Why Western Dressage? – by Linda Shore, Australia
I get asked many times why a rider and coach who has always competed and trained in conventional English Dressage, including competing successfully up to Grand Prix, would begin enthusiastically promoting, coaching and competing in western dressage.
Now don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoy training english/classical dressage, although in general I just really love training dressage with my horses in the pursuit of achieving perfect harmony and lightness of riding that is enjoyed by both me and my horses. However I found I was getting penalised in my english dressage classes for my horses being TOO light and NOT forward enough, especially when I was competing on the superb morgan stallion RanchBoss Cortez. I also had many students who trained and competed dressage on horses who’s natural conformation and biomechanics did not allow them to travel powerfully forward and have a long over step from the hind quarters, so they too were getting penalised for not fitting the requirements that the bigger moving warmbloods did easily, albeit sometimes with not very good relaxation, lightness and harmony with their riders.
It started to seem that many breeds of horses in english dressage are too often penalised for what they CAN’T do rather than rewarded for what they CAN do. Thru the Morgan horse connection I started to hear about the developing discipline of western dressage in America and started researching and the more I looked into it the more I was excited about the possibility of bringing this discipline to Australia and being able to offer a discipline and training to Australian riders who wanted to train and ride dressage but had become disillusioned because no matter how well their horses performed within their ability they were never good enough.
The mission of Western Dressage to honor the horse irrespective of the breed is confirmed in the discipline’s rules where it states that emphasis is placed upon the harmony of the partnership. Correct lightness is rewarded and relaxation of the horse is paramount. A horse who is physically incapable of tracking up with the hind legs in trot/jog is not marked lower than the horse who can track up provided it is working correctly over it’s back and following the contact without resistance. This for me is what I am always aiming to achieve with both my own horses and my clients and students horses, a relaxed horse that is working to the best of it’s ability and is light to the contact while being responsive and willing to try for it’s rider.
I train my western dressage horses and my english dressage horses very similarly with only a few minor differences in equipment, impulsion and contact and currently have several horses who compete in both disciplines. However the fun and camaraderie that I feel when competing western dressage currently give me far more enjoyment than the serious formality and competitiveness that surrounds an english dressage competition.
I believe that western dressage fills a need in the equestrian community in Australia. Especially for those riders who ride more for enjoyment than competition but still want to continue to improve their knowledge and skill to be able to try a wider range of disciplines without compromising their horse’s well being. Also there are a large number of riders who prefer the security of riding in a fender style saddle, be it western or stock, and have no desire to trade their comfortable jeans for tight jodphurs and hence western dressage suits them as an alternative.
The other great thing about western dressage also is that no fancy equipment is required. Good quality working western/stock style equipment and apparel is all you need so it is also a discipline that fits a wide variety of budgets.
I believe western dressage as a discipline is here to stay and it will continue to grow in support and popularity around the globe. I certainly believe in the positivity of the discipline and will continue to enjoy training and competing western dressage as well as helping other riders and horses achieve their goals with their equine partners.