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Basics of Competing in Western Dressage

By Hobby Horse Girl 3 years ago No comments

Western dressage seems to be taking over the nation as it's starting to become a staple at a local show near you. The first thing that you should know about western dressage is that just like English dressage, both disciplines wants to make a better horse and rider combination by having structured training sessions, progressive physical activity, and mental development. Dressage is a discipline that will assist you regardless of what type of riding you would like to do...whether it's western pleasure in the show pen or barrel racing at your national conference. Because the structured lessons help build muscle, flexibility and stamina, you and your horse will be able to accomplish riding goals quicker and easier. Here are some basics of western dressage to help you get up to speed.

The Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA)

The Western Dressage Association of America holds the rule book on what is expected in the dressage arena from what kind of tack to use or what kind of test you want to perform. As a 501c3 nonprofit, the WDAA's mission to educate riders about the well-being of the horse and it has been recognized by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) since 2013. With only basic tack and attire requirements, the WDAA encourages any rider and equine partnership to participate in a western dressage test.


Any western bridle made of leather or leather-type material may be used, with or without a cavesson. A snaffle or bosal may be used at any age or any level as long as the rider uses two hands while performing their test. When using a curb bit, the rider may choose to use one or two hands. If a rider chooses to use two hands they may not switch back and forth between one and two hands during the test.

Any western saddle may be used to perform your tests unless you are using a tapaderos saddle which is not permitted when performing in a Western Dressage Equitation class. Horns on your western saddle are optional as well. Western breastplates and cruppers may also be used at the rider's discretion. Silver will not count against your overall score.

Whips may be no longer than 47 inches including lash. Polo wraps are permitted in the dressage ring but must be as matching to the horse's color as possible.

Rider Apparel

Riders must have a suitable hat, boots, trousers and long-sleeved shirts of any color. Short sleeves may be at the discretion of the judge of the day. Optional accessories are a scarf, bow ties, neckties, vest, jackets, spurs (English or western, but no sharp tines permitted) chaps, shotgun chaps or chinks. For the hat, protective gear such as a helmet is recommended but not required, you may wear a western hat instead.

Western Dressage Tests

There are six levels of tests in which a horse and rider combination can compete: intro level, basic level, level one, level two, level three, and freestyle. The levels are used to judge the correctness of the horse and rider's schooling as they move upward into more advanced maneuvers.

Scoring Criteria

  • Freedom and regularity of the horse's movement (gaits).
  • Your horse's desire to move forward, the elasticity of steps and roundness (impulsion).
  • The horse's attention and confidence, harmony with the rider, lightness of movements and acceptance of the bit (submission).
  • Position, correctness of the seat, and effect of the aids (rider ability).

Each movement is scored on a scale from 0- “Not performed" to 10-"excellent", which creates an overall score for the test. Each level requires a certain test score to move up to the next level, and each test is timed for a specific level and the size of the arena."

Dressage Arenas

The small dressage arena is 20x40 meters with the letters of A, F, B, M, C, H, E & K, and the large arena is 20x60 meters with the letters of A, F, P, B, R, M, C, H, S, E, V & K. When you sign up for your dressage test be mindful of what size ring you will be performing your test in so that you are practicing with the right letters and size. The letters are important as they tell you where your test will change directionally or change to a different gait. As you get into higher levels of your tests there will be even more challenging gaits and movements that will be required of you and your horse.

Since dressage is all about acknowledging your schooling, judges will give you your test sheet so you know what you have to work on before you go to your next test. As you might expect, hard work dedication, and practice will pay off, not only with a particular dressage test, but in your everyday riding and enjoyment of your partner. You can read up on the rules and regulations on the WDAA's website and get in the saddle!