All Western Dressage [“WD”] tests are performed on a Dressage court of 20 meters by 60 meters, just as in the traditional variety, but the beauty of this discipline is you do not need a fancy $100k Warmblood to be competitive. There are similarities to both Traditional Dressage movements and to Western Pleasure horses, however, the horse who excels in this sport will be neither. We look for normal (working), collected and extended gaits, just like with any Dressage horse. There should be a smoothness, willingness and ease of motion to both the gaits and performance of the horse. His jog will not be the slow, mechanical variety which is found in Western Pleasure. We want to see a forward, balanced type of movement and the same goes for the lope.
When it comes to training the WD mount, I use the same principles as with any horse in my program. We focus on relaxation, going forward, straight lines, bends, counterbends and circles. I want my horses to learn balance and be able to extend their frame and stride on the long sides of the court before we request them to collect. I have always used Dressage based exercises with all of my horses, because as we know, foundation is key to having a willing and happy partner. How do we build that foundation? By making the right way the easy way and ensuring we follow the building block principles of Dressage. That term, after all, simply means Training, and it is through systematic foundational training that we create a winning ride.
I'll return to discussing this wonderful sport in the future, but in the meanwhile, if you're interested in learning more check out the Western Dressage Association of America, North American Western Dressage and the United States Equestrian Federation.