Friday 20 January 2012

Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle...yeah! Your'e western and you know it...

I have tried, really I have.  But I am failing, since this is the second post in a row....

I stay off bulletin boards as best I can.  Really I do.  But for those of you who don't know me, I do have a sideline business, and about once a month, I visit the local EMG to post an ad and stir up some customers.

Shameless promotion disguised as a link

And when I was there a month or so ago - I saw it for the first time.

I couldn't control myself, I made a few snarky posts - but then I backed away slowly.  Slloooowllly.  Until yesterday, when I went back over there to post my "how about a portrait for Valentine's day" advertisement.

And there it was - still.  The thread lives on - a month later...freshly bumped.

Come on now, I am not super human.  I can't resist temptation indefinitely.  It is like a plate of French Vanilla cupcakes and a coffee with a shot of Baileys, calling out to me softly... I could jump into the mud and wrestle with the others, but instead....I bring you, here on the pages of Dressage Curmudgeon...


(Really, it is a testament to the kinder, gentler person I have become that I was able to put it off for this long).

What is it that burns me so much about Wessage?  Why on earth do I care?  I have no idea.  Maybe I am insane.  People can train the animals in their life to do whatever the hell they want, really it is no business of mine. Just because I am incapable of training Mr. Motard to do.. well, really anything he doesn't want to do.. maybe I am bitter, it is true. Lucky for me he likes doing laundry, all on his own.

I guess it is because it is something new that people who would really like to make a buck doing something horse related have pulled out of their ass and tried to make a legitimate "sport", so they can start charging for clinics and training and the like.  Replace little wool cap with cowboy hat - voila, same shit, different day.

Just exactly what are you basing this accusation on, Curmudgeon (ya bitch)?

Well - One of the first people in Ontario to really jump on the slowly jogging wessage bandwagon was caught trying to smuggle her featured wessage clinician over the border or some crazy shit back in the fall, which did not add to my impression of this activity as anything other than slightly crooked and shady people trying to fleece middle aged women.

But you are right, maybe its just a total cooincidence that trainers that don't seem to be getting much traction in REAL dressage seem to be the first ones that embracing wessage as an alternative income stream.  Who knows.

Curmudgeon - obviously you don't speak French.  Dressage just means "training".  

Oh, trust me.  I wasted too much time in my life learning to speak French, only to learn that people from France have better things to do with their time than talking to scum like me.  If western people just want to learn horsemanship based on the principles of dressage, why don't they just call up a local dressage trainer, explain this to them, and take a lesson?  Or organize a clinic?  Why do we need a "special" category?

I really did try to give it a chance. To learn, to embrace. Whatever.

So I went to the FAQ's for the new Western Dressage Associaton of America to get a real feel for Western Dressage principles.

Here is what I learned.

1.  What is Western Dressage

Western Dressage helps a rider to improve the horse’s balance, cadence and carriage. Whether your horse competes in reining, roping, cutting, western pleasure, or enjoys the trail with you, using dressage will improve your partnership and keep your horse happier and more sound far longer than it would otherwise be.

Hmm...So far, so good.

2.  Who can compete in Dressage / Western Dressage

Regarding Regular Dressage:

The USDF says "Dressage is for equines of all breeds and all sizes!"

The Western Dressage Association of America has a slightly different take on who "Western Dressage" is for:

"Western Dressage horse will be evaluated with the conformation and movement of today’s western horses in mind. The Western Dressage horse will have a shorter stride than a Dressage horse and the Western Dressage horse will be asked to walk, jog and lope as opposed to walk, trot and canter". 

Woah, woah, woah.  Wait a second here.

Can you imagine if USDF posted something similar?  Something that said

"Because success in dressage at the higher levels requires a horse that actually has the athletic ability and conformation for collection - and big expressive extended gaits too - horses will be evaluated with this in mind".

(Everyone would freak out and lose their minds.  UDBB would have virtual heads mounted on stakes.  Even if it is kind of true).

I read their disclaimer as "we really want to have something going on here that we can market as "dressage", but boo-hoo, our horses aren't built for the sport as it exists.  So let's just change the rules to matchy-match their abilities, so we can have a game where we can be WINNERS too!"

