Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

by Dr.Mike Guerini, Ph.D


Last year about this time I published a blog sharing my thoughts on the future of Western Dressage (WD). You can read that blog posting HERE. Well another year has passed and there are some pretty exciting things still happening.


  1. Train the Trainer programs are being taught around the United States and in Canada by Western Dressage Association of America.
  2. Cowboy Dressage (CD) has huge shows, particularly in California with over 400 entries on a weekend.
  3. North American Western Dressage is a leader in Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage Virtual Shows.
  4. Judges training seminars are being held for both Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage.


We have a great deal to be excited about and the future continues to look promising for Western and Cowboy Dressage Competition….and that is what has me a bit worried.  The future looks really good for discipline specific competition — Now I am a bit worried about us all developing a One Trick Pony.  That is to say we are focused only on showing our Western Horse in CD or WD and reporting those results.


Now I will stand up and say that neither WD nor CD is a trick.  Both teach so many skills.  You may think I am using the term “One Trick Pony” a bit harshly but I sure want to get everyone’s attention and make sure we advance this conversation.


When I first heard about the Western Dressage Organization being formed in 2011 I was pretty darn excited.  The chance to have very open discussions and educational opportunities in discussing Dressage and how it applies to developing a high quality horse ridden in a Western Saddle — EXCITING. Sure, Western Dressage specific tests are a good thing but at this time there is very limited conversation on how Riders and Trainers and Coaches are using Western (and Cowboy) Dressage to build a better Western Horse that has longevity (long term soundness of body and mind).


Many of the CD and WD clinics are specific for how to prepare to ride a test.  I would say that if we work on the foundation basics necessary for developing a good working horse, apply the Training Scale and Dressage Principles from Classical Horsemanship – we can ride a CD or WD dressage test without any significant problems. Sure the memorization of the test or following the direction of the reader might be tough — but we certainly do not need to school on the test – we should be building our horses to succeed in a test by focusing on our foundation work.  What we learn in these clinics is how to navigate the dressage court (and trust me I have made my share of mistakes there both as a rider and reader so I benefit from a few of these lessons).


We want to push ourselves to be more than riding drones in a test…we want to be adaptive.  Think about issues within our educational system here in the US where many students are taught just what they need to know to pass a standardized test. Since I spent many years in school to gain my Doctorate, I can speak with some authority that the real world needs us to be able to analyze, adapt, and figure our way out of situations with our foundation skill and knowledge sets – there was never a class I took or research experiment I conducted that gave me the answers for everything.  We need to remember that learning the foundation principles are our goal and that we need to celebrate and ride with those abilities each day.


How do we continue on this pathway of success with CD and WD and make sure we are not developing just a One Trick Pony?

1. We need to discuss, share, educate, and celebrate how development of a proper bend, circle size control, collection, extension — can benefit other western disciplines.

Here is an example of how to apply this suggestion. Reining and Cowhorse competitions have a pattern that requires a circle, most often a large fast and small slow. This is a great opportunity to develop a Reiner or Cowhorse that lasts longer in the show world by guiding our training and coaching using Dressage, and more specifically how WD and CD can help make this a success.

For this I am planning on sharing each month (maybe more often) how a particular aspect of a CD or WD test is also used in other western performance disciplines or can be useful in helping us develop a better performance horse. Likely I will start sharing this on my FB page and website but if you are interested in getting notified or helping me build this resource – let me know by dropping me an email to michael@dunmovinranch.com.

2. Further develop the systems to celebrate the rider/horse combinations that are excelling in WD/CD AND other Western Performance activities.

I am quite pleased to see one of my mentors leading this charge. Charles Wilhelm has developed the Ultimate Super Horse Challenge (Click HERE for more info) and it includes Cowboy Dressage in the competitions…along with some other pretty darn nifty things necessary to develop the best horse and rider team.  I encourage people to participate int he Ultimate Super Horse Challenge either as a rider or spectator.  For the leaders of WD and CD – this is your chance to step up and reach beyond what you are already doing and develop reward systems and competitions that showcase how fabulous CD and WD are for building the ALL AROUND HORSE. Working Equitation does this to some extent…but I bet the leaders of WD and CD can do more.

3. We need people to speak up and share how the horse they took a CD/WD test on last Saturday is in competition for reining on Sunday, or on a trail ride on Tuesday, or teaching the grandkids a lesson or two about riding, or taking on a new challenge with the human partner. Share how your horse is not just a One Trick Pony.

4. We need to promote freestyle work even more. Each horse and rider is unique and Freestyle riding tests can sure demonstrate how riders and horses can be creative and showcase their teamwork.

