What The Heck Is Western Dressage?

    It has become a pretty common question of what the heck is Western Dressage? Many people have not even heard of it until they have crossed paths with me. Well, it turns out Western Dressage is the fastest growing discipline in the country. It was founded in 2007 and had a World Championship Show by 2013... that is some growth! I attended my first Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) World Championship Show in 2017.

Andrea Osmond and Tiz A Way at 2017 Worlds
    Western Dressage originated or stemmed from Cowboy Dressage and later became two different disciplines. Cowboy Dressage was started by an Israeli man named Eitan Beth-Halachmy. He had a background in Classical Dressage and arrived in the United States in 1967 to pursue Veterinary school... though he really wanted to become an American cowboy. He did not become a Vet, nor did he become a cowboy... but he did become a notable horseman.

Eitan Beth-Halachmy

    With his passion for Western Riding and his extensive knowledge in Classical Dressage he formed his own design of Western Dressage called Cowboy Dressage. He believed every horse and rider needed to incorporate Dressage into their home schooling no matter what their discipline. He believed in his horsemanship and was a pretty entertaining clinician. Soon Cowboy Dressage began to become popular and was included in many stock horse competitions across the country.

    Western Dressage became known as Western Dressage when Eitan met another legendary gentleman from the stock horse, reining, and cutting industry named Jack Brainard. He was inducted into the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Hall of Fame and named Western Horseman magazine's Man of the Year... you get it... this guy has been a big deal in the industry for over 55 years.
Jack Brainard

    Jack is a big fan of "firsts," hence his participation in starting the NRAH. When he met Eitan in 2007, they joined forces and teach what is now called Western Dressage across the country. When you combine the years of earned knowledge, expertise and savvy between these two men you have a home run for both the horse and rider. They both now hold Advisory Board Member positions on the Western Dressage of America board.

    Okay, so now you know the history of Western Dressage and I am sure you are sill wondering what the heck it is! Well I feel that the WDAA's website describes it perfectly. "Western Dressage integrates the historical validated principles of Dressage with the best of Western Working Horse traditions. It is a systematic and progressive system of training for the Western horse and rider, in the traditional stock tack with the purpose of enjoying a safe pleasurable, versatile and useful working horse. Whether your ultimate goal is in the show pen, barrel racing, ranch work, or trail riding; discover the benefits of Western Dressage in the development of your horse and your partnership."

Osmond Equestrian student and Cheyenne at Table Mountain Ranch, Golden Colorado

    You read that correctly... Western Dressage is a staple or a foundation to any discipline you train in. Some more little facts about Dressage is that a "Military Test" was included in the Olympics in 1912. After this, Dressage became a civilian sport and the first woman competed in the 1952 Olympics. Dressage literally means "training" in French and is often described as the "ballet of horses."

    So now that we know what it is, what breeds are best at it... well all breeds! Any breed is welcomed in Western Dressage, from Friesians, to gaited horses, to the stock horse. The overall goal of Western Dressage is for the horse to learn to become more balanced, rhythmic, relaxed and for the rider to learn to become light and skilled.

    This all is starting to sound a lot like Classical Dressage... and it is... in a Western Saddle! "Elements of the two disciplines are very similar. Both wish to create a better horse and rider with the use of structure focused training and progressive physical and mental development. Both look for balance, cadence, carriage and shared fundamentals. In addition, each discipline uses tests as an opportunity to evaluate the progress of horse and rider through feedback.

Cassandra DiPentino - DiPentino Dressage

    The disciplines differ in the execution of the fundamental elements. As the horse and rider progress through the levels of Western Dressage, the tests elements becoming increasingly reflective of movements, maneuvers and duties asked of a Western Dressage horse. The Western Dressage horse will need to be handy, willing, safe and calm while demonstrating pure gaits and lightness. The Western Dressage horse is evaluated with the conformation and movement of today's Western horse in mind. In keeping with tradition, Western Dressage is shown in Western tack and clothing.

    It is not the goal of Western Dressage to create Western horses that compete in traditional Dressage, but to develop better Western horses and offer additional rider education through the understanding and use of principles of Dressage and good Horsemanship." - WDAA website

    Then what is the difference between Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage you might be wondering. Cowboy Dressage was developed by Eitan Beth-Halachmy. It is a combination of traditional Western riding and traditional Horsemanship. Cowboy Dressage takes place in a similar environment as Western or Classical Dressage with a caller and modified Dressage arena. There are the obstacles, such as ground poles, are added as the levels and test progress. It is similar to Western Dressage in the sense they have similar gaits, balance, and carriage goals.

Cowboy Dressage

    You have now heard me mention the word "test" a couple of times throughout this blog and I am sure you are possibly wondering what that is. Well "test' is that pre-designated pattern in progressive levels. The tests are used for three years and then the association releases new tests. So about the time you master them, it's time to learn and compete with new ones. Each level, which in Western Dressage we have Introductory (walk/jog), Basic (introduces lope), 1st level ( starting to incorporate maneuvers) through 4th level. In classical Dressage it goes up to Grand Prix, so Western Dressage has a couple more levels to catch up. None the less we are so excited to have 4th level release recently.

    I hope I was able to help you understand and answer any of your questions about Western Dressage. Feel free to leave me with a comment if you have further questions and I would be happy to answer them. I feel so fortunate to be a member of Western Dressage Association of Colorado and America. I have made Osmond Equestrian's training and lesson programs focused Western Dressage. If you would like more information on how to become more involved with Osmond Equestrian and learn about Western Dressage please visit www.OsmondEquestrian.com or our Youtube channel for how to videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrEYCKNQ8XkLTvJG71k2-uQ?view_as=subscriber



  1. Hi, This is a great article. Loved your efforts on it buddy. Thanks for sharing this with us. Horse Trainers Near Me


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