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Western Dressage

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  • Western Dressage

    Your thoughts and experiences? Fun? Boring? Anything?

  • #2
    Showed my first western dressage test this weekend at a local schooling show and LOVED it!!

    I've been taking lessons with a dressage instructor and can say I truely love the change. We previously showed reining and went as far as my geldings talent would take us.

    The show was extremely laid back. Judge was very positive and had some helpful words of advice.


    • #3
      if it's done with true roots in Dressage, it's really pretty riding.


      This is one of my friends: she can flat ride a horse.


      • #4
        katarine, that's a good example of keeping the horse in "the box" as was discussed on p'Aint misbehavin's BB thread. Lovely ride and nice horse!
        My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

        "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


        • #5
          She's a neat lady. Came here from the Netherlands and has deep roots in classical dressage. She is the only person I know that has IMPORTED a paint, the mare shown in the video, to the US from Europe


          • #6
            Clearly the mare is well-trained and the lady is a lovely rider. You can see how the mare really releases through the neck and is light and responsive. Looks just like (good) regular ol' dressage with a western saddle - forward movement, no artificial "headset", no pokey movements, poll in the right spot, horse working properly. That's what I'd like to see from WD - not curb bits with two hands, low headsets, slow movement, or whatever.

            But I don't compete at the moment, so I don't really have anything to do with it, aside from wanting to train my horse properly.
            My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

            "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


            • #7
              If it's regular dressage in a western saddle then why does it need to be a whole new discipline ? Just curious. Wouldn't it make more sense to just offer western dressage classes where all the same rules and progressions apply but western saddles may be used?


              • #8
                Originally posted by Crockpot View Post
                If it's regular dressage in a western saddle then why does it need to be a whole new discipline ? Just curious. Wouldn't it make more sense to just offer western dressage classes where all the same rules and progressions apply but western saddles may be used?
                That's a great question.

                In my own riding career, here's how I answer it.

                1. I take the biomechanics from the dressagists. I take the mental side of training the horse from great western horsemen.

                That means I know that the training pyramid is and I use it, but not dogmatically.

                I will teach and use lateral movements and backing up in various ways much sooner than would a dressagist.

                There's lots more walking and transitions in what I do with young horses than what I was taught to do with equally green horses by the dressagists from whom I learned. There's less going around on a 20 m circle and adjusting in little bits ad nauseum. (And I don't think this is canonical dressage... just something that happens a lot in dressage and which happens nowhere else.)

                I teach a 2-part relationship with the bit to a horse: Like the dressagist, I want the horse to know that he should push up to the contact if I ask him to. That means he should follow the bit down to the ground and stretch if I set things up that way.

                From western world, however, I teach some lightness; the snaffle bit needs to be treated like a "signal bit" because sooner or later, the horse who progresses to any kind of curb bit (hopefully through the use of a bosal) will need *that* relationship with a bit.

                It's hard to explain how these two different relationships with the bit fit together. I'm still figuring it out, letting the horses show me what doesn't confuse the pants off 'em. Someday, I'll have a cleaner explanation.

                When working on anything-- especially lateral work or turns on the haunches/forehand, I tend to be dressagist about it: If the hose isn't going forward or loses the rhythm of the gait, I fix that first. If he ain't going forward, the rest is worthless.

                I don't know if this is dressagist or good western, but my new "thing" is to insist that a horse use his body correctly 100% of the time. If, for example, he starts to fall on his inside shoulder on a circle, I fix it, pronto, even if we stop and walk or do some other stuff to get him back up off it. I don't keep driving him and asking him to fix it over the course of 2 or 3 circles.

                Because Western World supplies a different means to the same end-- a light, broke, strong, supple, symmetrical horse-- I don't think it makes sense to follow USDF tests in their progression of what is taught when. But I'm not deeply invested in the issue. I school above the level I would show, so it doesn't bother me if WD and USDF tests don't ask for the same things at the same time. I just make sure my horse can do all the stuff thats in the test I chose.

                One exception to the above: I learned recently that the first test to include the canter in Eitan Beth-Halachmy's cowboy dressage has a transition from the canter to trot followed immediately by a 10 m circle. Hmm. That sounds hard. It would be hard for a great big WB who just learned to canter. Would it be hard for a QH who just learned to canter? In any case, I don't think I'd choose to ask/expect by green-as-grass canterers to give me a 10 m circle 2 strides into the trot.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat


                • #9
                  ^^ What she said about training.

                  Personally, I think if it is going to be called dressage, it should follow the same principles and rules and tests as regular dressage, but just in western tack.
                  My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

                  "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


                  • #10
                    With respect to the "Why not just call it dressage, regardless of tack?" question.

                    Originally posted by Pocket Pony View Post
                    Looks just like (good) regular ol' dressage with a western saddle - forward movement, no artificial "headset", no pokey movements, poll in the right spot, horse working properly. That's what I'd like to see from WD - not curb bits with two hands, low headsets, slow movement, or whatever.

