Dressage Goes West

Eitan at World Equestrian Games

Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Santa Fe Renegade 2006 and 2010 World Equestrian Games

Old-world methods and modern horsemanship combine to improve the western horse.

By Kara Stewart | Published on HorseChannel.com

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Horse Illustrated.


Western and English riding have always had their differences in style and technique, but they find common ground in a new discipline that’s making its way into the mainstream. Western dressage melds horsemanship techniques used by the vaqueros with classical dressage training to improve the modern western horse’s performance.

Historically, the American West was known for its focus on getting a horse ready to work as quickly as possible, often using methods that would be considered heavy-handed or cruel today. After all, there were jobs to do—pushing thousands of cattle to market or managing huge ranches.

In contrast to this approach, vaqueros and expert spade-bit horsemen valued the time it took to create a great horse and the partnership that resulted. Their training was measured not in hours or days, but in years. As if tied by a kindred thread, horsemen an ocean away had been using a similar approach for hundreds of years in what’s now known as classical dressage. Born of cavalry maneuvers, this discipline emphasizes harmony between horse and rider.

“Good American western horsemanship, historically speaking, is quite a new development,” says Jack Brainard, lifelong horseman, trainer and judge, who serves on the Western Dressage Association® of America’s (WDAA) advisory board. “That said, talented American horsemen have been training their western horses with similar methods for years. Even if they didn’t call it dressage, they were using this approach of creating a solid foundation of cadence and suppleness, leading eventually to collection and self-carriage, to help a horse do his job better and stay happier and sound over many years.”

No Shortcuts to Good Training
While a long-term approach to training has been proven over generations, somewhere along the line, many western disciplines began focusing on starting young horses earlier and showing them sooner.


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2 Responses to “Dressage Goes West

  • Ellen Palillo
    6 years ago

    I am a big supporter of this new divison. It is great to see the interest it has generated in the Morgan world! One thing I would like to see is snaffles vs any legal bit being used at the lower levels, since the goal is to bring a horse on slowly.

    • WDAA-Admin
      6 years ago

      WDAA Rules Committee is diligently working on new rules & tests and I know that bits is one of the issues being reviewed. Thanks for your comments.