Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Western Dressage - What's Old, What's New

Having now spent way too many hours searching Google, I'm going to fall back on my faulty memory.

What's Old:  dressage and western riding sprang from the same roots and then occasionally held hands. The Spanish system of training went to the Southwest with the missionaries and continued in what is now known as the Vaquero tradition. The same horses and systems went to Europe - records in Vienna refer to a Spanish Riding School in 1572. The Spanish rode light, agile horses that could move fast on the battlefield and heavy horses were becoming obsolete. Later artillery would make the highly trained Spanish horses useless and their flashier moves would become only for the parade grounds and for exhibitions, but the horses of the Moors were battle horses. Today dressage still looks to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna as the caretaker of classical dressage. In the Western Hemisphere the vaqueros continued to pass on the system and apply it to ranch work. In Europe the same thing happened in Spain and Portugal. The ranch horses trained in these traditions look very similar, but not at all like the western horse in breed shows today.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The "Next Big Thing"

For years I've had the line under my signature "dressage for the performance horse" hoping to pick up the occasional western rider who took to heart Lynn Palm and others who talked about the need for basics. It didn't work. Then I was looking for someone with more glue and less age than I had to restart my mustang, who had a bit too long vacation after his first 30 days. My choice was a trainer nearby who is known for doing lots of preliminary groundwork because this is where I felt the holes were in the horse's preparation and I didn't have a pen to work him in. To my surprise the trainer was looking for someone to give him dressage lessons. It seems he had been to an expo, seen the demos by Etian, and met Dr. Robert Miller. He liked what he saw, but he was even more impressed when Dr. Miller told him if he wanted to know what the next BIG THING in the horse world was going to be it was "Western Dressage."

So the lessons have begun. More about that later. First I had to find out what "Western Dressage" was. It isn't just a movement to do dressage moves on a horse with western tack.  Dr. Miller, Etian and Jack Brainard want a competition with an organization behind it like the USDF or the NRHA. The first step was to get rules, tests and judges, which they mostly borrowed from the USEF.  Then they got the classes recognized for Morgans by the USEF. Now they are starting a publicity campaign to encourage people to  use the tests at dressage shows, breed shows, wherever a USEF dressage judge might already be on the grounds. This is all a bit different from what I had envisioned.

If you do a search on YouTube there are several good and not so good videos. There is a thread on the Chronicle of the Horse Dressage Forum that has several interesting points of view. However for better or for worse, I think this will take off. The romance of the cowboy life will blend with the classical ideal of the willing dance partner into a dream of the best of both worlds.

 Like most innovations, it's so old it's new again.

Next: What's old, what's new, and where do we begin.

For more information about Western Dressage go to