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Western Dressage: What’s It All About?

March 24, 2014
Western Dressage: What’s It All About?

For me, western dressage is a dream come true. I was so fortunate to learn dressage training as a young rider. I rode with my mentor, Bobbie Steele, for more than 25 years.

What I learned in the dressage saddle, I went home and practiced with my ponies, my first horse, and my second horse, which was a yearling. Dressage applied to all aspects of training and all horses that I worked with, from the ground to the saddle. Even if a different saddle was used, whether western, hunt seat, saddle seat, or dressage, there was no reason to ride any differently.
 
This leads to my passion for the newest western discipline, western dressage. I have always loved western riding, and I specialized my riding with the American Quarter Horse because I was fascinated with a horse that could do multiple disciplines. In my opinion, the American Quarter Horse is the world's most versatile horse, and I still love training the Quarter Horse today.
 
Although I was raised and trained in Florida with Bobbie Steele in the late 1960s, Ms. Steele was hardly a newcomer to dressage. In fact, she was the first woman in America to ride a this type of 18th-century horsemanship known as dressage. Bobbie Steele was even featured in Life magazine in the issue October 14, 1946. Google it!

She took me under her wing when she retired from doing exhibitions all over the U.S. with her two dressage horses. She was also hired with the Ringling Bros. circus as a rider and rode with the circus for 10 years. She learned from the German trainers who were hired to train the horses for the circus. Ms. Steele was something special, and I will always cherish my training with her. I will forever thank her for giving me my foundation for becoming a correct rider and training horses according to the dressage principles and training scale.
 
Western dressage promotes natural, correct development of the horse with TIME. It also allows training a horse with understanding and sound communication between horse and rider. I truly believe western horses need this today. It is the perfect and proven way to promote the equine sport. It promotes correct and humane ethics of horsemanship. Western dressage is the perfect way for a horse owner to achieve happiness with his horse if he is dedicated to become a correct rider. It is the only way to train the horse to always be confident and happy in his work with you.
 
As Cyril says to our students, "Remember that a horse is not calling you to come ride him! A horse would much prefer to graze on grass all day long. It is our selfishness that causes us to want to ride that horse and to want him to perform happily for us."

It is our responsibility to bring out the best in our horses and always respect them by riding with correct balance and use of natural aids. We must control the horse’s balance so he can perform easy and comfortably.

As a young rider, I learned that if I wanted to learn dressage, I had to become a good rider first. As a child, I learned that riding in my dressage saddle was no different than my western saddle when I went home to ride my ponies and my first horse. The horses went along just as happy, and I could train them with correct balance and natural aids. By understanding their behaviors and how their anatomy affected their performance, I could ride with better balance and communicate more effectively with my seat, legs, and hands. 
 
Controlling the horse's balance in the dressage saddle was just as important in the western or hunt seat saddle. The training was all the same. Dressage is dear to my heart because it gave me my foundation. I used the principles I learned from dressage in my riding, training, and competitions, and I have had a successful career with horses and riders because of this foundation.

Can western dressage follow classical dressage? Why not? Classical dressage is the natural way to train a horse, and its success is in the training pyramid as well as the levels and tests. The training tests are a perfect outline to learn how to "Ride Well" and how to naturally train a horse according to his anatomy, instincts, personality, and behavior. With proper development, a western horse can do what dressage tests are asking in all levels up to 4th Level, Grand Prix, and Intermediate.

If you want to learn to "Ride Well" and have control of your horse with accuracy and lightness, please look into this new discipline. Even if you don't ever compete in western dressage, it provides the ideal guidelines to help you learn the proper progression of training. The progression and success are all in the tests. Your coach/instructor should be following the proper progression for you and your horse.

I always enjoy having young horses in training. I am working on getting three horses to 4th Level but I need at least three to four more years. The most important part of dressage is that it takes time to properly develop a horse. It is my passion to promote western dressage, as I know that it will help all horse owners learn about the sport of riding.

Also, we would love to have you come ride with us. We love to share our dressage backgrounds and knowledge with you. You can join us at our Ocala, Florida, farm or at one of our Ride Well Clinics on our USA Tour at a location near you. If you would like to train with Lynn & Cyril at home with western dressage, take advantage of the following supportive training materials:

Books: Head To Toe Horsemanship
Western Dressage—A Guide to Take You to Your First Show
A Rider Guide to Real Collection

DVDs: “Dressage Principles for the Western Horse & Rider” Volume 1 Parts 1-5
“Dressage Principles for the Western & English Horse & Rider” Volume 2,Parts 1-3
“Let Your Horse Be Your Teacher” Parts 1&2

For more information on clinics and training materials, please visit www.lynnpalm.com or call us at 800-503-2824.