Strangely enough, the Guidelines for Judging Western Dressage state:

"the description of the gaits is virtually identical but the western dressage horse must maintain rideablity for the rider in a western saddle" 

What the hell does that mean?  How is jog virutally identical to the big-n-boomy trot that wins at training level in normal dressage?  Can you imagine being a judge (and as their FAQ states "any licensed Dressage judge can judge western dressage" - ha ha, I am so picturing Judge OOOhhh! I am sure they are booking her in now, Danno) and trying to figure out how to place a shuffling trot wessage test?  (Well, he is jogging, and that is allowed -  but that gait is not identical to anything I have ever seen anywhere related to dressage...)

I watched a few Morgan dressage tests on YouTube - basically the jog appears to be a prancy little gait that doesn't track up. What is a dressage judge supposed to do with THAT?

And what is so special about riding in a western saddle that a horse needs "special gaits"?  Some coach expected me to be able to ride my horse's uber extended trot in a Stubben Tristan for christ's sake, but these riders only have to lope around in their sofa saddles?  WTF?  There is even a holey shit horn to grab onto to stop the bouncing!

3. WTF - well, the "purpose" statement should clear this up

"It is not the goal of Western Dressage to create western horses that compete in open dressage but to create better western horses and riders through the use and principles of dressage".

That's great!  And I am sure I can learn more about what the goal of each test / level is by looking at the overall purpose at the top of the test.  You know, that box that noone reads, but is often quoted on message boards.

For example,

Training level test 1 says:

Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and 
steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit

First level test 3 says:

Purpose: To confirm that the horse, in addition to the requirements of Training Level, has developed 
the thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness and to maintain a more consistent contact 
with the bit

Wessage Primary Level 4 says:

Primary Level 4

Uh... there is no purpose.  It is essentially a training level test.  Purpose is to ride around and pleasantly execute figures.  I guess.

This is also the highest level test listed on the Western Dressage Association website - apparently they planning more.  Which will be awkward, because if the foundation of the pyramid is shuffling jog, it is going to be a hell of a climb to the little pointy peak.   (Yes, yes, I know, for lots of riders of normal Dressage, this is true too).

This is what I find so funny about some of the stuff I am reading on the boards.  They are talking about ultimate collection, light in the hand, blah-blah-blah... zzzzz....have they even gone and looked at the tests?  They are training level for pete's sake!  Or have they noticed the fact that the judging that's "just like normal dressage" includes a disclaimer to favour shuffling joggers?

There have been some cool videos posted of Western dressage-like freestyle riding...absolutely, really fun to watch - (anyone who says a spin is the same as a pirouette needs a strong kick to the head, but still fun) -  but this is exhibition riding based more on reining, and is absolutely NOT what you will be seeing at a Wessage show. You will be seeing jogging prancy pretty horses doing training level tests, not tracking up, and dolled up in lots of silvery tack.

And as it gains momentum - people with awesome, fancy western horses and good trainers will figure out the game, and come in and kick ass.  Quite possibly, they will be mounted on WB/Saddlebred or WB/Morgan crosses - something with a hint'o'cowboy, but mostly a big dose of what makes high level dressage beautiful today.

And the losers will then say they aren't pure and "classical"....and we need classical western dressage....

AHHHH!  Time for wine.


  1. One question that tips the balance for me...

    How MUCH BLING can I put on Dobbin? I've been so bling-deprived in dressage, even my Hanovarian frowns if he's too matchy matchy.

    My heart craves pink chaps, pink saddlepad and pink crystals - everywhere really. Well everywhere where there is a flat surface and it won't rub (much).

    Time to channel my inner Katie Price.

  2. Agreed. Western dressage is retarded. Learn dressage in a western saddle if you want, or do reining. Otherwise, suck it up and buy another saddle and a noseband if you want to show dressage.
    Now then DC, I'm dying for you to get back to the story of finding your horse and muddling your way to PSG. :)

  3. All righty then, the next time my trainer tells me to get Mr. Fuzzy Butt moving because he is not tracking up and stretching through to the bit I can give her a smart ass answer such as..." I have switched to Wessage. Thank you very much, sniff."


