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Coverting from western

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  • Coverting from western

    I'm 15 years old and have been riding western for 5 years. I was taught this whole time the direct reining method, inside rein/outside leg and most of the time on a loose rein. I tried western riding for so long but I've always been completely drawn towards Dressage and currently searching for a trainer to help me convert. I've recently been introduced to the scary new concept of turning my horses shoulders and using my outside rein instead of just letting his hind end drift off to Narnia. My biggest concern is that my horse has been trained western, not English. He's a 5 yo Arabian. So I figure its going to be very difficult to rewire his brain. Should I just stick to western and save my horse the confusion, or could it be possible to slowly introduce him to these new cues one by one and then start bringing them together? I know I sound like a 1st grader, but all these new things are intimidating! What advice do you guys have for someone who is new to the dressage world?

  • #2
    Advice, find a good coach, take it slow and steady and believe in your abilities and your horse. Arabs are smart and will adapt to both ways of going.
    "He's not even a good pathological liar." Mara

    "You're just a very desperate troll, and not even a good one. You're like middle-school troll at best. Like a goblin, not even a troll." et_fig


    • #3
      I made the switch in 1988, on a qh I had ridden western four years. She was 8 at the time. I can't say enough good about the whole experience. The horse became absolutely unbeatable on the occasions I showed western after training dressage. We made solid second level before she was lost in an accident. I say, go for it.


      • Original Poster

        That's lovely to hear. I've had my fair share of people saying he can't do it, but he's quite patient and smart!


        • #5
          I evented a QH ( full registry though he was actually 7/8 TB) years ago that I bought after he had been trained as a reining horse. He was great in the dressage ring as he worked off weight aids and was very sensitive. Horses are very adaptable. Find a good coach and be patient with both yourself and your horse.


          • #6
            It absolutely can be done, though like with all things, the effectiveness and the expediency of it will come down to the quality of the training.

            An encouraging story for you...a woman I know picked up a western pleasure trained quarter horse. He was on the younger side (maybe 4-6? Can't remember specifically) so had a few years of western training under his belt. She put him into work with my trainer who brought him along as a dressage horse. To this day, she will say he was one of the easiest horses she's ever had to work with, and one of the most fun (and she would take ten of him if she could find them). He was very good at the work, very good to train, and an absolute delight to bring along the levels. He ended up maxing out at third level due to an injury, maybe could have gone higher had there not been lingering soundness problems as a result of it. Just a quality, quality horse.

            Overall though, the comments above are right on the nose. Find a good professional to work with - someone who can bring you along, and also your horse. Don't be afraid of having someone else put training on your horse, though do make sure you do your research and that they are approaching it in a productive manner. A good coach on your side can make all the difference.


            • #7
              Dressage is good for any horse so never mind those naysayers. The times when I've done what is best for me (and my horse) have been the times when I've felt uncomfortable and alone. So, I've learned to embrace the discomfort.
              If you can, go to a dressage show and watch the riders, find out if they are trainers or who they train with. Enjoy all aspects of the process. The progressions AND the regressions (everyone has them).
              My favorite things about dressage are that showing provides feedback and that I'm doing it for the good of my horse.
              Have fun!


              • #8
                Western dressage could bear some looking into for you. It could be a kind of intermediate step, but the way it seems to be taking off it may very well be a good long term “home” for you. Working Equitation also may be a good fit if you find a trainer and have local shows as it combines elements of dressage and what have been traditionally “Western” sorts of trail obstacles (and a cattle working component at some levels) and isn’t fussy about what tack you are using as long as you are consistent.

                It should NOT be particularly difficult to “rewire” your horse. Five is still a baby, really, and if trained properly as a “Western” horse to give to pressure, respond to seat and leg cues, etc. you just need to clarify what a given signal means. I can’t find it now, of course, but I seem to recall a recent article SOMEWHERE that had a BNT from dressage and a BNT from reining or something trade places in a couple of ways. Dressage rider rode high-level reining horse in a reining pattern AND then put him dressage tack and did a test, and vice versa. Even with just a few minutes of skilled schooling each horse did a lot better with the new tack and expectations than you might think.


                • #9
                  As a teacher/ trainer. I have found working with well trained western horses and riders relatively easy. There are a few differences in training reactions but nothing insurmountable.

                  The basic "cues" , we call them combination of aids, are a little different but not enough to make the switch impossible or really difficult. If one instructor tells you that it won't work, keep looking.
                  Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                  Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                  • #10
                    I competed in AQHA all-around for years before I switched to dressage, now I have my bronze and silver medals and am working on my gold. Frankly, I think you'll likely have an easier time with your Arabian that many, including me, have with quarter horses making the switch. Hilda Gurney used to show an Arab stallion in the Grand Prix.

                    Lynn Palm is a great resource, so check out her videos etc. She used to have a series called "Dressage for the Western Rider" but that was years ago. The bottom line is that the fundamentals of all riding are really dressage in essence.

                    BTW, correct western riding is using the outside rein to turn the horse's shoulders around your inside leg, aka neck reining. Think of reining (the event); you can't get a horse to spin by pulling his head to the inside. You might want to consider a different trainer than whomever taught you otherwise.

                    Your horse is only 5, you two are really just starting so don't worry about that. Just treat him like the junior horse he is.

                    When I switched, the key thing was getting my horse to accept more contact while moving out so I had to really focus on riding forward at what seemed like a million miles an hour. It literally took video tape for me to believe that I was barely moving out!

                    You can do it! Have fun and good luck!


                    • #11
                      Having switched from western to LL eventing to straight dressage, most of it on the same horse...the good thing is it will be easier for your horse to figure it out than you. Bad thing is, it's going to take a lot of work to rewire YOUR brain! I still have to fight habits like sitting and almost bracing in my stirrups for halts and down transitions, remembering to get good bends on turns using my inside leg, remembering that contact is a good thing. It's kind of like learning a new language but it is SO much fun and so rewarding. And the first time you get that feeling of your horse trotting actually forward (like, real forward) and well connected to you, with that energy cycling through, you will be hooked. And then struggle to find that feeling again for even a few seconds. But definitely find a knowledgeable trainer, preferably one that is used to working with a lot of non-warmbloods too (not because of the breed exactly, but sometimes the issues you have to work through can be a bit different). Even better if you can find one that will put some occasional rides on for you with you watching too so you can see what you are aiming for. Run from anyone that is more focused on "head in a frame" or fiddles too much with the reins trying to get that headset. Be ready to spend lots of time working on things that you would think would be easy (like just riding around a dressage ring, learning to ride corners and circles).

                      Read books, watch videos, learn as much as you can, but the best thing you can do is find a trainer, even if it's just once a month. And have fun! Anyone that tells you that your horse can't do it knows nothing about dressage so don't listen to them!