Friday, May 18, 2012

Western dressage

Perhaps the single most interesting part of the recent Flying Star Stables Schooling Show was the Western Dressage class.  Western Dressage is a fairly new event, and this was the first time I'd actually seen it in person.

The United States Equestrian Federation describes Western Dressage this way: Western Dressage is defined as training and developing the Western rider and horse to improve themselves as individuals and as partners through the use and discipline of Dressage. By using classical Dressage principles, the Western Dressage rider improves cadence, balance and carriage of the horse. The Western Dressage horse becomes more supple and flexible as it moves up the levels of Western Dressage working more off its hindquarters allowing for increasing lightness of the forehand and encouraging a natural head carriage.

Western Dressage horses compete at two levels, Basic and Primary.  Basic Test 1 is shown below.  The other five approved tests can be found here.
Each test begins the same way.  The horse enters the arena at A and jogs to X for the first halt and salute.
From there on in, horses are asked to perform at the walk,
and lope.
Tests end as they began with a halt and salute at X.
This is not a class for slow moving peanut rollers.  Horses are expected to move out energetically while remaining on the bit.
Additionally, each tests calls for collection...
and extension of all three gaits.
At risk of offending the AQHA Western Pleasure crowd, this is my vision of a true Western Pleasure stock horse!
Western Dressage horses may compete in any "standard Western curb bit."  Riders using a curb bit may rider with either one or two hands.
Gag bits, rigid donut mouthpieces and flat polo mouthpieces are prohibited as are roping bits with both reins connected to a single ring at center of cross bar. Reins must be

attached to each shank. Hackamores and cavessons are not permitted in any test in any level.
Snaffle bits may be used on a horse of any age in the lower level tests.  Riders using a snaffle must ride with two hands.
Martingales, bit guards, any kind of gadgets (such as bearing, side, running, balancing reins, nasal strips, tongue tied down, etc.), all types of boots and bandages, and any form of blinkers, earmuffs or plugs, nose covers, seat covers, hoods are, under penalty of elimination, strictly forbidden. Fly bonnets are permitted but should be discreet and should not cover the horse’s eyes. Any decoration of the horse with extravagant items, such as ribbons or flowers, etc. in the mane, tail, etc., is strictly forbidden. 
Worth noting--this horse is wearing two prohibited items--a cavesson (noseband) and protective boots.  Additionally, his rider is not wearing chaps or chinks.  Tack and attire rules at a schooling show tend to be relaxed.  I probably would not show my model Western Dressage horse this way.
Any standard type of stock saddle (including side saddles) is permitted, and silver equipment should not count over a good working outfit. Breastcollars and cruppers are fine. Tapaderos are not.
Riders are expected to dress "Western" with a suitable hat, long sleeved collared shirt, jeans or pants, chaps or chinks and Western boots. However, protective headgear may be used in place of a Western style hat.

More information on Western Dressage can be found on the USEF's Western Dressage judging guidelines page or at the Western Dressage Association of America's website.


  1. You're getting a lot of milage from the Most Expensive Schooling Show Ever :)

  2. That is also my idea of a pleasure that is a PLEASURE to ride....
    Thanks again for posting such wonderful information and photos!

  3. This was very interesting.
    Thanks for posting.


  4. Diva and I are doing a western dressage class at a show this fall, along with regular dressage:) Ive been meaning to look up the bit rules and tests, now I dont have to :)

  5. Helmets! Yay! The horses truly looks likea pleasure to ride - supple, relaxed and attentive. Lovely!!

  6. Is the palomino not supposed to have been eliminated?! Protective boots, cavesson AND an illegal bit, correct? Gags aren't permitted? Why is theis horse still in the ring?

  7. Teresa--I am pretty sure I can squeeze one more post out of this show. We'll see!

    Bev--Be sure to bring someone along to take pictures of you and Diva. This is still a pretty new sport, and it's hard to find good reference photos. Diva is such a pretty horse. She'd be a perfect "model"!

    Hey, Aspin--Did you see the caption on the third to last photo? This was a schooling show so tack and attire rules were relaxed. I didn't see the show bill, but I'm assuming tack needed to be safe and humane and nothing beyond that. I do know that riders were required to wear helmets and boots with heels. This is pretty typical of schooling shows. You might see a few horses and riders who look ready for the A show ring, but there will be others that appear to be dressed for a lesson or trail ride.

  8. I wanted to ride western with my western horse and tack, but all I found was a classic-barock trainer that would come to my stable. I wasn`t that happy about it, because I wanted to be a cowgirl and ride western. But then I discovered the new Western Dressage discipline :-))