Western Dressage: Are you still confused?

12/3/2012    By: MIchelle Binder

The twenty third in a series of blog post from Michelle Binder

I began this Western Dressage Blog specifically as a blog for NAWD to help raise public awareness about WD groups other than WDAA.  I saw a need for publicity specific to that organization. I also saw a need for a forum that presented the reality that other organizations with different missions and goals regarding WD existed.  USEF has not licensed Western Dressage as an independent discipline so at this time there is no officially recognized governing body for WD, hence the surge in test and rulebook production from all four organizations.  Both NAWD and WDAA are only "General" affiliates while IPHDA and CD have chosen not to affiliate with USEF. It is my understanding that WDAA tests are USEF approved for use in the Morgan breed division as part of western competition, and that they have been used at other breed shows as well. Breed shows may offer open classes as well as breed classes in any WD division but those classes may not be USEF recognized. NAWD tests are in use at the state level as part of dressage competition, by USDF GMO's and local schooling shows. IPHDA and CD tests are in use at shows specific to those organizations, though CD tests are available for public use in any venue. I have researched and prepared a simple document that compares the three main organizations in three areas.  To receive a copy, email me at, or contact Jen Johnson via the website at

NAWD has presented tests and rules to USEF as part of the licensed approval process and like WDAA, has been denied licensed status until a new licensing process has been developed.  Since late summer we have tried as an organization to invite all the groups to participate in the news and as you can see from the latest postings, the groups are usually represented. I have recently received email from the new WDAA President Guy E. Brown and I look forward to being able to post more information from WDAA. I rely on their input just as I rely on input from NAWD, CD and IPHDA. Without it, I am limited to what I can pull from websites and Facebook pages.

As an instructor in the industry, I believe it is important to give riding students the best possible education. As a professional rider and trainer, I’m concerned about the smorgasbord of WD ideals now available in the industry.  It is important to do your research and to listen to your heart when you are choosing where to put your professional loyalty and your personal energy. I encourage you ignore politics, innuendo and negativity.  Needs vary from geographic area to geographic area around the country, as do interest levels for each of the different expressions of Western Dressage. Naturally then, there are different groups developing WD, the youngest equestrian discipline. I encourage you to read the rulebooks, look at the mission statements, read the tests, watch video presentations from all the organizations and then, using that information and combining it with your skills and expertise, choose.  Or don't choose.  Expose your riders to everything that has value, and present the whole picture to them.

Now on to the news:  Changes in Rules and Tests are coming in all organizations as they try to keep up with demand from competitors for more challenging, better written and ridden tests. Jen Johnson, President of NAWD states: “For 2013, NAWD will be changing the rulebook to allow only one hand when the curb bit is used. We will still require snaffle bits through Level 4, but after riders successfully complete Levels 1-4 in the snaffle with scores of 65% or higher, they will have the option of retesting at the lower levels in the curb in a class designated for riders and horses at the same level.  We will continue to allow riders to use snaffle bits at all levels if they choose to do so.” The virtual show deadline has also been extended through December 15 due to the holidays so you can still get out there and film your tests to send in.  This is a great opportunity for coaching before the 2013 show season starts! 

The most recent WDAA newsletter introduces changes to the Board of Directors and has the following announcement about 2013 Rules: “2013 Western Dressage Rules were discussed, feedback shared, rule change proposals investigated and a finalized version submitted to the WDAA Board of Directors. The Board voted unanimously to approve the WDAA 2013 Western Dressage Rules for all breeds to go into effect for all WDAA affiliate and alliance partnerships at the beginning of the 2013 show season.“ These rules will be used by WDAA affiliate sponsored shows.

As I reported last week, there are 2013 Cowboy Dressage Tests written for the new Cowboy Dressage Challenge Court and they use ground poles for gymnastic exercises. Debbie says this progressive concept is in the "testing" stages now and when finalized they will be posted on the Cowboy Dressage website. Eitan is beginning to put together the 2013 Judges Forum as well and has scheduled a CD Judging Orientation and Clinic in Medford Oregon in February. The orientation is open to anyone who wants to learn how to judge the Cowboy Dressage Tests. Check out the details at

Finally, from IPHDA, notification of a new level of classes being offered for the 2013 season.  That makes twelve competitive levels for this group!  Developed from the input of members on FaceBook, IPHDA has added the level “Ranch Horse Versatility” consisting of 3 classes, Ranch Riding, Ranch Horse Conformation and Ranch Trail to its virtual shows.

I welcome your input regarding anything you have read in this blog, your rescue horse’s story as well as your western dressage story at mbinder@northamericanwesterndressage.

For more information about North American Western Dressage, to read articles, explore the 2012 Rulebook, see the tests through 6th Level, or start your free basic membership visit, and join them on Facebook at

Michelle Binder is the founder of the Relational Riding Academy. Relational Riding is a program that utilizes dressage as fundamental training for all horses performing in all disciplines. She has been an ARIA certified Instructor since 1989. She is currently working on her second book “Relational Riding: A Horsemanship Tutorial,” and has completed work on two professional video productions, “Any Horse, Any Rider: Relational Riding: A Universal Foundation” and "Understand Riding From the Ground Up."