  4. Oh. My. Gawd. That has to be the most ridiculous thing I think I've heard. It's definitely a training level test and not even the "hardest" one. Painful. Just painful!! I can't stand to watch those WP horses shuffle around and look like they're limping at the canter.

  5. And just how long would these shows have to be? I mean, it would takes them about 20 min. to do a test that a 'dressage' horse does in 3 min. Will they schedule naps for the judges...or right, they can get 40 winks in between the salute and the first trot (oops I mean jog) Gawd help us

  6. How on earth would a WP horse do wessage if it had to come off of the rail? It would have a meltdown!

    I ride western mostly 'cause that's what I learned on and that's the only saddle I own. But I absolutely hate a horse that's so dead that there's nothing in the tank other than a creep-a-long walk or jog, and a four beat canterlope. It's disgusting and usually something forced on the horse -- its all strung out in back with its nose to the dirt. There's something to be said for gears (what I call collection/extension) regardless of the discipline. Even a trail horse you'd want tuned to do some collection so you could have the animal gather up before going over/around obstacles and be more coordinated. Will a cowpony ever have the suspension or reach of a dressage-bred WB? Heck no, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with teaching that cowpony how best to use what he's got.

  7. is wessage the same as cowboy dressage? I always kind of though of cowboy dressage as a western saddle no contact version of dressage (with out the big moving WB's of course). Which does not seem to be the same as this western dressage "stuff".

  8. I love Kel's comment and agree completely with it. I ride a western trained QH and he has a slow smooth "jog" and I appreciate it for comfort but it drives me crazy, I feel like I'm not going anywhere. I do love a big trot!

    I have to say though that a really well trained western horse is a great ride. The ones I ride collect up and really use their butts, BUT, wessage or cowboy dressage or whatever looks pretty lame compared to the big wb's doing dressage.

    Oh and about the last blog, ridng a non dressage type horse for dressage is like bringing a knife to a gun fight...

    1. Ok that's great, but who says "collect up" ?!

  9. I have to admit, the wessage 'craze' beats me, but I have a bit of a different perspective on it too. The majority of the people at my barn (A majority being 5 people) ride in western tack. However, their horses go like a lower level dressage horse would (lateral movements inc.) because they all believe 'proper' training. They can spin and back up at 90 mph, but in essence they just train their horses to move forward, bend, and carry themselves.
    I like what they do... they have incredibly well trained and pleasant horses that are extremely versatile as well. Perfect out on the trails, pleasant and well behaved in the arena. I once made the mistake of labelling them as 'western' riders, and was promptly told that they don't really fit into a discipline, and the only solidly western thing abut them was their tack.
    In the past year or so, wessage made its way to Ontario. They decided that this was close enough to what they did to be defined as 'their discipline' but they're still walk, trotting, cantering, side passing, and going along the same as ever. Just providing another take on the story.

  10. There are many people that like to ride western that have horses that would not be competitive in the traditional western events like western pleasure ie big strided, high knee action etc. There are many people who would like to show western and will not subject their horse to the training abuse that western pleasure requires to be "competitive" I think this is a great outlet that permits this type of person to be able to show. I think it is great idea.

  11. Read this post and thought that surely wessage could not be all that widespread. Fast forward to today, and I get a Facebook message from a girl that I used to show with advertising her new wessage association. Eek!

  12. Yet again, DC, you hit it right out of the park. I also wonder why it never comes up that it is virtually impossible (to me) to squeeze a western saddle's tree for a half-halt? Are these riders related to Ontopalot or is it because yank & crank does the trick, hence the Training level ceiling?

  13. Anonymous 6:12 -- you have a point. "Wessage" is getting its start in the Morgan world because Morgans don't go like a typical WP horse, and some of the people who ride Morgan breed show WP classes want to do something besides go around on the rail. Morgans look nice under Western tack and not all of them (or their owners) have the quickness for reining. So, why not?

    It's not "dressage" as we know it, but I don't think it's so terrible.

