in person are being scored higher than they should be IMO. There needs to be a distinct visual difference between WP and WD movement – in the footfalls and body position of the horse. Geez, Merc, you could probably get the whole sport going the right direction! Want to borrow a cow pony?

          • Okay, about the footfall thing…it depends on the horse’s conformation. One horse may over step it’s front footfalls and be less engaged than a horse who is stepping in their front footfalls.

            I’m going to disagree and say that Western Pleasure and Western Dressage shouldn’t look all that different. A horse that is a pleasure to ride is going to be one who moves correctly and with engagement appropriate to its level of training and conditioning. Western Pleasure horses are stuck in their own vortex the same way competitive Dressage is stuck. A toilet vortex to be most accurate.

          • But isn’t it the responsibility of a judge to know AND score the difference of the engaged compared to lax movement? My horse struggles to overstep his front track at a walk even with engagement and swing through his back and me pushing with my seat and bumping with my legs. He deserves a higher mark for execution over a horse that is just plodding along IMO, even if his reach isn’t great.It was pointed out to me during a clinic that my horse was walking well for his conformation. I can live with doing the best we can do given our limitations. The problem is, horses that can’t cut it in WP are coming over to WD without affecting their gaits, plodding along with next to no engagement at all. They’re either on no contact or jammed up into a huge curb bit with shortened strides and a stiff back. Now if we could rewind 40-50 years the WP horse would actually move out in every gait and this would be a moot point. I’m riding free jog (won us blues at Open shows), collected jog which is more animated, contact with the bit, slightly shortened stride but still forward, and extended jog where the length increases and tempo slows and sometimes we go for extended trot (and I bounce out of the saddle). Point is, we’re exploring all the gaits that my horse can achieve and striving to improve each of them but the ‘modern’ Dressage judge would pass us by for lack of action, guaranteed. It only took me one Classic judge/trainer to encourage me and maybe sometime in the future I’ll have a handy horse that I’ll be proud to show off in his full monty on this blog! 

          • Absolutely the judge needs to score correctly and accordingly and I don’t dismiss one bit of their responsibility, but it’s also the competitors responsibility to show up prepared. This is a two-way street and the horse requires traffic moving in both directions to be rewarded as it deserves.

            If you’ve ever judged, there’s nothing more frustrating than having a class of horses in front of you and not one of them prepared for the task at hand. The choice is to judge what’s in front of you, or dismiss the whole class. If you judge what’s in front of you, and judge it right and proper, you get labelled as an overly harsh or poor judge. If you dismiss the whole class, you won’t be asked back any time soon.

            Now, I’m content to judge and give the low scores a ride deserves and I’m also content to dismiss egregious offenders, but then I don’t happen to give two Willy Wonka’s what other’s think about my judging skills. However, that’s not how a lot of judges feel or think.

            I’d love to hear from any of our fellow judges and get their perspective.

      • NO great glory to score high in current dressage, the movements are damaged by overflexion, over tempo, lack of real collection where the horse is off the forehand, purity of gaits, etc. What flashes versus what is correct is rewarded. If the ideal of dressage instead of selling expensive horses was being rewarded in the ring, there would be a greater variety of breeds represented.

  3. Duhhhh…. I thought it was supposed to be examples of good western dressage and for those who just think it’s a pile of dog’s do! It’s been a long week!

  4. We’ve been having some good storms over here and it’s affected electricity supply and telephone lines… including broadband. So the first one I typed and posted and got told there was no connection!

    That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

    So now I understand the topic and it’s context I’m not quite getting the relevance to western dressage.

    You could have just posted any video clip of any decent dressage movements being performed and said “should be like this”.

    Makes no difference whether it’s Charlotte Dujardin at the Olympics, Andreas Hausberger at the SRS or the head rider at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art or L’ecole Portugaise de Lisbon.

    So why pick that particular one as an example of what western dressage should be??

    Dressage is dressage isn’t it? Am I missing something?

    • Because these videos don’t show today’s ‘competitive’ Dressage class. Instead they show several movements that are already asked of Western horses in various Western disciplines, which, yes, are based in ‘real’ Dressage, but would never be and never have been asked for ‘competitive’ Dressage classes, therefore making this kind (in the videos) of Dressage/Equitation/Trail/Reining class an ideal fit for Western horses.

      • it is backwards, spanish working cow horse predates high school and spanish working cow horse is the granddaddy of all American working cow horse, though attenuated, as modern dressage is also attenuated from high school work. South American vaquero traditions are also spanish working cow horse modified to the local culture.

        There are doma vaquero out in California. John St. Ryan has a ranch out there somewhere and puts on shows. Might make a nice weekend trip for you.

  5. erm right… so western dressage wants to be some sort of dumbed down not proper dressage stuff?

    So from what I’ve seen, they’ve got it right 😉

  6. I do think there is a place for WD but that it has a lot more evolving to do. At the moment, demonstrations like this are what are harmful to the discipline – to me this a circus routine with a nice horse caught between a severe bit and big spurs.

    The ride shown in the first video is more like what I think WD should be headed toward – and hopefully is – the participants themselves must mold it – outside critics will not. Think WP and its adherents – or big lick TWH. Blind defense of what they have always done. WD is new and no one is ‘set’ in their ways yet but I believe that they want something worthwhile and challenging without giving up their western flair. Go for it.

    • that is one crappy ride, something like that would not be a good advertisement for the trainer or western dressage.

      But it sure is a nice horse.

      • That has to be one of the worst displays of ANY type of riding that I’ve seen. Anyone labeling this ‘western dressage’ needs to go back to pony rides and start over. This isn’t horsemanship in any way, shape or form. Poor horse. He had no clue what he was supposed to be doing.

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