Last October, Shiloh (my Missouri Fox Trotter gelding) and I entered our first virtual horse show. You can read my two posts about that experience here
I won’t be entering the same show this year unfortunately. It is difficult for me to ride a dressage test at anything faster than the walk without a proper arena and good footing. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving my interest in western dressage for gaited horses behind.
I continue to try to incorporate my understanding of basic dressage principles into my riding. I use the qualifier “my understanding” because my formal training in this area is almost nonexistent. I know I get a lot wrong in both my intellectual understanding and execution.
Despite that, I really like the idea of trying to ride a horse in a balanced way. Encouraging the horse to use its body in a manner that builds strength and flexibility. Hopefully in a way that actually feel good to the horse once he or she figures out what you are asking.
These pictures of Shiloh and me show a recent roundpen ride. Shiloh has good and bad days, but on the whole, I’d say his ability to carry himself has improved in these three years I’ve been riding him.
I enjoy feeling his body puff up beneath me, seeing his neck softly stretching towards the rein contact and the sensation of his weight shifting rhythmically from one hip to another. On the good days, he’s so well-timed that the feeling is almost hypnotic.
His walk, foxtrotting and upward transitions have improved a lot, but I am still struggling with certain aspects like supporting him better through downward transitions like from foxtrot to walk.
I’ve become increasingly aware of this feeling that I call “splat”. The sensation is his front hooves getting caught in quicksand and then his hips quickly popping up off the ground. Very jarring.
I finally caught a moment of “splat” on camera during this same ride. What I feel during these moments finally makes sense. It looks about as awful as it feels. Compare this splat photo to the photos above. Shiloh looks like a different horse from his nose to his tail.
Now that I think I have a better awareness of what is happening, I’m experimenting with how to encourage a more balanced downward transition so we end up with more “spring” than “splat” as we transitions up, through and down the various gaits. But trying to figure it all out is a bit of a head scratcher for me.
If nothing else, I am learning that I need to support Shiloh continuously throughout the ride and not just think that because things are going well during one exercise, or in one direction or at one speed that they will continue that way without my supporting him.
My intention, my attention and my aids need to match up in a way that makes sense to him. Easier said than done. But I want to keep aiming.
If anyone out there is interested in learning more about western dressage for their gaited horse, you can enter the same online show this year that I did last year. The judge’s feedback that you receive after sending in your video is quite specific.
I know it seems odd to enter a show at the start of one’s journey in a discipline, but that detailed written feedback you receive from the judge can be very useful, especially for someone who doesn’t have access to a western/gaited dressage instructor in person.
The online show “Gaits Wide Open” is sponsored by the organization Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) and is hosted by The North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD). If you’d like to explore entering, go to
Traditionally, there’s been a huge disconnect between dressage, the western disciplines and the gaited horse industry.
While there will always be distinct differences, FOSH and NAWD attempt to bridge that divide and bring awareness of important training principles for any horse with any level of rider.
If you are at all curious, I’d highly suggest checking out what FOSH and NAWD have to offer.