An Introduction Into Western Dressage
If you started in Classsical Dressage, like me, the whispers of a Western Dressage emerging a few years ago was either met with curiosity or derision. I spent several years learning about the fundamentals of Dressage during my final years of 4H. Later I reignited my love for the discipline in college. About the time I was finishing up my year with IDA, I started hearing about this new version of Dressage – and I have to admit, I had my doubts. Once I finally saw some pioneer riders giving this new sport a shot, I thought: “I can do this”. My little Quarter Horse has always been my “all around” horse, but he really excelled in and enjoyed Dressage. This past summer, I took the plunge and entered him in both Classical and Western Dressage Intro tests after our six year hiatus from showing together.
Lucky for me, he took to both incredibly well! While the fundamentals of the tests are essentially the same for both Classical and Western, there was a little bit of a learning curve for me understanding the correct presentation, apparel and tack for my horse.
What Sets It Apart From Classical?
What truly separates Western from Classical Dressage is not the look – it’s the horse and rider. Classical Dressage has had years and years of building into the discipline it is today. The higher up the levels you go in Classical, the more specific the type of horse that can exceed in these levels becomes. For example, my Quarter Horse shows moderately well up to about the end of Training Level. But he is not bred or built for the movements required of First, Second and higher level horses. You generally see incredibly athletic warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, baroque and other specific bred horses higher up the ranks – ultimately shooting for Grand Prix level.
Western Dressage was born from riders that enjoyed and practiced the fundamentals of Classical Dressage, but preferred stock type horses. The mission of all Dressage riders is to create cadence, balance, correctness and suppleness in their ride. Western Dressage judges base their scores off of a working western/ranch horse.
Basics in Western Dressage
Western Dressage runs nearly the same for advancing through levels – Intro, Basic, Level 1 through Level 3 and Freestyle. Western Dressage does not have a higher level than Level 3 at this time. It introduces movements like loops, halting, haunches-in, leg yields and serpentines the higher up you ride. It also recognizes Gaited horses, as well defines different forms of the walk, jog and lope gaits. While there has been a boom in Western horse classes, Western Dressage does not have any trail item elements like Ranch Riding/Pleasure or Cowboy Dressage (Cowboy Dressage is even newer than Western Dressage and may have some similar elements, but it is not the same). Western stays true to the nature of Dressage and still emphasizes the core principles.
Attire & Tack
Since Western is so fresh to many schooling and recognized shows, the norms of presentation aren’t as set as Classical. When you think of Dressage, you see; black coat, white breeches, black dressage saddle and tack and a crisp white saddle pad. For Western Dressage, there isn’t a unanimous set presentation yet. But there are basic guidelines you can follow from the WDAA Rules & Guidelines.
A nice, simple bridle with minimal silver is acceptable. Same for a nice working saddle. Silver does not boost scores. Approved breastplates, cavessons and whips are optional. The WDAA rulebook goes into detail on the legal bits, hand position on reins and curb straps – as well as illegal pieces of tack.
A button down, plain, long-sleeve shirt with a collar is acceptable. Appropriate jeans or riding pants are allowed, along with a minimal bling, but useful belt. Clean western or riding boots, as well as either a western hat or certified helmet are required. Show scarfs, chaps and spurs are optional. Think simplistic, functional, yet professional in appearance for your show wardrobe.
For overall presentation, both yourself and your horse should be prepared and clean. Banding or braiding manes for Western is acceptable, but I have seen most without, choosing long, clean manes instead. Using a lycra hood the night before the show can help tame down the mane and buff the coat’s shine. If you choose to clip, make sure you use a sharpened blade! Using coat and face gloss is not required, but a good fly spray will go a long way! Hooves do not need to be painted, but keep an eye on presentation and cleanliness to make a good impression in the ring.
The Future Looks Bright
Western Dressage is still growing as a discipline, and I find that one of the most attractive aspects of “joining the bandwagon”. It has already taken the horse world by storm, and I predict we’ll see more of it in years to come. While there will always be differences, having an outlet for Western riders to practice and perform Classical style horsemanship is a huge stride in the right direction for all horse lovers! I enjoy being able to challenge myself with both Classical and Western Dressage and hope others give it a shot!