(“. . . while they speak with unconscious irony . . . “)

OK, Choir, it’s you I’m preaching to. So of course this will do no good, but it may make me feel better. I haven’t talked about western dressage much lately. In fact I haven’t even thought about it. But I did have to judge some of it this winter, and what I saw left me scratching my head.

It has certainly never been my cup of tea, but it began with good intentions. Originally the USDF accepted it with the hope that exposure to “classical horsemanship” would be beneficial to western riders and particularly to the well-being of their horses. Then in some parts of the country (mine included) that “discipline” was hijacked by western pleasure people who viewed it as an opportunity just to ride in more classes and get more points.

Despite whatever the rules said —and sometimes they were written to say pretty bizarre things— those in charge were willing to allow even greater travesties to occur. In recent years I have been happy that the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way. Yes, some nutty things are still permitted. Intro and Basic tests can be ridden in long shanked bits while they speak with unconscious irony of contact, connection, and acceptance. Turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches may be done “our” way or with a stuck pivoting braiding of the legs. But at least the word has gotten out that the horses go forward and have conventionally defined gaits with rhythms we know and suspension in the jog and lope.

But not so much at the last show I judged. I must say some rides were pleasant to watch. On the first day there were several Level Three and Four rides which I had no trouble scoring in the mid to upper 60s. But on the second day many of the horses were presented like pleasure refugees barely, barely shuffling over the ground. I try not to be a snob but it was painful to watch!

In the Further Remarks at the bottom of the test sheets I dutifully explained what I was looking for, referring them to the Purpose and the Directives and even suggesting that they look on YouTube at the winning rides at the WDAA World Championships. A few heeded my advice and saw their scores rise in their later rides. What was especially frustrating were riders who, despite their 52%s on the scoreboard, came back and kept doing the same thing again and again! Other than making their horses look lame, do you know how long it takes for one of them to mince around the large arena when they are ridden that way? (That’s OK, it’s a rhetorical question. No need to answer.)