                    But I don't compete at the moment, so I don't really have anything to do with it, aside from wanting to train my horse properly.
                    You have a bit of a straw man there in your description of what counts as Western. I think that prompted the question and also misses the really interesting point: What's the difference between the "best of"s in Dressage and Western?
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mvp View Post
                      What's the difference between the "best of"s in Dressage and Western?
                      Yes, good question. I enjoy watching good riding, no matter the discipline; and, I find fault in training methods in all styles of riding. First I'll start with what is my opinion of bad:

                      Bad dressage:
                      Crank and spank, overflexed neck, legs flailing and not using hind end (thinking of the extreme toe-flippers), endless going around in 20-m circles (whether lunging or under saddle), people over-mounted, hanging on the mouth, heavy contact.

                      Bad western:
                      Horses not being allowed to use the full range of movements in the gaits (extreme jog, or "trope"), peanut rollers, futurities that have horses working at too young an age, headsets, etc.

                      Good dressage and good western: To me, it is just a matter of tack (at the level appropriate for the horse's training - meaning bits) because I want to see a horse use itself to it's full athletic ability. That means forward and pure gaits (not flashy per se, just whatever the horse is capable of). The best of both shows a supple horse who is light on the aids, responsive, keen, a willing partner who enjoys the training and the work. In my ideal world, both would train without use of "gadgets" such as tiedowns, drawreins, excessive lunging, drugging, or whatever else is used to take away from the horse's natural ability to learn. The horse is developed progressively according to his ability or need for the job (so, for example, lead changes in western would be taught earlier if one were going out to work cows). Actually, if that's the case, I think western horses would be (and are) trained to do *more* earlier in the training (backing up, lateral work, lead changes, etc.), but I would like to see horses not used up at a young age.

                      I think the principles behind the commonality in the best of both are similar, even if the execution isn't the same.

                      Am I making sense, or do I need to go eat my dinner because I'm babbling?

                      I remember someone posted on here a video of a dressage rider and a western rider doing a freestyle together and halfway through they switched horses. I actually thought the western guy gave a better ride to the dressage horse than the dressage rider gave to the western horse.

                      Coming out of my dressage shell and going to clinics where there are more western folks (Buck, Bryan), I find that I'm loosening up a bit and letting go of the stiffness that I've had and moving with the horse more and finding a better "flow", for lack of a better word. Mac has responded better to the "pressure and release" system that is new to me vs. the "maintain steady contact and push him forward" system that I had come from. Just yesterday I rode Mac and Mr. PoPo asked how it went. I commented that he just felt so *light* to me and it was a nice change. Mr. PoPo said, "isn't that the point?" Um. Yeah. Duh to me.
                      My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

                      "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


                      • #12
                        I am always told to watch for a swinging tail as a sign of a loose back, which means the horse is correctly using its back. At trot the tail seemed rather stiff to me. Possibly because it is a bit longer and wispier than typical dressage the swing just wasn't as obvious.


                        • #13
                          From now on, when I want to say something, I'm going to just wait for mvp to say it because she does a much better job of it! #8 above is excellent.
                          "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                          Spay and neuter. Please.


                          • #14
                            When I was watching my 4 yo QH reining filly last weekend it occurred to me she could probably get great scores at 3rd level dressage as long as she didn't sit down in her halts. She is much further advanced in her training then any of my warmbloods ever were. I don't have any experience with any other western disciplines but as for reining, they teach all of the basic movements very early and there is an emphasis on correctness when starting a young horse that I hardly saw in 10 years of running USDF dressage shows.
                            Positive Step Farm


                            • #15
                              I had to judge a show over the summer that had western dressage classes, and I was really apprehensive of it because I just didn't think I knew what to do. I have done reining and cutting and worked with a super western trainer, but in no way feel qualified that I am an expert.

                              But, I actually really like it. It was very familiar in that you pretty much were working on correct shapes, bend, correct and forward movement. I had no trouble scoring it, and they have a comment in the collective movements that I LOVED and was able to circle, something along the lines of "horse should moving forward over the back and into the bridle."

                              I was also surprised the trainer was SO happy with the comments. She had both of her kids in the class, and one kept needing to supple from side to side and actually bend, and the other needed more forward and through throughout. She was so happy that a judge was telling her kids the same thing she was. I realized that unless you show dressage, you don't get these written, detailed critiques of your ride, and may never quite know what a judge is looking for.

                              I think it's a really good thing. The way it's set up, I think you can do any of the tests through any level, and any dressage judge should be able to feel confident and correct in judging it. I think this could be a cool new direction for dressage.


                              • #16
                                There is a Western Dressage clinician coming to The Mane Event I B.C. I think I will go watch to check it out.
                                Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by titan View Post
                                  She [a QH reining file} is much further advanced in her training then any of my warmbloods ever were.
                                  The whole post inspired the big phat question I'll ask in the post.

