As winter now approaches and our show season is over, it is time to appraise your efforts for this year. My suggestion is to take time out and write down all or any of the problems that you have had in low-scoring rounds so that you have a master plan to work on before next season. Remember, spring is only a few months away and if we take out Christmas, and bad weather days, we have probably got only six weeks left to get into shape for next year’s show season.
So, is it me or does the world love to re-invent something that has already been invented? We have new clinicians giving us the impression that they invented horse training methods that Ray Hunt (in my opinion, and many others, the all-time finest horse trainer) taught us many years ago!
Now we have the latest trend, which is Western Dressage. It appears that people seem to think that this is new! When we remember western heritage, we find that it isn’t! The cavalry/dressage horse riders of Cortes re-introduced the horse to America and, at the same time, introduced cattle to that continent. To keep it short, the sophisticated training of those horses, combined with impulsion and a presence that frightened the enemy, allowed them to possess a lightness and flexibility that made the horse a fighting machine. By de-tuning the presence and pace, they became a great cow horse, too. In other words, western dressage started right from the time the horse came back to the USA.
If we look back, it is not too long ago that there was a West and East coast style of training, with the West favouring the Spanish Vaquero style of the bosal, romal and spade bit, and the East, the snaffle and curb bit. Gradually, helped by national associations refining their views and rules, there is now one common goal! I know that simplifies some 350 years of history, however, the basic ability of the dressage cavalry horse of yesteryear lives on with the ability to move out, slow down, and the ability to stop and turn quickly, etc.
Here in the UK, back in 1984, my chum Roger Wells and I were putting the finishing touches on the basic ideas of a rule book for a new society that appreciated the quality of western riding as opposed to the movie image that the English riding public perceived us to be – that society was the Western Equestrian Society as we know it today.
Roger came up with an idea that we could use an English dressage test and do it to western paces. We agreed that this would allow dressage judges to judge a western class, thereby widening our judge’s panel, and it would give riders a chance to do pleasure paces without other riders in the ring. (Remember we were all novices in 1985). However, one of the main reasons was that English riders could identify with and relate to the similarity and realise that we weren’t "cowboys" – we were riders that preferred the western saddle and the softness of the paces of the western horse. IT WORKED!
And that test is still being used today in Western Dressage in the UK! So, if you want to know where western dressage comes from in the UK, remember Roger Wells and The Western Equestrian Society!
Until the next issue, onwards and upwards! -- Bob