Dressage judges are seeing spots before their eyes - Appaloosa spots, that is - and Paints, Palominos and Quarter Horses too. This year has been a stellar one for the sport as the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) approved dressage as an event in United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and United States Dressage Federation (USDF). Now, AQHA registered horses will be able to earn points towards incentive fund money and year end awards.

With the rise in popularity of both dressage and the “Western” breeds, it’s inevitable that some Western riders will catch the dressage bug.

Perhaps you’re one of those riders - or perhaps you’re a confirmed dressage enthusiast whose mount didn’t exactly grow up in a genteel white-polos-and-saddlepads environment. If your horse is more accustomed to jogging and loping, or turning on a dime and sliding to a stop, can he learn to half-halt and do leg-yields? The answer depends on the individual animal, but there’s no denying that dressage principles have an incredible ability to improve performance in Western classes.

Dressage literally means “training,” and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider. Western horses need to have the same qualities whether you’re competing or just riding for pleasure.

Believe it or not, horses trained in Western riding, horsemanship and reining have already been exposed to dressage. For example, the Western pivot, in which the horse pivots on his inside hind leg, is similar to a turn on the haunches in dressage - though the rider’s inside leg directing him to stay “forward” while his hind feet continue to step around throughout the turn.

Using dressage principles on your western horse can help your performance in multiple ways such as improving cadence and encouraging balance and self-carriage. Many western horses, especially those who compete in western pleasure are too heavy on the forehand and don’t move naturally. By using dressage principles, the horse will begin to shift his weight back to his haunches, which allows more lightness and a natural headset.

A Western horse that has been trained to keep his head down for everything will probably carry his head up when he’s first learning basic dressage movements. But as soon as he relaxes, his head and neck will come back down and he’ll be willing and able to move forward, to carry himself in his natural frame according to his conformation, and eventually to work on the bit.

Dressage is a great way to keep your horse in shape and to help develop the muscles, flexibility and stamina to keep him sound through his golden years. It is also a good way to keep your rail horse fresh so he doesn’t resent workouts.

So if you have a Western-trained horse and a hankering to do dressage, go for it! Doing First or Second Level movements a fair and realistic goal for such a horse, but the whole process will build longevity and is great discipline for both horse and rider along the way.

Thank you for reading our blog by Lynn Palm and the Palm Partnership Training Team! If you would like to know more visit www.lynnpalm.com

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Comment by Nicole Salo on May 6, 2010 at 5:59pm
Wonderful training tip Lynn, thanks! You can tell when a nice western horse has had some dressage work done with it, it really frees up the front end and helps the horse to use his hind end while maintaining a nice topline.
Comment by Karen T on May 3, 2010 at 11:08pm
I agree - I ride an 11 yr old quarterhorse gelding that was roping and barrel racing at a very young age. I purchased him at the age of 8 and discovered he was very sore in the hocks. We thought he might have arthritis developing and wasn't sure if we could keep him sound. I started riding dressage movements with a wonderful coach, introduced him to 'Recovery' and found him a wonderful farrier who worked on his leg alignment. After a year of dressage routines, he is much more supple, his top line is getting stronger and he is working much more on his back end. We are both having fun and improving our stamina and at the same time still enjoying the trail.

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