by WJ (Noni) Hartvikson, President Dressage BC
 Photo by Steve Charles, Totem Photographics

Western Dressage is defined as the use of historically based 
dressage principles to train and develop the western rider and 
horse. The goal is to develop rhythm, relaxation, balance and 
the acceptance of the aids through the tried and true historical 
methods of traditional dressage. Western Dressage is not 
intended to build a dressage horse, nor simply put a western 
saddle on a dressage horse. It is a means by which the rider is 
able to improve the performance of a western horse.

The Horses

Western Dressage horses are generally lighter and 
handier, and don’t have the extravagant movement i.e. lift and 
ground cover observed in those commonly seen in traditional 
dressage. Of note, the western dressage horse still needs to be a 
forward moving horse, requiring impulsion, suppleness, 
engagement and a swinging back.

The Gaits

Of critical importance are three good gaits. The walk needs to 
have a pure four beat rhythm and over-track. The jog should be free 
and elastic, with some suspension. The lope should be a clear three 
beat rhythm with a level, or uphill balance. After Training Level, the 
horse is required to be adjustable in stride length within the gaits. A 
horse with these attributes in addition to a good mind will do very 
well in Western Dressage.

The Tests

The tests are very similar to traditional dressage tests with 
directives for each level and movement which should be well 
understood by the rider.

Expectation of Performance

Western Dressage is more than just riding 
a test in Western tack but it should be clearly recognizable as 
Dressage. The traditional scale of training is applied to the 
western horse. Relative to the level ridden, there should be 
contact and/or connection where the horse is clearly working 
over his back. Beginning at 1st Level, the tests call for 
lengthening of strides, therefore impulsion and ground cover are 
required. At 2nd level, the horse is expected to be reliably on 
the bit. Collection is judged relative to the level ridden, and the 
degree of difficulty of the movements increase accordingly. 
Directives are set out for each level.
A good western dressage horse should be able to a
ttain a satisfactory 
score of 60% or above, at the level of capability. The principles are the 
same, the tack is different, but the training is compatible with 
traditional dressage.


The Judges

At this time, licensed dressage judges are judging Western 
Dressage. They need to look for, and reward correct basic dressage training 
no matter what the tack is.



WJ (Noni) Hartvikson is a licensed Equine Canada Basic Dressage Judge. She was a candidate in the first USEF Western Dressage Judge Training Program and is one of fourteen judges (four in Canada) to obtain a license in 2014.