The Gallop Report

Western Dressage

March 10, 2011

Learn more about this emerging discipline that is in the pages of the March-April America’s Horse magazine.


Allison Lake of California rides her horse in a leg yield during a Jack Brainard clinic.

As featured in the March-April America’s Horse, western dressage is an emerging discipline that marries western traditions (such as tack, attire and smooth, supple stock horses) with the principles of classical dressage. The idea is to create a uniquely American horse strong, athletic and responsive enough to move any given body part this way or that — skills that are handy in working cattle, safely navigating trails or smoothly negotiating a dressage test.

It’s not a new idea, certainly, to have a western horse that handy. But western dressage ensures that training is done according to a centuries-old “training pyramid” that ensures a broad, sound foundation before any fancy, flashy moves are taught. And western dressage also provides a competitive framework, allowing for horses in western tack to perform dressage tests and be scored on their softness, manueverability and flexibility.

At a recent western dressage clinic put on by Jack Brainard (also featured in the March-April America’s Horse), we caught up with a few participants to find out their impressions.

Nancy Steinecke is a dressage judge and technical delegate from Hawaii who came in to judge the mock western dressage tests that were ridden at the end of the clinic, and also to educate clinic-goers about classical dressage. She was impressed by what she saw and is now an advisory director of the Western Dressage Association of America.

“Western dressage is so super,” Nancy says. “It’s just a chance to get way more of us involved in participating with the classics of horsemanship and incorporating our western heritage and all the suppleness and softness that they bring. … That’s what we want to see and be able to say, ‘That’s what our schooling does for us.’ ”

Averille Dawson of Salina, Texas, has been a student of Jack’s for about five years. She says their work in western dressage over the past year has helped both her and her usually impulsive mare, Glo Smart Sailing, in numerous ways.

“I love the training aspect, I love the communication, getting her to not only go forward, but go sideways and backwards and be more confident, not so impulsive. This is really good for her, to learn that she can canter, but in a slow, easy canter. I love all of the different manuevers, all of the different things you can work on. We can do haunches in, or shoulder in, or we can do sidepasses or piaffe. There’s so much to work with. She never gets bored, and I don’t get bored, so that makes it a lot of fun.”

There’s no doubt that Pam Rice of Leakey, Texas, is having fun.

“Absolutely!” she says when asked. “I can’t wait to compete.”

The work that she and Jack have done in western dressage has already helped her horse, Holeys Cutter Belle, become a better mount.

“She’s supple, she’s more athletic, she’s working off her haunches, she’s ready, so whether you’re working cows or it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, your horse is physically ready to do what you’re asking them to do.”

Ellen DiBella of Colorado is the enthusiastic president of the Western Dressage Association of America, and she says she enjoyed watching Jack, a reining-horse icon, and his cadre of Quarter Horse riders doing good, solid dressage work.

“He’s just wonderful at it,” she says of Jack. “Watching him teach the riders at the clinic flying lead changes, the dressage judge’s comment was, ‘Wow, this is wonderful.’ Classical dressage people would be fascinated to see this. It’s our uniquely American take on things. Americans just tackle stuff and do stuff.”

To see more from Jack’s clinic, held last fall in Gainesville, Texas, click on the slideshow photos to read captions.
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