Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dressage Goes Western

At the end of January, I participated in a Western Dressage clinic (thanks Calm, Forward, Straight and It's Quarters for Me for the encouragement!).  I had never heard of Western Dressage until LA mentioned it to me in December.  It's still fairly new and is drawing quite a following.  Western Dressage uses the classical dressage techniques to help improve communication, softness and balance between western rider and horse.  There is no specific "western dressage" breed of horse.  Any western rider and horse can participate and benefit. What's not to like?   I can't find many videos of Western dressage, but perhaps this one can give you an idea.....

Boarding in a reining and games barn, I see a lot of sliding stops, gallops at full speed, sharp turns around barrels, etc.  This seemed a little more up my alley.  :-)

It was a balmy -15C day, with just enough wind to blow snow off the roof of the arena. My team mates included Nervous Classmate, who was riding a dead broke lesson horse (this was good because she was anxious about the snow blowing off the roof) and Wade and his crazy Arabian, Dar.    I was a little nervous, not because of the snow or Dar, but because there was quite a crowd observing.  

We had to walk, jog and then do a working/posting trot so that the instructor could evaluate us. Considering I haven't been getting in much riding lately, Gem and I were working together nicely.  As we moved up from a jog to a posting trot, the instructor said "Wolfie, you have a good seat."  Why, thank you!  It was a good way to start the session.  :-) 

There are some advantages to being in a group; you get to learn and observe a variety of things.  For instance, in Wade's case,  he competes in endurance events and his horse only goes forward; Wade does not know how to back up, side pass or turn on the forehand/haunches.  Interesting, eh?  I hadn't really thought of that.  I assumed that if you were competing, you would know at least how to back up.   Also, Wade has been riding for a few years, but does not know how to post.  His understanding of posting was having the horse pitch you forward, popping you out of the saddle and then plop back down in the saddle.  So when the instructor explained about using his legs to post, you could see it was a light bulb moment for him.

Personally, I was glad that the areas that we worked on were mostly at a walk or jog.  I know that I need to know how to lope confidently (I am getting there!!!), but to be honest, Gem and I could jog or post trot all day long; we both love it and have the stamina.   Here's what she helped me with:
  • I shouldn't plan too far in advance of where I want to end up.  When I do that, I turn and look and my shoulders inadvertently move to follow my head, making Gem start to change direction sooner than I want.  So, I should know where I want to end up, but only plan two horse lengths in front of me so that my shoulders stay in the correct position.
  • I tend to ride with my elbows sticking out.  Sigh.
  • I have always wanted to side pass consistently and she broke it down for me.  When side passing right, I tilt Gem's head ever so slightly to the left so I can see his nostril and then lightly bump with my left leg at the girth, keeping shoulders and hands straight.  Easier said then done, but we were able to get a few good cross-overs with nice big movement.  With practice, Gem and I will get it.
  • Turning on the forehand; Gem ends up counter bending regularly (my fault).   Same set up as side pass but I need to keep my left leg just a smidge back from the girth (I was too far back), my right leg ever so slightly on to stop him from bending and bump (not push) so that his hind end moves over.  Again practice, practice.
  • Oh, and I should stop looking at Gem's mane all the time.  :-)
The snow did come down of the roof a couple of times, causing Dar to bucked and dance during the session.  Wade is so used to this behaviour, he just sat through it.  I could tell Nervous Rider was, well, nervous, about the snow and about Dar, but she survived.  :-)  The feedback from all participants was positive.  I can see that Dressage would help in endurance, trail class, reining; using Dressage principals can only help improve the communication between rider and horse no matter what activity you are involved with.   Gem seemed to enjoy the challenge of this clinic and he was very well behaved and light on his feet.  Would I do it again?  Definitely.

Have a good weekend, everyone!!


  1. Congratulations Wolfie. I was scared to death the first time we worked in front of people! It's a huge thing.

    "Dressage" is just "training" and every horse and rider will gain something from dressage. I don't "do dressage" but I have dressage to thank for my being a much more quiet rider. Especially my hands! My thoroughbred "Psycho J" helped there too. I try to imagine my reins are no more than threads.

    I try my very best to annoy the horse as little as possible when I ride :)

    1. Thanks, ltd. It was a little unnerving to have so many people watching. I can see how dressage techniques would help communicate softer. I tend to be a bit busy with my hands and I do still have a tendency to "lean" on my reins if I am tense. :-) The instructor left me with exercises that I can practice on my own.

  2. This sounds like so much fun!! Better than having lessons all the time. Sounds like you and Gem had a great time, especially if you haven't been able to ride much recently. And I'm impressed, doing all that in front of an audience! Personally I'd be quite happy to just walk and trot ;o)

    Coincidentally, I also look to where I want to go too soon; I don't just stick my elbows out, I have a tendency to flap them about! And I too spend way too much time looking at Biscuit's mane :D
    But - excuse me a small bit of bragging - I can do a turn on the forehand, its one of the things I'm pretty good at ... not much else though ;o)

    Enjoy your weekend! xx

    1. It was fun and I just found out that there is another clinic in March. I may have to sign up for that. :-) I am so jealous that you can turn on the forehand!! I always put too much pressure on Gem and he counter-bends. And, what is it with horse's manes....?? :-)

  3. This clinic sounds like it was very informative and a lot of fun. You and Gem were stars! I think that you and Gem would excel at Western Dressage or any dressage for that matter. The more training we have with our horses makes it so much easier for us to communicate with each other. I hope there are a lot more clinics run at your farm with this trainer. Wonder if the trainer would consider coming in (or be allowed) to give private lessons? That would be fun.

    As for having an audience...who cares. It's about you and your horse and what you can get out of it. Picture them all in their underwear and you won't put so much pressure on yourself.

    1. I agree that the more training we have, the better our relationship will be with our horses. What I found interesting was that Gem seemed to be enjoying himself. Perhaps the break from weekly lessons has made this type of thing fresh for him rather than routine.

      I was a bit unnerved when I saw how many people came to watch. The reality was that it was probably only 20 people, but with a viewing room that holds 8 tops, and everyone else crammed in around the gate, it looked like a heck of a lot of people to me! :-)

  4. Bravo! So glad you did it! Sounds like you are too :)