Riding the Rails, Western Dressage Style

Western Dressage Rail ClassesBy Cindy Butler

If I wanted to ride in Western Pleasure, I wouldn’t be at a Western Dressage show! So, why have rail classes here? Well, there are lots of reasons. First, Western Dressage rail classes offer an opportunity for riders to introduce their horses to the arena in the comfort of a group setting before having to enter alone. Western Dressage promotes a leveled training system beginning with small steps and moving up a challenge at a time. Therefore, the rail classes are included for you to use as part of your training process. The rail classes offered in Western Dressage focus on different goals than Western Pleasure. Let’s look at Western Dressage’s rail classes one at a time and keep in mind that you can substitute saddle gait for jog anytime when considering gaited horses as all these classes can be offered for gaited horses:

Suitability:

Suitability is for the beginner horses learning to balance impulsion and submission at three gaits. It is for horses that have never shown above Basic level or in Hack. The objectives include rewarding the supple mover with a steady and correct way of going. However, 30% of the performance is judged on the rider’s position, seat, and effective use of aids. A horse’s potential as a Western Dressage mount is considered by judges. Personally, I like this class because it gives me the opportunity to learn if the horse I’m riding is suited for this type of work, early in the training process. Horses perform as a group both ways of the arena at the working walk, working jog, and working lope. They free walk on a loose rein at least one direction and may be asked to back. Horses reverse at the working walk or working jog. Transitions in and out of the working lope are through the working jog.

Hack:

Hack is for horses moving up from Suitability and Basic Level. These horses are beginning to show more balance and self-carriage. They are ready to perform lengthened gaits with a clear difference between a lengthened gait and the corresponding working gait. Hack horses should show more consistent light contact with the bit as well as bending in corners and straightness on straightaways. They are still working on balance, suppleness, and harmony. Any horses may be shown in Hack, but once you go hack, you never go back (to Suitability). So, it is best not to move a horse out of Suitability or Basic Level until you are both ready. The performance is judged on gaits and transitions, with attention to impulsion, willing cooperation, and using the objectives above. Still, 30% of the performance is judged on the rider’s position, seat, and effective use of aids. Horses perform at the working walk, working jog, working lope, and a lengthening of strides at the jog and lope both ways of the arena. They free walk on a long rein at least one direction and may be asked to back. Horses reverse at the working jog. Transitions in and out of the working lope are through the working jog.

There is a flavor for everyone in Western Dressage Equitation and since we are discussing rail classes, I will indulge you a little further here and include explanations of the three types of Western Dressage Equitation classes:

  1. Western Dressage Seat on the Rail is the only pure rail class in our Equitation Division.
  2. Horsemanship is a pattern class with no rail work.
  3. Western Dressage Seat Medal is a combination with both rail work and pattern work.

Western Dressage Seat on the Rail:

Western Dressage Seat on the Rail is a class with such a long name it has a nickname. You will commonly hear people refer to it as “Equitation on the Rail”. Western Dressage Seat on the Rail is for every rider and can be offered as an Open, Amateur, or Youth class. There can also be classes for maiden, novice, and limit riders. It can be offered as a walk-jog class or as the usual walk-jog-lope class. The walk-jog classes are only for horse/rider combinations who have not competed above Intro. Level. In all equitation classes, riders are judged on hands, seat, aids, and on performance of the horse as the culmination of harmony between the horse and rider. The working jog and the collected jog must be ridden seated. Riders perform at the walk, working jog, and working lope both directions and back.

Western Dressage Seat Horsemanship:

Horsemanship is a pattern only class. There is no rail work. The class is available for youth or amateur riders. Allowable patterns may be found in the USEF rulebook, at the end of the Western Dressage chapter. General performance directives for Western Dressage Equitation still apply here so, no posting the working or collected jogs.

Western Dressage Seat Medal:

The medal class is for Basic or First Level youth or amateur riders who like to do it all. Riders perform on the rail as a group and then execute one of the approved patterns individually. Rules and directives from both Western Dressage Seat on the Rail and Western Dressage Seat Horsemanship apply here. The rail work and pattern work are each worth 50% of the total score.

Complete rules for all of the classes I have discussed can be found in the USEF rulebook, Western Dressage Chapter, subchapters 10-12.

Each of the Western Dressage rail classes can have a unique part to play in your journey to train your horse well. WDAA offers a toolbox full of classes and opportunities. You choose how to use them best for you and your horse. I wish you all the best and I hope I’ll run across you sometime out there, riding the rails…

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