Why I Chose Western Dressage

Why I Chose Western Dressage

by Silja Knoll

We all know that Dressage training is good for EVERY horse, every breed, and for just about every age of equine. I wanted my Norwegian Fjord mare to also benefit from this training. As she got older and developed Cushings in her mid teens, I was shocked to see her muscle tone deteriorate, especially her top line. Some noticeable arthritic changes in her fetlocks made me feel that her competitive trail seasons might be behind her. I decided she didn’t need to pound the (beautiful!) hard, rocky trails for 20 miles at a time anymore. It was time to reevaluate our next chapter. Growing up riding 3 Day Eventing introduced me to Dressage in my early teens. I loved it, and I learned to appreciate its benefits ever since. So off to dressage lessons we went in her best fitting saddle, which happened to be a western saddle made for her. Lessons evolved to preparing us to attend local schooling shows. I was the only one in a western saddle, on a 14 hh pony, yet I felt welcomed everywhere we went, and to my surprise many shows offered Western Dressage (WD) classes! I truly was sitting in my western saddle on a neon blonde beacon in the sea of bay warmbloods dressed in English tack. We were lucky because we had a solid foundation. Schooling show judges encouraged me to go to recognized shows so off to the Colorado Horse Park we went! A bucket list experience for me! I couldn’t believe I had the amazing opportunity to ride my Fjord at the CHP….where we won High Point! This experience encouraged me to head off to the Western Dressage World Championship Show three years in a row…

Western Dressage integrates the historically validated principles of dressage with the best of western stock horse traditions. All breeds are welcomed, including gaited horses who are evaluated based on their natural gaits. Currently there are 6 levels in WD: Introductory, Basic, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 with four different tests in each level. The WD Partnership should exhibit: 1.Impulsion, originating from deeply engaged hindquarters transmitted without resistance through a supple topline to a light, soft contact with the riders’ hands. 2. Willingness to work off the hindquarters, allowing the horse to move freely forward, laterally, and to the rear which enables the western horse to be a useful working partner. Harmony between horse and rider is also emphasized in the scoring of the tests.

This article is not intended to be about my show success on my pony, it’s intended to share the belief that there are so many horses that may not fall into the ‘Dressage Horse mold’ but would still benefit from this type of training. If you like to train your horse in a discipline that takes certain conformational issues into consideration, and judges each horse against the best version of itself, then WD might be a good fit for you. And if you are like me, having opportunities to compete keeps you motivated, so a big THANK YOU to all the organizations and show managers out there that include WD classes at their shows!

For more information try WDACO.org (Western Dressage Association of Colorado)

Happy Trails…in and out of the arena!

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