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Western Dressage


by Leigh Ballard

The Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) is blending western horsemanship with classical dressage. In his essay “What is Cowboy Dressage?” Eitan Beth-Halachmy says, “It is a combination of traditional Western and Classical horsemanship.  Western Dressage is just starting across the country. Western Dressage classes offer a place for the Western rider and horse to improve themselves as individuals and as partners through the use and discipline of Dressage.  By using Dressage principles, the Western rider will help his horse in multiple ways such as cadence, balance and carriage, to name a few. The use of Dressage will help the Western horse work off of his hindquarters allowing for lightness in the front end and a more natural headset.  It is important to keep in mind that Western Dressage encourages and will look for “lightness.”  In keeping with the Western tradition, western-style riding on a looser rein allows the “Dressage” to have a much lighter contact not always seen in competition Dressage. It is not the goal of the Western Dressage classes to use Dressage horses under western tack. It is the goal of Western Dressage to maintain the integrity and lightness of the Western horse and Western traditions through the use of Dressage. This is very important! A Western horse moves differently, Western Dressage can just help it move ‘better.’”
Classical Dressage techniques have been used by top western horsemen for years, but until the recent formation of the WDAA, there hasn’t been an organized effort to recognize the combination as its own disciple. The WDAA was inspired by both Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Jack Brainerd, one of the most respected Quarter Horse trainers in the world.  Beth-Halachmy, who studied dressage as a youth in Israel before coming to the US, developed and trademarked his own brand of Western Dressage which he calls Cowboy Dressage. He and Brainerd pioneered the discipline, and now travel the country teaching clinics. The WDAA acknowledges their gratitude to Eitan and Jack as advisory directors and for their experience and skill as resources for the WDAA.

Western Dressage is one of the fastest growing disciplines drawing participants from diverse equestrian backgrounds and breed alliances. The discipline lends itself to the successful participation of a broad range of riders and breeds, which plays a strong role in its far-reaching appeal.   

The WDAA is the governing body of this growing discipline. The organization has worked over the past year in developing rules uniquely applicable to Western Dressage.

 In early November, Tulsa, Oklahoma was the site of a milestone in Western Dressage history.  The Western Dressage Association® of America held its third annual meeting November 9-10, 2012.  The meeting was open to all and fantastic discussions were shared regarding the history of the discipline, corporate partnerships, new program offerings, and the 2013 Western Dressage Rules and Tests.

2013 Western Dressage Rules were discussed, feedback shared, rule change proposals investigated and a finalized version submitted to the WDAA Board of Directors.  The Board voted unanimously to approve the WDAA 2013 Western Dressage Rules for all breeds to go into effect for all WDAA affiliate and alliance partnerships at the beginning of the 2013 show season.  Follow this link to view those Rules to be published by December 1, 2012:

The 2013 rules are a collaborative effort resulting from member feedback, contributions from respected equestrians and organizations. The rules were edited by a team of WDAA Advisory Board members led by Anita Owen, FEI Olympic Dressage judge.

The resulting Rules are designed for the use of judges, show managers and riders of all experience levels. The Rules also function as an exceptional educational tool with highlights that include detailed gait descriptions, movements, goals and objectives. Along with providing the basic 2013 rule guidelines, the Rules can assist in designing a progressive learning and training program that is extremely useful regardless of the rider's intention to compete or participate in other disciplines.

In addition to the newly revised Rules, the WDAA is developing a Western Dressage Trainers program. This program, Train the Trainers™, provides new Western Dressage Tests and educational programs for dressage judges and exhibitors in collaboration with WDAA corporate partner,

With increasing popularity of Western Dressage and the WDAA's success as the leading association in the discipline, WDAA membership is experiencing rapid growth from individual memberships and groups forming state affiliates. Currently, there are seven state affiliates with 20 additional prospective state affiliates, as well as International and breed Alliance Partners. The WDAA provides a critical platform to expand and build the Western Dressage community.
(Cowboy Dressage Gaits courtesy of Craig Heckert. Information available on the USEF website:

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