Western Dressage: What’s the difference?

RELEASE: November 19, 2012

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

As this blog has progressed, I have tried to bring awareness about Western Dressage to the equestrian community at large. Now I am going to encourage you to do some research on your own. By now you know that there are several organizations promoting the development of the sport.  At this point the question we hear most often from people all over is:  “What is the difference?”  To some it seems that the differences that exist between the organizations are vast gulfs that can never be bridged but to others those differences are so subtle they wonder why there are multiple groups trying to be heard.  Over the next few posts I will try to shed some light on the differences between the organizations, their philosophies, rules, tests and visible expressions of the discipline.

When an organization is formed, one of the first tasks that must be taken on is the development of a mission statement. The mission statement is a short description of why the organization exists. Some organizations have multiple elements in their missions, but the importance of the mission statement can’t be overstated. It gives the public its first impression of what the group stands for and intends to do, but just as importantly; it gives organizers a clear sense of direction. It is that statement that we fall back on time and time again when we need to be reminded why we are here doing what we do. I think of the mission statement as my compass and whenever I feel I need direction, I go to it. It centers me, it strengthens me, it brings me back to where I said I going and what I said the organization was going to do.  So it is with that thought in mind that I decided to present the mission statements from 3 organizations, NAWD, WDAA and CD. All the information I will present here is presented on each organizations website.  I encourage you to visit the pages listed after each statement yourself as all are full of valuable information about the discipline of Western Dressage. 

NAWD Mission: “To provide resources for members to learn how Classical Dressage principles can help the western horse become a better partner and improve performance for any discipline… We will simplify the concept of dressage without minimizing the importance of the training pyramid nor sacrificing the principles of classical dressage.”

WDAA Mission: “The mission of the Western Dressage Association® is to honor the horse and to value the  artnership it has provided us on our American journey. Its mission is to provide a model of training and horsemanship which optimizes this partnership for the benefit of both horse and rider. Its mission is to celebrate the American West where all these things came to pass.” From

CD Mission: “Soft Feel (or Fresh Rein) is the guiding principle of Cowboy Dressage™. It is a wordless, intimate and for some a spiritual communication within the partnership between horse and rider. Soft feel is not only sending messages but having the sensitivity and awareness to feel and receive the message the horse sends back… Since Soft Feel is the mission of Cowboy Dressage™ it will be scored with emphases on lightness, harmony, finesse and partnership as a priority. Balance, cadence, carriage, control, and performance are additional areas the horse and rider will be judged and scored.” From

Mission statements offer a revealing glimpse into the minds of the people responsible for the creation of these organizations. Read the words above.  Reflect in your mind on the meaning of the words.  If you can, try to feel the intent behind the words. Use your intellect and temper what you think with your heart.  I trust that you will know more about what is different between these three organizations if you take some time to listen to what they want to you to know.

Remember, it is virtual show season so get out to the arena with your video cameras and get your entries in. It is such great preparation for the upcoming show season. Look for 2013 Judges Forums, Judges Training Programs and new tests that reflect your input. 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."