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Western Dressage – How to get started. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 2, 2016

You are interested in Western Dressage and want to try it, but you aren’t sure where to begin? We’re here to get you on the path to a fun new adventure.

In Canada, the Western Style Dressage Association of Canada is the governing body of Western Dressage. Within WSDAC there are chapters which offer shows, clinics, and fun days to help people learn more about the sport and support members in their training. Provinces and territories may have more than one chapter. To find a chapter in your area visit The professional directory on the WSDAC website will also help you find a Western dressage coach in your area. There are more chapters being set up as the sport of Western dressage grows and more trainers being listed, however English dressage coaches are also willing to help you get started if you do not have a Western dressage coach in your area. The WSDAC website also lists the rules and tests.


A Quarter Horse showing working jog with an even rhythm and light contact.

As a member of the National Association you may earn points toward National year-end awards at approved chapter and dressage shows. Or you may decide to compete only within your chapter and only pay your chapter membership. Many of the English dressage shows are offering Western dressage classes as well. These may be listed as “TOC”, or Test of Choice, allowing you to choose the test you want to ride when you enter the show.

In British Columbia, Western dressage is included in the Horse Council BC rulebook for provincially sanctioned competitions. Western dressage classes have been included in the Heritage Qualifiers as well as at the Heritage Finals. The Senior Games have also included Western dressage classes.

Another fun way to try Western dressage is through WSDAC’s virtual show program at In 2015, there were four shows, culminating in a year-end award program. This is an especially great program for those who do not live near a chapter area. Find a suitable ring of the correct size and video the given test, using a caller reading the test, if you like. You then post your video on youtube, submit the link and your payment, and the test will be judged, just like at a show, by one of WSDAC’s approved judges. Results will be posted online and you will receive your test sheet with judge’s comments in the mail. Ribbons are awarded as well!


Working lope, showing poll higher than the withers, with an engaged hind end.

But even if you aren’t interested in showing, Western Dressage is a fun way to try something new with your horse. Through the progressive work, your horse will become safer, more versatile and pleasurable as its flexibility, suppleness, balance and fitness increase. You will also have a more willing, attentive, obedient and responsive mount as the confidence and trust between horse and rider builds. And following the training scale and working through the levels gives you guidelines, incentives and goals.

This article is the second one in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach.  She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance.


Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage.



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