East Meets West – A Look at the Growing Sport of Western Dressage

Historically, horsemen and women have either classified themselves as a western or an English rider. The tack, the mounts, and the mindset vary, and a clear line is drawn dividing the two worlds. The Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) is trying to change that.

Frances Carbonnel Western Dressage WDAA

Frances Carbonnel
Western Dressage WDAA

The world of western riding needed information that was clearly available in the dressage realm. It was agreed that a western dressage community needed to be built to provide this information, and to educate western riders to the benefits of classical dressage training.

The association was founded, chiefly, on the love of the horse. The team knew that many horses lacked a successful career due to errors made in the training process. Classical dressage training provides horse with solid physical and mental training, enabling them to become true working mounts.

By taking away some of the elite feel of dressage, the WDAA opened up the tenets of the practice to the everyday western rider. The association maintains a non-profit status and focuses its efforts on education. A centralized website helps riders engage, encourage, and learn from each others, and offers a database of affordable trainers and clinicians who practice western dressage.

The WDAA holds an Annual National meeting and Western Dressage World Show, as well as Train The Trainers™ educational clinics, with a tremendous response from the community. The first Judge’s Seminar was held on January 28, 2014 in association with the International CBC in Tulsa, OK. Judges learned what correct maneuvers and gaits look like in the western adaption of dressage.

Of all things, DiBella notes that the sportsmanship and camaraderie at the clinics and shows is what stands out to her.

“It’s like horse showing was 40 years ago,” she said. With teamwork, a positive attitude and a refreshing take on a classic discipline, the WDAA is taking the equine world by storm.

Principles of Western Dressage

Western dressage training has been founded on five principles: straightness, control of the front end, control of the hind end, collection, and canter departures. Functionally, the list is not far from the traditional six building blocks of the German Training Scale. The German scale focuses on the principles of relaxation, rhythm, contact, impulsion, straightness, and collection.

The sport is scored similarly to traditional dressage, and the rules incorporate elements from both the western and English aspects.  While a set of detailed rules is available for download on the WDAA website (westerndressageassociation.org/western-dressage-rules-tests), a brief overview gives all the information needed to enjoy western dressage—including detailed gait descriptions, movements, goals, and objectives.

The test levels begin with walk/jog introductory tests, progressing to Basic Level—walk, jog, and lope, and then up through Levels One and Two. Freestyle test guidelines are available for each of the three levels. For those familiar with the levels in traditional dressage, WDAA’s levels one and two correspond to the USDF’s First and Second Levels. Tests are ridden in a traditional dressage arena; both sizes of arena can be utilized.

Cheryl Pritchard Western Dressage WDAA

Cheryl Pritchard of Simply Dun Farm in Conyers GA

Western dressage classes are popping up across the country, including an annual World Championship show held in Tulsa in 2013. Organizers of schooling shows countrywide are finding ways to incorporate the fledgling sport into their more traditional show weekends. The very basis of western dressage is that not every horse is going to be a high-performance mount. No matter the scale of training, that filly in the field likely will not turn into a world champion cutting competitor. The horse’s conformation, age, and personality must be taken into account, as must the rider’s desired use and expectations.

The true beauty of the discipline, however, lies in just that. A melding of training methods, western dressage allows riders to best utilize the horse they are training with, while also encouraging strong, correct riding skills. Classical dressage training instructs the rider to teach a horse in steps, gaining mastery of each step before moving onto the next. There are no immediate fixes in dressage.

“I don’t think there is anything more valuable than the principals of classical dressage for riders,” DiBella stated. “The WDAA believes these wonderful tools are so important.”

Depending on the individual horse and rider, the steps may be accelerated, but they are never skipped. Each piece of training builds upon the one before it, building blocks in the education of a horse. At the end of the day, that is what the sport of dressage—western or classical—is about, the education of horse and rider.

And, as the saying of the WDAA, penned by the renowned Larry Mahan, states,” It’s all about the journey.”


Authored By Jessica McGlothlin – Read the Full Article at the Equine Journal
Edited by WDAA for publishing


One Response to “East Meets West – A Look at the Growing Sport of Western Dressage

  • paula walker
    4 years ago

    This is a good and much needed article on WDAA and Western Dressage, it’s function, mission , and format. It was time for an article on WDAA, especially such a refreshing one.