WDAA Western Dressage Association

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Western Dressage?

Western Dressage integrates the historically validated principles of Dressage with the best of Western Working Horse tradition.  It is a systematic and progressive system of training for the Western horse and rider, in the traditional stock tack with the purpose of enjoying a safe, pleasurable, versatile and useful working horse. Whether your ultimate goal is in the show pen, barrel racing, ranch work or trail riding; discover the benefits of Western Dressage in the development of your horse and your partnership.

What is the Western Dressage Association® of America (WDAA)?

The Western Dressage Association® of America (WDAA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission focused on the education of the rider and well-being of the horse. The WDAA was organized to provide western riders and horses educational opportunities and programs to aid their Western Dressage Journey.

Is Western Dressage for any breed of horse?

Absolutely!  Any breed of horse can and is welcome to participate in Western Dressage.  The WDAA encourages all breeds and types of equines to become involved in this discipline which causes the horse to become more balanced and athletic and the rider to become more skilled and light.

What is the difference between Western Dressage and traditional Dressage?

Elements of the two disciplines are very similar.  Both wish to create a better horse and rider with the use of structured focused training and progressive physical and mental development.  Both look for balance, cadence and carriage and share fundamentals.  In addition, each discipline uses tests as an opportunity to evaluate the progress of horse and rider through feedback.

The disciplines differ in the execution of the fundamental elements.  As the horse and rider progress through the levels of Western Dressage, the test elements becoming increasingly reflective of movements, maneuvers and duties asked of a Western horse.  The Western Dressage horse will need to be handy, willing, safe, and calm while demonstrating pure gaits and lightness.  The Western Dressage horse is evaluated with the conformation and movement of today’s Western horses in mind.  In keeping with tradition, Western Dressage is shown in Western tack and clothing.

It is not the goal of Western Dressage to create Western horses that compete in traditional Dressage, but to develop better Western horses and offer additional rider education through the understanding and use of principles of Dressage and good Horsemanship.

Do you ride with one hand or two hands for western dressage?

The rider must use two hands with a snaffle bit. A rider may use one or two hands with a curb bit, but must complete the entire test in the same manner as they start the test. Switching from one hand to two hands or vice versa during a test is considered an error.

Do I need special tack, equipment, or clothing to show in Western Dressage?

No, there is no need for special tack or embellishments. Good, clean, functional, working Western tack is perfect for Western Dressage. Recommend rider attire is more conservative in style with goal of keeping the focus on the horse. Helmets or western hats are required, but the preference for one or another is up to the rider.

Full details regarding tack, equipment and attire can be found in Rules which can be downloaded from the Western Dressage Education Resource Center.

Can I show Western Dressage in a helmet?

Yes, helmets are optional apparel in western dressage and highly encouraged for competitors of all ages. Protective headgear is acceptable and not required to be of western style. Suitable western hats are also allowed.

Are chaps allowed in western dressage?

Yes, riders may choose to include chaps, shotgun chaps and chinks as part of their attire.

When do the new WDAA Rules for Western Dressage come out and where can I find them?

The WDAA Education Committee revisits the Rules on a regular basis.  We request feedback from show management, judges, trainers, riders, WDAA Affiliates and Alliance Partners and equine organizations.  The Board weighs each potential change with the effect on horses, competitors, the fairness and safety of exhibitors and the financial impact in mind.  If you feel that there is a current Rule that needs to be reviewed or addressed, please submit a Rule Change Proposal.  Submissions are due to the WDAA by June 14th.  Please download the Rule Change Proposal Document.

You can find the Western Dressage rules written by the WDAA and adopted by the USEF Western Dressage division on our Western Dressage Rules, Tests & Guidelines Page

What are Western Dressage tests?

Western Dressage tests are both fun, competitive challenges and educational opportunities.  With each test and each level the physical and mental expectations of the horse and rider partnership increase building on the previously mastered elements.  The partnership is evaluated on their preparation, knowledge, progress and harmony.  Test scores with feedback give the rider a learning tool from which develop future lesson and training plans as well as to celebrate the accomplishments and successes along the way.

Download the tests and start learning!

Does the WDAA release new tests each year?

WDAA tests are created for use over multiple years.  They are titled with the start year in which they were first used and that title remains in place for the duration of test use.  The WDAA may also add test levels or Freestyles during the in between years like was done in 2014.

Can I have a reader for my test?

All western dressage tests may be called during the competition. If the test is announced it is the responsibility of the competitor to arrange for a person to announce the test.

