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The rise of Western Dressage

Since a formal launch of Western Dressage with the WDAA in 2010, it has flourished

From Horsetrader staff reports - February 18th, 2016 - Cover Story, Special Section

1602BcoverAs an Olympic year revs up interest in Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 as a U.S. Gold Medal hope in dressage this summer in Brazil, there is another force revving up in California, too, with a lower profile.
Western Dressage.

Western trainers have long been using dressage techniques that enhance communication with their horses, but since 2010, the Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) has provided a structure and consistency that that has spawned growth. And, since the California Western Dressage Association (CAWDA) started in 2012, interest and participation has grown widely in the Golden State.

“Western Dressage kind of mirrors the training levels that a horse would go through in the traditional English dressage, but it really takes those principles as they apply to the western horse,” said Sandra Ogden, current CAWDA Vice President. “You progress through similar type training levels, but the tests themselves are designed for the development of what would make a good western horse, which is not necessary going to be identical to what you would want in a good English horse.”

Ogden has been with the organization since its inception, and growth has been like grass under a leaky spigot. The number of CAWDA shows, where participants can garner points toward year-end high-point recognition, increased 50 percent from 2014 to 2015, going from 44 to 66. At the CAWDA awards banquet Jan. 31 in Pomona, 60 members, including some who flew in from Northern Calfornia, attended — 30 more than in 2014.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and participation is gorwing,” said Ogden, who says the sport’s mission of educating communication with the horse — in any sport or discipline — has been a drawing card.

“We have a lot of members who have come from varied backgrounds,” said Ogden, a self-described “horse junky” whose search for dressage techniques to better train her Quarter Horse led her to becoming involved with the WDAA six years ago. “Some of our trainers have used dressage techniques for years on their horses as a training tool to make them more supple, and now they have a sport that they can go out and compete in.”

Ogden says CAWDA members come with varied backgrounds and experience, but all appreciate the techniques as well as the structure being provided by the national WDAA group and its statewide affiliate, the CAWDA.

“The WDAA works closely with USEF, developing the tests, and in the last two years, implementing a judges training program,” she said. “That is a huge part of the sport’s future growth. They look at the national issues, and what the WDAA has done since 2010 has been termendous in conceiving the sport, developing tests and coming up with different programs.

“Here in California, we promote the educational part and the sport of Western Dressage within in the state,” added Ogden, whose association has a high-point program in place that recognizes its members. The CAWDA high-point program, in its third year, rewards the members who “are going out and learning and working with their horses.”

Another attraction to membership has been the easy entry into the sport.

“People have the opportunity to go out and compete with the horse that they have — they don’t have to go out and buy a special horse with special qualities to begin competing in Western Dressage,” she said. “They can take the horse that they’ve been riding down the trail and doing other sports with, and continue doing those other things — and they can go in and start competing in Western Dressage at an intro or basic level. They’ll find improvement immediately, in whatever they were doing before with their horse.

“I think the more we bring in our western riders and get them comfortable with some of the new terminology,” the sport will continue to grow,” she said. “Also, people will see that we are not trying to take them away from the western horse, we are trying to enhance the western horse.”

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