Western Dressage in South Africa

The first show to present classes for Western Dressage was held recently in Gauteng and according to spectators and participants, this new division is set to become a regular feature in Western riding shows.

According to Lynn Muller, one of the driving forces behind bringing Western Dressage to South Africa, the idea behind it was to accommodate a number of ex-dressage riders who said they wanted to ride Western, but felt that reining was not what they wanted to do.

"Our first show at Riverleigh was a great success with about fifteen entries.  I believe Western Dressage in South Africa is here to stay, as the interest is phenomenal.  Both "English" and Western riders have expressed delight at the prospect of competing in this exciting new discipline."

Debbie Beth-Halachmy on palomino Indigo Gold

Artistic elements

Western Dressage is the name given to what the father of the discipline, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, calls Cowboy Dressage.  Eitan participated in the opening and closing ceremonies of the last two World Equestrian Games and has been wowing crowds for a long time with his spectacular displays on two Morgan stallions, first Holiday Compadre and then Santa Fe Renegade.

"Cowboy Dressage, as the name implies, is a combination of the best of both worlds traditional western and classical horsemanship.  Each discipline of horsemanship is time honoured and recognised on its own. When you combine the philosophy and practice of each and add music you create art.  Art is what Cowboy Dressage is all about a medium of self-expression through the freedom of pure horsemanship."

A definition

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.

Eitan's wife Debbie on Santa Fe Renegade

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.

There are a few points of difference with Western Dressage, most arising from the use of Western tack.  The description of the gaits is virtually identical but the Western dressage horse must maintain rideability for the rider in a Western saddle.

The rider's position will also be somewhat different because of the Western saddle.  The use of hands will appear somewhat different because of the Western bit; the Western Dressage horse should be 'working on and accepting the bit'.

Fundamentals and origins

Eitan on Morgan stallion Holiday Compadre

"Dressage to a horse and rider are like the blueprints to an engineer who must build a bridge," explains Eitan.  "You must know the fundamentals of building in order to create a structure of durability, strength and ability. Dressage is the hub of the wheel and from there come the spokes which are the understanding of form, movement and balance."

Dr Robert Miller describes Western dressage:

"Western horsemanship is of pastoral origins. It came from the herding of cattle.  Now in modern times some show classes such as western pleasure have grossly distorted the art to the point where a working cowboy would rather be afoot.  Adding back the refined technical aspects of Classical Dressage to western horsemanship can only improve it.

"Conversely, dressage was originally a military art.  Thus, like Western horsemanship, it once had a practical value when men fought with swords and lances from horseback.  Again, in modern times when its original purpose has become completely obsolete, dressage has become distorted.  Its extremes in contact and hyper-flexion of the head and neck have become accepted norms at many shows.

"Hopefully, Western dressage with its looser rein and more relaxed performance, will likewise filter back into classical horsemanship.  Top horses ridden by top horsemen can do it all: intricate dressage maneuvers, precise gaits, reining, roping, whatever !"

Various techniques in one

From this, it is clear that the Western Dressage discipline is a melding of training methods. Classical Dressage brings the techniques of master European horsemen, techniques that are hundreds of years old and based upon principles which encourage cadence, balance and carriage.  It is technical and it is precise, a rigorous discipline for horse and rider.  It is also an art.

Conversely, Western horsemanship has been practiced on the ranches of the American West since the 1700s and even earlier through the traditions of the Spanish vaqueros.  The subsequent advances in western horsemanship begun by the Dorrance brothers, Tom and Bill, and practiced by a new generation of horsemen and women who continually seek to better understand the mind of the horse, encouraging patience and understanding.

The concept of lightness and subtle cues are central to this new approach.  Trainers such as Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Jack Brainard choose to employ these methods in the development of Western Dressage.

Eitan says: "It is not the goal of the Western Dressage classes to use dressage horses under western tack.  It is the goal of Western Dressage to maintain the integrity and lightness of the western horse and western traditions through the use of dressage.  This is very important.  A western horse moves differently, Western Dressage can just help it to move better."


 WES News 
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 Western Horse UK 
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 Dressage Training 
for Western Horses,
& how to get started
in Western Dressage:
> Mary Knetter
Stacie Moyle
> Di Schorzman

 Jack Brainard 
Western Dressage
Hands-On Horseman

 Eitan Beth-Halachmy 
"Best of Both Worlds"
Western Dressage

 Dr Robert M Miller 
Western Dressage

 America's Horse 
"Western Dressage"
by Holly Clanahan.

 Discover Horses 
"New Horse Sport"
by Gavin Ehringer.

 Horse Junction 
"Western Dressage
in South Africa"
by Izak Hofmeyr.


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