Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games

Intrigued by Dressage at WEG? Try It on a Quarter Horse!

October 9, 2010

Why dressage is perfect for any rider – and why American Quarter Horses are the perfect mounts.

Lynn Palm and Larks Home Run doing a demo at the John Deere Reining Arena at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

If you’ve been following dressage at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, no doubt you’ve been swept away by the elegance of three-time gold medalist Moorlands Totilas and the majesty of American horses like Ravel. But does it seem, to the average rider, a little … out of reach?

Lynn Palm, an AQHA Professional Horsewoman and dressage devotee, has an emphatic answer: “Absolutely not.”

During a demonstration at the John Deere Reining Arena, staffed by AQHA and the National Reining Horse Association, Lynn took questions from the audience, and the first query was: Is it complicated doing dressage?

Lynn loved that question, because it gave her a chance to deliver one of her favorite messages: Dressage is achievable for everybody.

“There’s a place for everybody,” Lynn says. People have often told her, “I ride western; I can’t ride dressage,” or “I just trail ride, and I can’t do dressage.” But really, she says, “Dressage is a simple word that sounds complicated, but it’s not. It’s a French word that means ‘training.’ If you say natural horsemanship, natural training, that’s what it’s all about. It’s achievable, because it promotes correct horsemanship. Horsemanship means riding well, and your goal is that you’re always trying to bring out the best in your horse.”

Just as it applies to any rider, dressage can also be done on any breed of horse. But Lynn – who was one of the proponents of making dressage an AQHA special event in which AQHA points can be earned — holds a special place in her heart for American Quarter Horses.

The Quarter Horses’ typical easygoing temperament makes them a great breed for dressage. And while they may not have the natural suspension or the enormous strides of a warmblood, that makes them easier to ride. In Lynn’s experience showing Quarter Horses in dressage, “the judges have rewarded these horses tremendously. The judges are open-minded to all breeds. … The Quarter Horses, I think, have a great position within the discipline.”

Lynn performed her demonstration of some basic dressage figures aboard Larks Home Run, a son of Rugged Lark who received the first-ever AQHA Register of Merit in dressage.

“They’re very good-tempered and easy-gaited horses to ride,” she says of the breed “Homer” represents. “If you’re not having fun with what you’re doing, try a Quarter Horse.”

Chris Newbert and "Chico" in the half pass.

Lynn’s message seems particularly timely at the World Equestrian Games, where there seems to be a unique fusion of dressage with the western world.

Earlier, we told you about the three-time gold medalist in dressage, Anky van Grunsven, who is now a participant and ambassador for the sport of reining — and she fused the two disciplines in an amazing freestyle reining performance at WEG.

In the Equine Village — WEG’s blowout equine expo — we found Chris Newbert of New Hampshire and his Quarter Horse, Smart Chics Are Rare, doing western dressage demonstrations. “Chico” is a 9-year-old son of Smart Chic Olena.

Chris had been scheduled to be the student/demonstrator for Eitan Beth-Halachmy, who was to present clinics on western dressage and the newly formed Western Dressage Association of America. Very unfortunately, Eitan suffered some serious health problems and had to be hospitalized for the bulk of the Games. Chris, with the help of “guest clinicians” like Lynn, carried the torch forward and continued on with the demos.  

Look for a story on western dressage coming soon in the print version of America’s Horse magazine. As someone who rides dressage but has taken great pleasure roaming around the Games in some comfy western boots, it’s a topic I can’t wait to explore.

Holly Clanahan

Holly Clanahan
Editor, America's Horse magazine