Horse Athletics

WDAA World Championships

Western Dressage Association of America

World Championships

By Doris Degner-Foster

Where else but Oklahoma can you be awarded a silver belt buckle for winning a dressage class? But you don’t have to be in Oklahoma to win a belt buckle in the fast growing sport of Western Dressage.

            “The atmosphere at our show is like no other,” said Western Dressage Association of America President Cindy Butler of Caseyville, Illinois. “Riders do their best but cheer for their competition. They come with positive attitudes and great stories about their journeys to the World Show.”

            And many of the over 200 competitors indeed made a journey to get to the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. They came from 32 different states, from as far as west as Washington and as far east as Vermont, with two coming from Canada. Forty different breeds and even a mule competed in 870 rides over the four days of Sept. 27-30, 2018. Live simulcasts were available via the Total Horse Channel during the four days of classes in four rings, which ranged from Equitation and Suitability to the higher level of Western Dressage Level 4.

            Of the unique equines that competed, many of them are in their 20s and have retired from their first careers, finding success and longevity in Western Dressage. Some have been rescued from kill pens, and there were even previously wild Mustangs competing. Riders, too, have come from all riding disciplines to Western Dressage.

            Trainer Laurie Hedlund from Tulsa, Oklahoma, studied Classical Dressage and is a bronze and silver medalist with the United States Dressage Federation. She is a USDF 4th Level Certified Trainer/ Instructor and an L-rated judge with distinction in the United States Dressage Federation. Laurie is also a Western Dressage Association of America Train the Trainer Graduate, but she was at first hesitant about jumping right into Western Dressage. “Initially, I stood back and watched how it all evolved,” Laurie said. “When I saw they were striving to base things on the USDF training scale and were also working to train their judges according to USDF standards, that is when I got involved.” 

            Laurie explained that some of her Western Dressage clients are older students who can’t quite sit the big warmblood trot anymore that is necessary in classical dressage and feel more comfortable in a Western saddle. “It has become a second career for a lot of horses and people,” Laurie said. “Many have hit a wall in their careers with other disciplines such as barrel racing or reining, and they don’t want to do that anymore. But they still want to show and get more educated.”

            The Musical Freestyle classes were popular with spectators on Friday and Saturday evening, where riders wore various costumes. Laurie rode to the music of Patsy Cline while wearing a copy of one of the singer’s costumes, and her student Robert Hayes rode a musical ride to the rousing music of the movie “Stripes,” wearing military camouflage with his horse wearing a camouflage sheet and large “dog tag” to complete the picture. 

            Holly Fisher, who is a newcomer to Western Dressage, rode her Quarter Horse gelding “Buck,” winning the Intro 4 class and placing 5th in equitation. She also served as an escort with a calming presence to “Lyka,” ridden by Laurie Hedlund, during the walk to the main arena from the distant stabling area. “The best way to watch Musical Freestyles is while mounted on your sweet horse,” Holly said. “Buck and I studied Lyka’s dancing intently, and Buck says he is ready to dance and he likes music with ‘Stringy Sounds.’ 

            “Western Dressage makes Classical Dressage more approachable and accessible for riders from many other disciplines,” Holly said. “People who have spent a lifetime riding in a certain way are now opening themselves to Horse First concepts as exemplified in Classical Dressage. What a great way to make the world a better place.”

            The rules of Western Dressage are relaxed and friendly to encourage all interested riders to give the new discipline a try. “Methodically moving through Western Dressage levels allows any horse and any rider to grow and subsequently become a better team,” said Butler. “One problem maneuver such as a missed lead doesn’t necessarily toss a competitor to the bottom of a class if the rest of the test goes well. Each maneuver is a new start.

            “Western Dressage is a refreshing new way to compete against your own best performance as you and your horse learn. You set your own pace, move forward a step at a time and accomplish what you never dreamed you could.”