Yes, Gaited Horses Can Do Dressage
Google defines the definition of Dressage as follows:
“The art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance.”
While many people view dressage as a form of showing, dressage is actually a training method. Teaching the horse to bend, while being balanced and flexible is a very difficult concept for horse and rider. From my personal experience the simple act of riding a 20 meter circle or riding my horse in a straight line is very challenging. However, mastering even just the basics in dressage can improve your horse’s gaits, physical fitness, and responsiveness. I’ve also found it has improved my relationship with my horse and helped with my confidence as well. While taking dressage lessons, my horse has come to rely on the fact that I am no longer just a “passenger” but am now a “rider”.
How to get started
Take Some Lessons
Not everyone has access to lessons or a good trainer. If you do, I highly recommend you start regular lessons. You may find some resistance from certain dressage trainers who refuse to work with a Gaited horse, and that’s OK. There are plenty of trainers out there who would be willing to work with you. If the trainer is new to the Gaited horse, you may have to educate them on the various gaits your horse performs. Once you cross that obstacle, the training is the same whether your horse gaits or trots. In the case of a Tennessee Walking Horse, instead of a trot, you would do a flatwalk.
Enter A Schooling Show
Whether or not you have access to a trainer or the ability to take lessons, I recommend looking for some schooling shows in your local area. Gaited Dressage is by no means mainstream yet, so you may have difficulties finding shows which offer Gaited Dressage Tests. That’s OK. I have found that if the show offers Western Dressage, they are more than happy to accommodate my Gaited tests.
The Schooling shows are typically very laid back and provide an opportunity to get some practice and see what this whole Dressage thing is all about. Schooling shows do not always require the strict dress code or tack requirements as an affiliated show, but be sure to check the show rules or ask the show manager if your’re unsure of what is required. At the end of each test, the judge will provide feedback on how you did during your test. This feedback is invaluable in your training pursuits and is a good test of how well your training is going.
There are several variations of Gaited and Western Tests available. I use the National Walking Horse Association Dressage tests which are modified USEF dressage tests. When I sign up for a show, I make sure that the show manager understands that I will be using these tests for my rides.
You can find the NWHA Dressage downloads here: https://www.nwha.com/library.html
You may also be able to just ride the regular USEF or USDF dressage tests as long as you let the show manager and judge know that you’re riding a gaited horse and will not be trotting or posting. Most would be OK with this.
Keep up the Work
Dressage training and requiring your horse to move correctly, in a balanced frame, is very hard work for the horse and rider. It takes a lot of stamina and hard work on the part of your horse to perform properly. So make sure to keep up regular training sessions with your horse. It’s unfair to ask him to perform if he is unfit enough to do the work. Plus, it’s good exercise for you too!
There are tons of online videos and papers that can help you achieve your dressage goals. Start simple and move your way up to more advanced movements. It may require you to take some steps back in your training to remaster some of the basics. But don’t get discouraged. As my trainer likes to say “Dressage is a journey, not a destination”.