Dressage Training for Western Horses
How to Get Started in Western Dressage by Mary
it sounds like an oxymoron - a "Western dressage" horse, but if you think about it many Western
disciplines have similarities to dressage, and if you do it right your horse can benefit from the classical
training dressage provides.
is classical training ? It's not your typical "kick the horse to go, pull the reins to stop"
theory. It takes into account the horse's ability and temperament, and
creates a balanced, cadenced horse and rider that work with instead of against each other.
takes years of study and dedicated training to achieve advanced manoeuvres in dressage, but training your Western
horse won't involve thousands of dollars and decades in training. It
just takes a little study and some practice. You don't have to
practice the piaffe in your cutting arena or airs above ground in your round pen.
We're just talking basics here.
Evaluating the Horse
first part to remember is that horses bred for Western disciplines are built differently from horses bred for
dressage. Many are built with a high croup and low withers, which
makes it difficult to get the collection and lightness on the forehand that dressage requires.
cutting, reining and competitive trail training involves a lot of the same manoeuvres as beginning dressage, so
even though a Western horse might not be built for dressage they can do the basic manoeuvres reasonably well and
that's what the goal is here.
you get started, write down what your horse can and can't do. Think of
it as a resumé for your horse's skills, temperament, personality, training, etc.
When you evaluate your horse's abilities like this you'll learn your horse can do more than you think.
you're finished you'll use it to "apply for a job" - in this case, dressage.
Like any "job" you apply for, you need to accept that not all horses are entirely suited in
ability, temperament and training. Knowing your horse's limitations
lets you determine from what training it will benefit and how.
What to Work For
probably seen it in Western horses, but probably don't define it the same way.
You know a relaxed, balanced horse that works with little or no help from the rider.
That's what all riders work for. It looks natural, easy and
also seen how it's done wrong. It looks choppy, forceful and
unnatural. The horse's back is tight, sometimes rounded, the neck is
short and held awkwardly and the hindquarters are so tight the legs don't reach and swing naturally.
The rider's back is stiff, the hands are held in tight fists, and the look on their face shows they don't
enjoy it either.
get the flowing, balanced and enjoyable result you want, the two of you need to get it out of your head that
dressage is difficult or restricting. Dressage riders and trainers
spend years teaching people and horses only to make it look that way.
a horse in dressage develops muscles not used in Western riding, so when you start it might be foreign to both of
you. In teaching dressage to a Western horse you want to teach forward motion, improved flexibility and
dead-on transitions. In the meantime you'll also improve your
relationship with your horse.
you begin, the horse has to trust you, and you have to show it to them in a way they will understand.
The goal is to improve the horse's Western way of going. Many
of the aids are the same so it emphasizes to the horse how to do it right.
I'm going to say it. The statement many Western riders cringe at and
sends shivers down the spines of British riders: You don't need a
dressage saddle to teach your Western horse dressage, but you DO need a saddle that won't restrict the horse's
movement. Many Western riders will also have to abandon the
"behind the movement" seat for a more "English" seat, at least for what you plan to do.
horse's movement is affected by your position, so you will have to sit in a traditional "English" style.
Think of a straight line from your shoulders, down through your hips and to the point of your heels.
will have to sit centered in the saddle, with your butt away from the cantle.
This is where a flat-seated saddle will help you and the horse relax, open up and reach out willingly.
To help the horse open up in the shoulders and hindquarters, you'll need to sit deeper in the saddle and
open your hip angles more.
curb bit is a prerequisite for most Western events, and because of that many horses become dependent on if not
afraid of them. Horses won't take contact with the curb bit or test it
because of its leverage and severity. Many Western horses are trained
in curb bits from the wrong hands.
beginning dressage, a simple snaffle is the norm. You can outfit a
Western bridle with a half- or full-cheek snaffle and use it instead of an "English" bridle.
The difference here is to encourage the horse to take contact with the bit and to respond to the smallest
adjustments of the reins. You want the horse to bend, flex, and do
everything else with the smallest effort on your part.
Finding More Information
riders can train their horse to dressage in many ways. One of the best
ways is to find a reputable trainer that will teach you and help you teach your horse.
The best trainer is one who will explain it to you but won't scoff at you for riding Western.
way to go is do lots of reading on the subject. A great place to start is by reading Xenophon's "The Art
of Horsemanship" which will give you a lot of background information on dressage theory.