Australian Tour was a Dream Come True!

Submitted & Written Cathy Drumm Australian TourBy Cathy Drumm

I visited my brother last year for the first time. He’s been in Australia for 14 years but between horses and children I had been unable to visit sooner. I loved it! Australia is an endlessly fascinating and diverse country. Reconnecting with my brother and his family was incredibly special. In addition, warmth mixed with perfect beaches and blue water to offset the New England Winter was a heavenly advantage.

Consequently I decided, on the trip home, that I would figure out how to come back as soon as possible. Little did I know then this would actually happen just one year later.

On Feb 9th 2014 I embarked on the long journey back to Australia. My destination? First to visit my brother in Sydney for a couple of days to recover from the plane ride. Then on to Perth for the beginning of a two-stop tour I had scheduled. The tour was a dream come true, literally!

I noticed that the WDAA (Western Dressage Association® of America) had a new International Affiliate in Western Australia and a light bulb went off. I contacted Neide Cooley, who is in charge of the WDAA International Affiliates and met while I was participating in the TTT clinic in Colorado. She very kindly put me in touch with Ann Hughes of the Western Dressage Association® of Western Australia.

The first thing I found out was that Australia is a VERY large country. I did know this in theory but the practice was a little different. I happily announced that I would like to do a clinic series of 8 to 10 days over a 2 week period. Uh NO!! First of all the distances between the different centers of WD are huge, like flying from one side of the US to the other. Secondly although WD is catching on down under just as fast as it did here, it is behind us by a couple of years and there just aren’t as many facilities offering it. I suspect that this state of affairs will change quickly based on the enthusiasm and energy being put into it by the pioneer women who I met.

WDAA of Western AustraliaMy first stop, near Perth in Western Australia, was hosted by the WDA of WA which is  an official affiliate of WDAA. They rented a nice facility where The Baldivis Equestrian and Pony Club is based. Coming from freezing New England I thought it was pretty hot but they were glad it wasn’t hotter. They had been having some days that were so hot it would have been hard to ride at all. There was a good breeze and I found that as long as we took breaks and kept an eye on the horse’s respiration and temperature we were fine. It was partly for this reason that we decided to go with two small groups each one to do an hour and a half in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

 

With both groups I started by explaining the benefits of WD for all horses no matter what  their goal.

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We then moved on to the specifics, straightness, bending, balance and the different gaits. We spent a lot of time on the working paces as these tend to be more actively forward with front end, including head and neck, which are held higher than a lot of Western riders are used to. We discussed the benefits to the horses musculature and skeletal structure when they are encouraged to really use their back muscles and to use the full range of motion in their joints. If you are training for another western discipline these WD exercises will help to strengthen and thereby improve the horse’s performance and soundness in ALL other areas. I explained that successful Western trainers have always used these methods to train and condition their horses but that it has never been written down before in a series of tests that a rider can use as a guide.

It was so gratifying for me to watch as they all figured it out, learning how to send their horses forward and then gently bring them back. Gradually lengthening their strides, feeling their backs engage getting a taste of the freedom and suspension that comes when a horse is connected back to front!

What a wonderful group of riders and their horses, a real mixture of types and levels, a perfect example of how WD is good for EVERYONE regardless of breed, discipline or level of training.

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Then, after a fantastic whirlwind tour of Fremantle and Perth at night given by Ann and her wonderful husband Shaun it was on the plane and off to my next destination.

Triandibo Stud in Hoddles Creek, Victoria is one of the most successful Quarter Horse Studs in Australia. It sits among rolling farm land about 50 miles east of Melbourne. It has a lovely cozy feel about it and the owner Trish Wettenhall couldn’t be more hospitable and willing to share her enthusiasm and love for the Quarter Horse lines that she has created.

Trish is interested in WD because she thinks it will benefit western riding in general and improve the quality and purity of the gaits in all western disciplines. She is a big fan of Lynn Palm having met her through Equitana.

This clinic was smaller, more like a seminar, which gave us plenty of time to really get to know each other. The morning was spent with one student, her friend sometimes trainer, two enthusiastic auditors who travelled all the way from Queensland to meet me and a couple of other auditors and students who popped in and out as time allowed.

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We had animated discussions about head carriage, when to set it, where it should be, the differences between the gaits, the paces within those gaits and in general what western WD should be. Is it different from traditional dressage? If so, how is it different?

I kept bringing everyone back to what I feel is the most important thing about WD which is that is that is inclusive, not exclusive. Its goal is to take each individual horse to his best performance. That best performance isn’t based on an image of how the perfect dressage horse should look. A Morgan would not be expected to look like a Quarter Horse but neither one is better than the other. The trick is to find the happy place for each individual. The truth is that we can’t make a horse be something he isn’t, we can’t make him be a different breed, a different training level or in better condition than he is right now.

We can try to force him to be something we want but what we will get is resistance and unhappiness. Swishing tail, tense, grinding mouth and jaw, refusal to go forward are all ways that horses tell us that we are expecting too much too soon or even something that particular horse will never be able to do.  In WD the whole point is that we work with each individual horse to bring him gently and happily, step by step towards his best potential.

Cathy Drumm Australian TourIn the afternoon, I called on my Hunter/Jumper experience and gave two of Trish’s super-star working students a hunt seat lesson which was fun and interesting. I am a huge fan of cross-training and versatility, I think it keeps riders and horses interested and happy which in the end makes them better at their chosen specialty whatever that may be.

Trish then introduced me to her stallions, mares, foals, yearlings and two year olds. She is breeding for more uphill, balanced and athletic quarter horses and by the look of her stock and the number of championships she brings home week after week, year after year, I would say she is succeeding!

Western Dressage could not ask for a better champion of its benefits!

All in all I would say that this fantastic new discipline is off to a flying start in the land down under. I can’t wait to go back to see all the progress that I know they will have made.

One Response to “Australian Tour was a Dream Come True!

  • Hello sir,
    Thank you for your nice posting.I kept bringing everyone back to what I feel is the most important thing about WD which is that is that is inclusive, not exclusive. Its goal is to take each individual horse to his best performance. That best performance isn’t based on an image of how the perfect dressage horse should look.
    Thank….