Western Dressage — On to the Future — but keep an eye on the past

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

On July 23, 2013, United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) announced that the USEF had voted to accept the WDAA as the USEF Recognized Affiliate for Western Dressage.  This will all go into effect on December 1, 2013.

First of all — Congratulations to the USEF and the WDAA.

I also personally feel that HUGE THANKS need to go to Jack Brainard and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, two excellent gentleman that I have had the privilege to meet, learn from, and speak to regarding Dressage for the Western Horse and Rider. Both Jack and Eitan were instrumental in helping get Western Dressage moving forward and on everyone’s minds.  Thank you Jack and Eitan!

Now we all move forward into the future of Western Dressage.  Tests and Rules, USEF recognized shows, end of year awards, bloodlines that will be “THE” Western Dressage lines to breed to, trainers becoming famous overnight for wins in this new sport.  Yes — we have some exciting times ahead.

Before we all get overly excited … I would ask that as we eye the future — we all make sure we revisit our past.  Thanks to coaches I have had along my career, including Felice Rose, Charles Wilhelm, and Richard Shrake … dressage for the western rider (me specifically) is not new.  No — I have been learning this as a western rider for over 10 years — but my coaches called it something else — they called it good horsemanship.


When one thinks of Classical Dressage it is easy to immediately think of riders and horses from the Four Classical Dressage schools of Europe — the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, the Cadre Noir of the French National Riding School in Saumur, the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, Spain, and Lisbon’s Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.

Classical dressage is the art of riding in harmony with, rather than against, the horse and this evolved from cavalry movements and training for the battlefield.  The knowledge of how to train the horse for its role in warfare was refined by specialist trainers, often referred to as the classical masters, over the years.  Some of these wrote down their techniques and these were passed on for others to develop further but all were interested in three things:

  • Training the horse to carry a rider.
  • Training the horse to be obedient to the rider’s commands.
  • Improving the horse’s athletic ability so that it could more easily perform its role.

Western Riding, just like classical dressage, can be traced back to Xenophon around 400 years B.C..  Xenophon spoke to the basics of riding a well schooled horse that would move based on rider weight transference, away from leg pressure, and be supple through its head, neck, shoulder, rib cage and hip. This has been interpreted by some to describe a horse that would be so light and responsive that it could be ridden one-handed, and yet perform correctly enough that a man’s life could depend on that horse working with his rider as a harmonious team.

Western riding is a style that evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Introduced to the America’s between the early 1500’s and the 1700’s from the Spanish, this style of riding has changed very little even to this present day. Most importantly — this style of riding lends itself to use in numerous practical disciplines.  It is important to understand that much of today’s western styles of riding were born of necessity.


Look to the guides and concepts shared with us from our Dressage and Western Riding Mentors of the past for how we should move forward with Western Dressage — or any horse riding for that matter.

The Dressage and Western Riding Mentors of the past gave us a guide — they gave us the Training Scale (Relaxation, Rhythm, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection) and they gave us these principles 1) Train the horse to carry a rider; 2) Train the horse to be obedient to the rider’s commands; and 3) Improve the horse’s athletic ability so that it could more easily perform its role.

So my friends — I ask you to remember that it is not all about showing, not all about the prizes, not all about the ribbons, not even about the fame or the money that can be made —

Western Dressage, like Classical Dressage, IS about GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. 


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).


5 thoughts on “Western Dressage — On to the Future — but keep an eye on the past

  1. Although I’m happy to see the USDF recognize western riding, the USDF has left a bad taste in my mouth concerning dressage in general. It no longer rewards good horsemanship, but poor training techniques like Rolkur and extreme gaits that everyone will be pushing their horses to perform that they are just physically unable to do. I’m very pleased the the Cowboy Dressage Association remains in the hands of Eitan and Jack, and know that as long as they are around, good horsemanship will always be rewarded over showmanship.

    • Just to be clear, it is the USEF, not the USDF that has recognized western dressage with the WDAA. That being said — I enjoy Cowboy Dressage and Jack and Eitan’s teachings.

  2. Thank you for placing the enjoyment and training of our horses over the need to show. I practice Western Dressage for the exercise benefits to my mare. The recent politics gave me time to seek out and follow a variety of knowledgeable trainers from a wide field of disciplines. I am now less willing to ‘belong’ to any WD organization. I personally think Western Dressage is too young to consider itself an organized sport. No matter what the decision, supporters and detractors will always be around to keep opinions jumping like popcorn in the movie theater.

  3. Pingback: Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony | dunmovinranch

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