Dressage Training for Western Horses
How to Get Started in Western Dressage by Diane
you like a more harmonious relationship with your horse ? Would you
like him to be more flexible, supple and responsive ? Then dressage
training just might be for you, even if you ride a traditional western horse.
stop reading now. Dressage and western riding are not mutually
exclusive. Dressage is just a fancy French word that means training an
animal to be more than just useful. For instance, if your horse was a
dog, it would mean training him to do more than just sit, stay and come here.
dressage can be an end in itself (think Olympic dressage competition), at its lower levels it's just good, basic
training that can improve the usability of any horse. In fact, many
western-style trainers may use dressage-style training methods without realizing it.
That's because good horse training incorporates a horse's natural movements and his own way of thinking, and
that is the basis of dressage training.
your horse run and play when he's loose in his pasture - his neck is arched, his back is round, he's walking on
air. But put a rider on his back, and it all disappears; his weight
moves from his hindquarters to his front end and he's locked to the ground. With
dressage training, however, you can help your horse keep that natural, loose-horse enthusiasm and bounce in his
step while you ride him. You can ask him to move his hindquarters
farther underneath his body, bringing his balance back where it belongs. This,
then, provides the means for the impulsion that gives energy to his movements.
course, impulsion and energy need direction, and dressage provides that also.
We all know that you can pull a horse's head completely around to your knee while he continues on in the
direction that he wants to go. That's because it takes much more than
bit and reins to provide complete control of a horse. With dressage,
you learn to use separate parts of your body to control separate parts of your horse, thus providing more overall
control. Your hands, legs, seat bones, and weight are your means of
communicating with your horse. By using these aids in different
combinations, you can talk to your horse.
instance, your right leg controls your horse's right rear leg, and your left leg, his left rear leg.
Your seat bones, used together or independently, together with your weight, are another means of
communication. For example, you can change your horse's direction or
gait with a simple shift of weight in the saddle, pressure from the leg, and a tightening or loosening of your
fingers on the reins and with independent seat bones you can sit the jog
without bouncing up and down !
dressage-trained horse also learns that pressure from the rider's legs doesn't just mean "go forward."
First it means "get ready for action" and then it may mean go forward, go sideways, back up or
stop, depending on what your hands, weight and legs tell him to do next. For
instance, if your horse is standing still and you want to go forward, you put equal pressure on your horse's sides
with both of your legs, and, with no pressure on his mouth, he moves forward.
However, if you want your horse to step backward, don't release his mouth when you use leg pressure, and
he'll step back rather than forward. A different combination of aids
will tell your horse to move his hindquarters around his stationary front end, a dressage movement called a
"turn on the forehand."
is, of course, an abbreviated introduction to dressage. Just remember:
this kind of rider control and equine responsiveness doesn't happen overnight.
Dressage training progresses in levels, with one level providing the basis for the level that follows.
And at the most advanced levels of training, dressage becomes art when horses perform the classical
"airs above the ground" that most of us will never achieve. Horses
at these levels are seldom used for anything but high-level dressage competition.
But these horses don't get to the top without the same basic fundamentals of dressage that are available to
all of us.
you and your horse progress in your training, your cues and his responses will become more and more refined.
In fact, a well-trained dressage horse often appears to be acting on his own as he responds to almost
invisible directions from his rider. If you're ready for a more
harmonious and mutually enjoyable relationship with your horse, try dressage.
It can be the basis for improvement even for the most die-hard western rider.