Western Dressage: A Classic Sport Wears a New Hat Part 3

A five-part series to learn more about the exciting new discipline of western dressage

Part 3: Getting Started with Western Dressage
By Jennifer M. Keeler

Every day excitement grows among equestrians for the new discipline of western dressage. But where do curious riders learn more about this sport and find out how they can try it for themselves?

Tori-BlankenshipIn response to this growing demand, the primary mission of the Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) is to educate the horse community about western dressage. “All of the organization’s activities are conducted with this goal in mind,” noted AnnMarie Brockhouse, Executive Administrative Assistant for the WDAA. “Even the competitive elements are designed to be educational, such as judges providing scores and written feedback on score sheets which exhibitors receive after each ride at a show.”

The first stop for any equestrian interested in learning more about western dressage should be the WDAA website, www.westerndressageassociation.org. Constantly updated with a wealth of information, the WDAA website offers a central destination where riders can stay up to date with the growth and development of this new and exciting discipline. Online educational materials include rules and guidelines, news and updates, blogs by riders and trainers, and membership information, as well as featured exercises specially designed for riders to practice with their horses at home. The WDAA website also includes a complete library of the western dressage test score sheets and a video library.

The WDAA website offers additional resources for riders to connect with other western dressage enthusiasts. The online event calendar lists shows, clinics, practice days, and seminars scheduled throughout the year. A Professional Directory provides an easy way to search for experts from across the country. WDAA members can also share information on the “Social Corral“, as well as the WDAA Facebook page.

Another valuable connection for western dressage fans is the ever-expanding network of world-wide affiliates. WDAA currently has two official international affiliates (Canada and Australia), with several additional applications. Closer to home, there are 41 states either presently affiliated with WDAA as chapters or are in the process of becoming one. In addition, 10 breed alliance partners are utilizing western dressage rules and tests in their competitions, as well as involvement from other organizations, including “traditional” dressage Group Member Organizations (GMOs), state-based breed associations, 4-H and saddle clubs, and intercollegiate horse shows.

Train The Trainers (TTT) 2014-47AFormer WDAA Board member Neide Cooley, who grew up as a Morgan competitor, knows first-hand the value of connecting with a state affiliate such as her local Western Dressage Association of Colorado. Returning to horses after 35 years in the corporate world, Cooley found herself drawn to the progressive training concepts of western dressage as enhancing her enjoyment of trail riding and treasures the opportunities her state affiliate provides, which led to increased involvement at the national WDAA level, where she now is in charge of all international affiliates as well as oversight of various programs. “The popularity of western dressage is like a giant wave,” said Cooley. “It’s grown so fast, and it’s wonderful and exciting to see and be a part of, especially with the support and camaraderie of a local club.”

Cooley encourages riders who are interested in putting on a clinic or forming a local western dressage group or state affiliate to contact WDAA for ready assistance. “At WDAA, we’ve developed pretty comprehensive materials about how to proceed with organizing a clinic or forming an affiliate, including specific guidelines and contact information,” Cooley explained. “WDAA is here to help! There are also some fundraising articles for hosting events in your area and suggestions for partnering with other local equestrian groups, as well as ideas for how to run a clinic or add western dressage classes to an existing horse show. Also, look for western dressage making an appearance at an equine expo near you. I think these will be key in reaching out to a wide equestrian audience.”

On a local level, many riders will be looking for help in learning more about western dressage on an individual basis. So how does one find a trainer to assist? “I get so many calls and emails asking ‘how can I find someone to help me?’,” said Cooley. “Anyone can claim to be a western dressage expert, even if they aren’t. So we designed the WDAA ‘Train the Trainers’ program. When people enroll, they attend a course and receive a certificate that they spent the time and money to become educated about the sport, and are then in a better position to teach others.” To date, the WDAA has held many Train the Trainers clinics where more than 270 people attended the events; due to their popularity, additional clinics are being scheduled for 2015 with new Advanced Clinics being added.

As interest in western dressage grows, WDAA will continue to expand resources available to riders who would like to give this unique discipline a try. But they need your help! Equestrians interested in pursuing western dressage and expanding opportunities in their regions are encouraged to contact WDAA to find out how they can play an integral part in shaping the future of the sport. Come join us!

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