Western Dressage vs Cowboy Dressage, a few years in

I don’t want to start any controversies (of course, I’m probably going to) but it’s been interesting to watch how the two disciplines have evolved.

Having watched a few sample tests lately of each type, it seems like Western Dressage is going for “dressage with a western style horse” - meaning they are requiring contact on the curb, a more forward trot, etc. and Cowboy Dressage is going for “patterns with a cowboy oriented horse”.

I’m seeing a lot more of the Californio/Buckaroo style guys (just watched a pattern with Jeff Sanders) doing the CD. CD tests seem to be oriented to be handier, and WD tests seem to be more “classical dressage under western tack”.

Am I missing something big? I know the whole Eitan “thing” but I find myself disliking the idea of riding two handed with contact in a curb, and losing the jog bothers me. Yes, a western horse should be able to trot out, but a jog is still not a gait that requires posting.

My horse is in a bosal at the moment, but our eventual goal is to be able to be straight up in the bridle, whether that is a spade or a “Spanish style” curb. Just still trying to find our fit in life. He’s not ever going to be as quick as the WE superstars but we work at that as well.


Agree with this whole heartedly. I was actually going to guide an acquaintance towards WD, until I was looking for youtube videos and saw examples of contact (not just a little contact, either - it was full blown, shanks back, curb chain on chin, contact) with the curb, and then the addition of a mouth-shutter noseband. So instead, I convinced her to switch to dressage-dressage, and she’s having a blast.


I didn’t think anything like this was legal in WD??? Sheesh. Not cool at all.

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A couple examples…


Yeah, that’s just not ok. At least in my book. Pretty sure my horse would tell me exactly where to get off if I insisted.


I was initially excited when I heard talk of developing a form of dressage for western horses and riders, but have been disappointed in both versions of it. I don’t know, maybe I’m just impossible to please. :slight_smile:

Western dressage is too much dressage and not enough western. As @Alterration said, it’s just dressage with a western style horse. It failed to retain most of the fundamental western riding qualities.

Cowboy dressage, on the other hand, is too much western and not enough dressage. Again, as @Alterration says, it’s just riding patterns with a cowboy oriented horse.

I’m not especially interested in pursuing to either one, although I’m more likely to dabble in low level WD (with a snaffle bit) than CD simply due to accessibility. Most of the dressage competitions in my part of the country include WD but I’m not aware of any CD trainers/competitions anywhere near me and I’m not interested in the virtual horse shows at all.


Those two photos do not show “western” riding, nor do they show dressage. They’re not western, because the riders are using two hands with curb bits. They’re not dressage, either, because they’re using a curb bit alone, without a bridoon. And the buckskin is wearing boots, which AFAIK aren’t allowed in any dressage test.

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You should go to USEF and read the rules for western dressage before you start sharing misinformation on the subject.

Do you understand that “Western Dressage” is its own thing? It’s not dressage and it’s not western riding, it’s Western Dressage, recognized as such by USEF, with its own set of rules and standards.

I believe the buckskin is wearing wraps, not boots, and as far as I can see, there is nothing in either of those photos that is a violation of the USEF rules for western dressage.


Indeed there is not, which was the point of the thread (I don’t think you were responding to me though).

Personally I don’t care about boots and wraps. But the bit and contact I find very puzzling.

No, I was replying to Rackonteur’s post directly above mine.

And I’m both puzzled and a bit horrified at the requirement of maintaining contact even with a western curb bit. It’s just so wrong! :slight_smile:


You’re saying what I was saying, in different words.

“It’s just so wrong!”

I agree. It is not western, and it is not dressage. I don’t care what its rules say, or why its practitioners call it western dressage. It is neither. Or, as you put it, “It’s just so wrong!”

I.e., it isn’t correct.

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I am in CD land, daily, my barn is home to a well-known trainer/clinician. All the time I hear from her that it was meant to be welcoming to all, to have fun, and not be as “stuffy” as WD or regular dressage. At least on her part anyhow, she is very welcoming to all and has enough knowledge to teach well. OTOH, shows are just as expensive as anywhere else.

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I have seen that about CD, and the tests seem to be reflective of that. They start much “slower” if you will.

I’m honestly leaning that way since my horse is one that I think will excel in that arena. He can do regular dressage also, or Western Dressage, but he does way better relaxation-wise in a relaxed atmosphere.

I’m sorry. I didn’t understand the intent of your original post.

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Interesting –

Western Dressage for me because my barn already has a dressage court, and I’m too lazy to set up the Cowboy Dressage arena :rofl:


The following is my opinion.

For some, WD is turning into the place to train and show competitively the really nice, well-trained dressage horses who lack the insanely fancy gaits needed to score well in normal dressage.

CD seems to attracts the western-oriented rider who wants to do more than rail work but they have no access to (or interest in) cattle, no interest in AQHA, and no interest in the one size fits all approach of a limited set of patterns and movements and the drug culture of NRHA. CD is good western riding of a handy horse, with no real dressage under it (Looking at you, Eitan).


It’s complicated. They haven’t read either organization’s rule book or mission/vision, however…

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What did you find interesting?

Not a challenge - just curious!

As a complete outsider, with no skin in the game, to me some odd things stick out. Rising trot in a western saddle? Two hands on a western curb bit? An obstacle course rather than purely movement?

In a western discipline, I would be really impressed to see FEI dressage movements performed in a relaxed, one-handed western style. Canter pirouette, for example, I suspect would be a thing of beauty. Either discipline looks like fun to do.