California Riding Magazine • March, 2012

New Discipline is Flourishing
Western Dressage Association opens California affiliate.

by Barbara Molland

Hackles are easily raised in the world of horses. They don't often show up on the horses, but their riders can be afflicted with this condition by just about anything out of the ordinary. Something quite out of the ordinary has been happening right here in California. The latest hackle-raising within equestrian circles is that there are horses performing dressage moves and they are wearing western tack. In spite of this, they perform a respectable shoulder-in, a half-pass and maybe even some fancier moves.

The good western riders are not surprised by this; they've been doing it for years. Their reining, ranch and even their trail horses show the result of time spent perfecting dressage techniques. Their horses are supple, and the partnership between horse and rider is evident to just about anyone who can appreciate a good horse. So, what's new about this?

Jack Brainard, co-founder with Eitan Beth-Halachmy, of Western Dressage.

What's new is the formation of an organization dedicated to bringing classical dressage to the western horse and its amateur rider. The organization was formed late in 2010 in Texas during a gathering of some well-respected horsemen from the world of western riding. One of them was Darrell Dodds, publisher of Western Horseman Magazine. Jack Brainard, Western Dressage co-founder, Western Horseman's 2010 Man of the Year, was another. David Brown was there, well-known breeder of cutting horses in Texas. There was also Larry Mahan from the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and host of RFD TV's Equestrian Nation. Eitan Beth-Halachmy, co-founder of Western Dressage and recently inducted into the Morgan Horse Hall of Fame, had established the groundwork for Western Dressage, and though ill at the time, was there in spirit.

These men talked about the advantages of classical dressage training and how its application to western horses could open doors to so many riders who were looking for more enjoyment with their horses. They wanted it to be fun, educational and safe. In a slightly different twist, they wanted a softer and lighter way of going than is typically seen in modern dressage. They wanted to help horse owners, no matter what breed of horse they owned or how they used their horses, to learn some basic classical dressage training methods in order to improve the training of their horses and their own horsemanship.

Debbie Beth-Halachmy on the Morgan stallion, Santa Fe Renegade.
Photo courtesy of Eitan Beth-Halachmy.

In a struggling economy, they believed that ways needed to be found that were affordable for the average horse owner, ways that could be taught through clinics given by knowledgeable trainers or through online video coaching and judging.

It was decided to open it to all horses, no matter the breed. From Quarter Horses to American Saddlebreds, anyone riding western was welcome to participate. Gaited horses were to be encouraged for their own division. Including all breeds was an important consideration.

To ensure that western dressage performance stayed to a path beneficial for the horse and rider, one that considered the bio-mechanics of the horse, the organizers wanted the focus of the association to be educational and directed at the well- being and soundness of the horse. It needed a set of standards developed and articulated toward that goal.

The organization charged with developing these standards was named the Western Dressage Association™ of America or WDAA. The WDAA would become responsible for the establishment of rules that would eventually be proposed to the United States Equestrian Federation, the governing body for equine competition.

Allison Lake on the Quarter Horse mare, Remi. Photo courtesy Holly Clanahan

California, Here We Come!

Taking a grass roots approach to the discipline, the WDAA began to establish state affiliates throughout the country, each one committed to the same standards and concern for the horse. These affiliates were all based on the individual state's rules of incorporation. They had to be non-profit, and their goal was to educate western riders about western dressage in a manner consistent with WDAA's mission statement: "To build an equine community that combines the western traditions of horse and rider with classical dressage. We honor the horse. We value the partnership between horse and rider. We celebrate the legacy of the American West."

Susan Tomasini riding her Arabian gelding, UMEL Shahaab, aka Jesse.
Photo courtesy Lesley Deutsch

A rigorous process of approval followed to ensure that the education offered to both rider and horse was consistent with the original intent.
The good news for Californians is that California's affiliate has just been formed and accepted in Sonoma County. The Western Dressage Association of California, or WDACA, received its official acceptance at the end of 2011.

According to the WDAA, California has more interested western dressage members than any state. Growth of western dressage, however, will mean great things for the entire horse industry in the West. Ensuring that it grows while honoring the mission of the WDAA is paramount. For this reason, the Western Dressage Association of California is the only California organization endorsed by the Western Dressage Association of America.

Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Galahad's Golden Warrior, American Saddlebred stallion.

The WDACA seeks new members as well as people with expertise in law, business, marketing, etc., to serve on its board and committees. It also encourages qualified trainers to bring their knowledge of classical dressage to the attention of affiliate organizers as they plan to set up a series of clinics and schooling shows throughout California this year.

If it is time to turn over a new leaf in 2012, to get back in the saddle if you have been out of it for a while, you should try this new discipline. If you have a young horse you would like to start or an old horse needing a new job, and if you want to have fun doing it, consider joining the WDAA and its California affiliate.

All contact information can be found on the California website,, as well as the WDAA's website, Inquiries about Western Dressage Association of California can be addressed to its current president, Terry Tomasini at Author and California Saddlebred enthusiast Barbara Molland is a WDAA founding director and vice president.