Can Gaited horses participate in Western Dressage and are the tests different?

Gaited Horses are welcomed and encouraged to participate in Western Dressage. The gaited horse will perform an intermediate or saddle gait in place of the jog in the current WDAA Western Dressage tests. The intermediate or saddle gait is a 4 beat lateral or diagonal gait, timely and evenly performed. The tempo, rhythm and foot falls of the gait they choose to show must not change throughout the test. This true four beat gait the horse performs, should be able to be ridden in a working, lengthened, free and collected manner as the Western Dressage test calls for. See the Education Page for a Gaited Horse Guidelines Document.

Who teaches Western Dressage?

The WDAA has developed an educational program for trainers, instructors and clinicians interested in teaching Western Dressage.  The Train the Trainers™ (TTT) program addresses the fundamental elements for Western Dressage through a combination of classroom time, videos, live demonstration and practice judging sessions.  Information on the TTT program and next sessions can be accessed on the Train the Trainers™ webpage.

Those who have completed this program can say they have taken the time and made the commitment to becoming more familiar with and dedicated to the discipline of Western Dressage.  You can find their contact information on the TTT Graduates webpage.

How can I learn Western Dressage if there are no TTT Graduates or Western Dressage instructors in my area?

Getting TTT Graduates and/or Western Dressage instructors throughout the US will take time.  In the meantime, you can take lessons from a Dressage instructor who has become familiar with the Western Dressage Rules and is willing to work with Western horses.   The principles of traditional Dressage apply to any horse and rider and are not dependent upon the tack or equipment being used.

How do I join the Western Dressage Association® of America and what does my membership include?

To become a member of the Western Dressage Association® of America simply go to the Member Registration page on this website. Benefits of Membership are listed on our Registration Page.

Does membership cost the same if I live outside the United States?

Yes.  Just complete the Member Registration form on the website.

What Points or Awards programs are available?

For more information on the WDAA Lifetime Horse Points and Awards program, please visit – http://www.wdaaworldshow.org/wdaa-horse-lifetime-points-and-awards-program/

Who can judge WDAA Western Dressage shows?

We recommend using judges who have completed the WDAA Western Dressage Judges Training Seminar; as the first of these sessions was offered in January 2014. We will also continue to enlist the skills of USEF Dressage Judges for this competitive year.

Are there Western Dressage shows or classes in my area?

Currently, Western Dressage classes are being offered at USEF licensed Morgan Horse Shows. These classes are open to all breeds.  We hope that other breeds within USEF will adopt the discipline and add classes as well.  There are some dressage shows that offer western dressage classes and the WDAA is working to encourage more shows to offer Western Dressage classes.  Contact us at info@westerndressageassociation.org if you have questions. Check out the WDAA Online Event Calendar for a list of current shows and classes.

The WDAA is  in the process of developing a Tool Box with information to help local horse shows hold Western Dressage classes and to assist other breeds to begin the process of getting Western Dressage included into their rules.

Do I have to join any organizations to participate in Western Dressage?

No!  You are not required to be a member of a breed organization, the USDF or any other group to participate in Western Dressage. Although many of our Breed Alliance Partners are now offering points and awards for Western Dressage through their organizations, as well as through USEF as early as 2015, you may consider looking more into those avenues.

I am preparing to hold a show, what is your suggestion for the time to schedule for each test?

For Western Dressage tests in the Introductory and Basic levels allow for seven (7) minutes. For Levels 1, 2 and beyond eight (8) minutes are recommended.

What is the best way to get Western Dressage started in my area?

Click on the Get Involved button and refer to the guidelines we have made available. To assist you in getting Western Dressage started in your area. Check out the How to Organize a Western Dressage Clinic for ideas.

The easiest way for you to begin your process is to put on a clinic using a recognized horseman or horsewoman specializing in Western Dressage. Once you have a group of people who have been introduced to the fundamentals of Western Dressage, you can continue to have local clinics conducted by local accredited instructors.

There is a group in Colorado who started their education with a clinic in July 2010. They have been meeting every two weeks ever since.  Their process is a good model for starting Western Dressage on a local level. For more information on the Colorado Western Dressage group, contact hem directly at info@wdaco.org

How Can I Organize a Western Dressage Clinic?

In almost all areas of the country, horse owners are eager to learn more about all aspects of horse ownership from care to riding to everything in between. Hosting a Western Dressage Clinic is a great way to learn more about Western Dressage. View this document to put together a successful clinic.