    (I ride a Morgan in regular dressage, BTW...)

  14. The trainer caught sneaking into Canada is a whole nother kettle of fish. I didn't even know he was doing Wessage now, when I saw him he'd jumped on the NH bandwagon (which apparently includes throwing the horse, hogtying, and sacking out.) Long story short he has a history of beating both women and horses, and literally rode a horse to death. Fun guy.

  15. I thought it was a good idea when our dressage club said they'd offer it at our show, and mentioned it to some western riders at my barn that I thought might be interested. Western pleasure trainer to her interested student on nervous little cow-pony: "Oh, but your horse isn't even close to being collected yet. And you'd be alone in the arena, you know." What was I thinking?

  16. Yeah, good old Randy Byers. I saw the advert way back when on EMG, but I didn't want to stir that elitist little pot. Especially now that broncs and barrels and bulls are on a feature atrraction at the Royal. Pardon me while I puke. In the same arena where Hans Gunter Winkler, Kathy Kusner, Rodney Jenkins, Christilot Boyeln rode, to have broncs struggling sadly against a flank makes me sick. Horsemanshit is rampant in western land.
    There is no such thing as western dressage. There is such a thing as horrible riding in western, and I think maybe they finally noticed that many wetsern riders really can't ride well, at all. How could you, with a couch between you and the horse? Western is for WORK. The saddle is there to hold everything and your sugar-daddy. The horse is expected to do a particular job, and not jar his rider out of the saddle. period. endofstory.
    sorry, I'll quit. Rant on, woman!

  17. Okay so I can also offer perspective as I do dressage but I am pretty fresh off of the AQHA scene and dabble in it on the occas.

    There are western riding classes and trail classes that offer a variety of pattners but... You have to be able to work the gait, bridge, and a million poles... And a lead change is needed now days on may of the patterns. Then there is the problem of tack, tails, clothes, movement (yes just like dressage the industry is filled with nicer movers vs. bottom feeders). And if you have a grade horse then you are stuck doing schooling shows only... And if you are doing schooling shows in a wealthy area you are against nicer movers with headsets that never move, and riders who are wearing your condos downpayment worth of clothing and finery :)

    Then you have the new ranch horse competitions now even they are sanctioned but once again I think they will turn towards a bit of a stop and some lead changes eventually...

    The horse has to actually be even MORE trained despite what people thought originally.

    So. If you cannot train a lead change. You cannot afford the tack. You cannot afford a good mover. You cannot train connection for dressage and you cannot train a headset for western pleasure...

    You have a place to go ;)

    Personally I'd just do training level dressage.... But I encourage anyone who cant afford a tack switch to get out and get in front of a judge... Maybe that judge will encourage them to move onto real dressage some day :)

  18. I think these are the most interesting comments so far...

    Anyone out there thinking of Wessage - seriously, find a $100 english saddle on EBay and COME TO A REAL DRESSAGE SHOW!!!

    Logan - so should this "discipline" catch on, how long until the wealthy condo downpayment riders move in and kick ass here too? You can run but you can't hide.

    Same deal happens in hunters, where you hear griping that Erynn Ballard (or whoever - insert hot coach here) is warming up the baby beginner amateur 2'6" hunter for Ms. Iwannaride. No matter how much you dumb it down, if there is money to be made, someone will come in and make it, and those without money are still at the bottom of the is a waste of time to try to play this game.


  19. Hi, I am new to your blog. Félicitations! It is brilliant at last somebody who has the balls to tell it what is like. Thanks for explaining what WESSAGE is. I have a Quarter horse, and I would like to "do" Dressage. So I thought WESSAGE was intriguing. I watched that Test :

    I was suprised at the shuffling trot. Your post just confirms what I thought. It is just a marketing trend to get money out of middle aged women, whom the majority statistically own a quarter horse. ^-^ I am one of them.
    I have just taught my QH to track up a the trot, I am not going to train her to shuffle O_o

    By the way, we have QH, because they are leveled-headed and very comffy to sit on, even when they track up ^-^

    I leave you your big WB with suspension and elevation (I had one of them, never again)!!!