This is a topic I’ve covered previously, however it’s a good one and there are many different schools of thought on how a horse can wear multiple hats, or I guess better put, multiple saddles, literally speaking. Recently a friend who’s a diehard fan of Western Pleasure started dabbling in Dressage (well, the owner did not, the owner’s horse did with his trainer). My response was a huge resounding cheer, and not only because I fully believe the horse is capable of being a competitive Dressage horse.
Let’s put it this way, ANY horse can make a Dressage prospect, and many can become competitive on the local level or at the lower levels, including those who are athletic enough to be Western horses. Yes, you read that right. In order to be a competitive Western mount a horse has to be supremely athletic, just as those competing in most English disciplines.
So now we’re going to get down to the business at hand. We can start by examining the horse piece by piece conformationally and deciding what he’s bound to excel at. Obviously, if you’ve got a great big 17 hand Thoroughbred, one of the first things that will come to mind is jumping. If your horse has done Dressage, it’s not much of a stretch to train that horse to go over fences.
But what if your horse happens to be a little, petite Arabian or a Quarter Horse who’s relatively short in stature, yet rather rotund? Either should be able to do Intro Level Dressage in addition to whatever else they usually excel in. Now, this might sound like nothing more than an advertisement for the United States Dressage Federation, however that’s not the case at all. Many local clubs put on unrated Dressage shows, and your horse doesn’t even need to be a Warmblood in order to compete successfully!
What about if you’ve always competed in English classes and would like to explore Western for a change? Not every horse will have the capability to be an ideal Western Pleasure horse, but there are a variety of things you can do with your horse under Western tack where he’s not going to be required to totally change his frame or way of going. Trail is one of those classes, as long as he doesn’t mind obstacles. If he’s gone over fences in his “former life”, getting over some trail obstacles without making a mess of them should not be a problem. Other alternatives are Team Sorting or Team Penning, both of which are a barrel of fun, you just need to make sure your horse deals with being around running cattle.
Your short answer on how to make your horse be the best he can be is easy: Training. I’m not advising you to spend beaucoup dollars sending your horse out to the top trainer in whatever discipline you’re thinking about transitioning your horse over into, simply seeking out a good instructor to help you with your own training. If your horse is already trained, adding something new to his repertoire is not going to be all that hard.
Most importantly, have fun!! After all, that is what owning, riding, training and competing on horses is all about!!