5. We need to make a challenge test that is set up day of show. Be creative and set it up to challenge horse and rider to be a team that has skills they can draw upon to adapt and succeed. There are many smart people in CD and WD who can take parts of different tests and bring them together into a challenge that you do not get time to practice before the actual test. In my opinion this is the goal of developing an All Around horse and rider.  This is where success in CD and WD, the competition part, will show the success of horse and rider as a team.


Like I said a year ago — Western Dressage, like Classical Dressage, IS about GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. This year I will add that with Good Horsemanship we develop and nurture horses that can do many different things.


In full disclosure I am a Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the WDAA, Professional member of NAWD, and friend to Cowboy Dressage.  I like what these organizations are doing and look forward to them doing even more.  Each organization has said they have a role in education of the western rider – more education is needed for all of us to become the All Around Rider and develop our All Around Horse.

Push yourself as a rider and lead/ride/train your horse safely compassionately while you develop a great Horse partner.


Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!


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 www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Five Rules for Simple (and great) Horsemanship

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

Five Rules for Simple (and great) Horsemanship

We complicate Horsemanship.  There are so many rules and pieces of advice we hear.  Sometimes when we try to follow every bit of advice or rule…we make riding and enjoying our horses so complicated that we forget to actually ride, have fun, and enjoy our time on horseback with our four legged friend.


Ride circle JPEG

Here are my five rules for Simple (and great) Horsemanship.

#1 — Be a Healthy Rider. I do not mean have the perfect weight or Body Mass Index….I mean be in good health. Good health means that you can breathe fairly well, you have had a decent amount of rest, and you are eating sufficiently that you have energy and stamina. There are times when our health is not perfect…we might still be able to ride but must ask ourselves this question first — am I in good enough health to take care of my horse and keep him/her safe.For those with health issues that are not going away in the immediate future, therapeutic riding programs can help you have safe riding experiences. Ride with people who are going to be able to keep you safe and most especially — keep the horse safe.

#2 — Ride a Healthy Horse. A horse, just like a person, can have days when it is not feeling well. Those are days that we should give the horse off from work. If we want to spend time with our horse, maybe go for a walk with him/her on the halter and just take in the scenery.

I cringe when I hear people give me a list of medications their horse is taking.  Supplements are one thing …. A pill for the foot problem, another medication for the ear issue, another for the hock that is swollen, and still another for the back soreness….. ENOUGH ALREADY!  Work with your equine wellness professional and help your horse get healthy to ride.

To many times I have seen a horse not quite healthy be ridden and before I know it – there is another issue, then another issue, and then another issue. People scurry around just trying to take care of each added issue.  Stop and get the first issue taken care of and you will be able to ride and not have to worry about another ailment or lameness.

#3 — Have a Riding Plan. I hear quite often people discuss a riding disaster. When they finally stop telling the story, I ask them what their plan was for the ride. Most often I get one of two answers 1) I had no plan, or 2) I planned for a nice ride but my horse looked sideways and I decided right then and there we needed to work.

Okay — the no plan is a problem since the rider has not done mental preparation and I can tell you from experience that the horse knows this and the horse is always working to help us be more honest with ourselves.

The fix it right there and then plan — I know we all need to do this. We just need to have some ideas already in our head as to how we might deal with an issue (I will cover this in a subsequent blog).  Suffice it to say, when we “decide right then and there we need to work on an issue” we most often jump into that training situation without thinking if we have all the tools necessary to complete this training. We also jump in with our emotions and from what I have learned in my life – learning or teaching when I am emotional does not yield good results.

Your plan can be detailed or it can be simple … I like the simple idea and will discuss this soon in another blog.

#4 — Be Safe. Always Always Always think safety first. Protect your health and that of your horse by being safe. Sure — the ride down the mountain in the Snowy River Movie was amazing but not all of us or our horses are prepared for that ride. Think about the road/arena conditions, weather forecast, horse leg protection, rider personal protection. They key here is that if you get hurt – you cannot keep your horse safe. Be a safe rider and this lets you take care of your horse.

#5 — Listen to the Horse. The key to great riding is developing your ability to listen to what your horse is telling you. When we listen to the horse we find that the horse is asking us simple questions…the horse is asking for guidance. The horse understands fight or flight and pressure and release. These are relatively simple concepts and we use them in our training to establish trust and confidence in the horse for the rider. It is only the horses opinion of what I’m doing that has value to me, and that can change in an instant so I must always be listening and answering with quiet aids and guidance.

Horsemanship, riding horses, raising horses, coaching riders, spending time in the barn — these things are what I enjoy doing.  When I keep my life simple (some days it is a struggle) — I find I am happy, my health is good, my horses are healthy and happy, and I experience some of the greatest rides in life.  I have my horses to thank for helping me to understand that simple horsemanship is balanced and rewarding horsemanship.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!


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 www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).