                                  This part is what I have seen, too, and it makes me wonder WTF is the Big, super-unique/special deal about dressage.

                                  Some points ponder (really, they are at the end of the post. The rest is the stuff that informs my thinking):

                                  What's the relationship between the quality of movement the horse gives and the particular movements he does?

                                  Think about the flying change as it has evolved in HunterWorld and as it exists in DressageLand. When I was a sprout, it used to be that a horse with a flying change was special. Learning to ask for that and get it was a rite of passage for good junior riders. Since then, the auto-change has come into existence. Also, folks comment on how easily horses change leads at liberty. There's very little leaping up to get the change and their "doing a job"-- staying in balance for the direction and speed they are going.

                                  In DressageLand, however, a flying change is supposed to have leap to it. It's taught later and seems to be a big deal. Why? Before you answer, consider the rest of this.

                                  I get that the special thing about flying changes in DressageLand is that some day, those will be done every stride. You need some suspension for that movement. But why? Again, hold that thought.

                                  Consider how smoothly the modern hunter changes leads. Yeah, he ain't doing one tempis. But! I saw some even flatter-moving HUS horses doing those "subliminally little" flying changes about every three strides in some junior eq class with a pattern. I didn't know it could be done. (By the way, I have *never* seen a test that hard asked of a Big Eq horse).

                                  So what gives? Flat-moving QHs can do a lot of stuff that English World considers Way Hard.

                                  OK, so back to the ur-point of these disciplines: The purpose of either discipline (the training version or the showing version)-- dressage or western dressage (or reining and other things) is to demonstrate a horse well-able to do a job. He knows the aids *and* he's strong and balanced enough to git-r-done.

                                  There's a huge emphasis in (competitive) dressage on the quality of the gaits. I understand why.... theoretically: Those are the sign of a horse ridden in a way that is biomechanically correct. The movements are meant to test and confirm the same thing.

                                  But WTF, people: it seems to me that you can/should buy the gaits in ModernDressageWorld, or you are wasting your money. This wasn't quite so true when I was a kid. Having ridden horses that were good movers (some considered so in DressageWorld and some considered so in WesternWorld) and some horses who were officially badly-built, I *know* that better gaits make the training easier.

                                  So where does that leave WesternDressage?

                                  Will you sooner or later need to buy the gaits there, too?

                                  But why have to buy the gaits or even care a whole lot about their quality if we already know that horses can do jobs like deliver "no muss, no fuss" flying changes while being way flatter than any dressagist would think?

                                  Just asking.
                                  The armchair saddler
                                  Politically Pro-Cat


                                  • #18
                                    mvp--Good points.

                                    As a dressage person, some of the difference in development is that it's done towards developing a musculature for more correct, developed work instead of just getting it done. Maybe the difference between dancing and ballet dancing. It takes years of correct work to really do a through, engaged, straight change. What is required in hunters or western is more natural and basic. Also, in dressage, doing a single change isn't a huge deal. It's a big jump to doing 4's and 3's and 2's and 1's in a straight line. Hunters and western horses don't do that. It is WAY harder to do more than one in a straight line.

                                    That said, I think the dressage world is way too focused on natural gaits that don't require training. I see the young horses being rewarded for super forward huge gaits. What you see as horses go up in the levels is much more straight training and not the big gaits (except for the recent world class horses.) The dressage world needs to really back off the "quality" of gaits, as in what they naturally have, and focus on the quality improved by correct work. Gaits should get better through work and time, not worse.

                                    I think western dressage riders should be able to compete alongside dressage horses at all levels and do the same quality work, just with different outlines, and be equal. It would be equally super hard and take as many years of correct training to get a western horse to do four tempis and a pirouette as a dressage horse. The difference now is western focuses more on fast and natural gaits, which take less time to train, but, as with reining, it tears the horses apart. Are there sound 6 year old reiners? If the focus changed to a long term goal of building the body and muscles over years to do these movements, there could be a whole new industry of western horses.


                                    • #19
                                      To what level do Western Dressage riders ride?

                                      Sounds to me as if there are a lot of more ordinary, non fancy warmblood horses who want to try dressage but cannot compete with the high priced dressage bred wb's, but would show up well in the WD discipline - hopefully with the basics of free forward movement remaining intact.
                                      Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                                      • #20
                                        I don't know all of the levels. I think right now they don't do anything close to what the upper level dressage riders do. The tests are geared for western horses, so say lope and jog. So, it wouldn't be something a washed out dressage horse would do. It would be something a nice free forward moving western horse should do.


                                        I think there is a lot of potential for what can be done, though. Wouldn't it be cool to have tempi changes for western, half passes, a western version of piaffe/passage?

                                        As for ordinary horses competing dressage, I think that's the case in most of the country at most shows. It's only in certain areas (sigh, like mine) where it's like you can see dollar signs hanging off the horses.