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Equine News Minnesota

Western Dressage – a “New” Discipline?

The name – “Western Dressage” – might give the impression that people are simply slapping a western saddle on a dressage horse, but that’s not the goal of this “new” discipline. “We’re giving a name and face to a discipline that has existed for a long time,” Jen Johnson, the co-founder of the Midwest Western Dressage Association said.

Western Dressage is for the people who want the security and comfort of a western saddle, yet want collection, softness, suppleness and control that a dressage horse learns through its training regimen. The result: the rider gains – perhaps the most important aspect of an enjoyable ride – confidence.

“We gain confidence through control,” Randy Byers, a John Lyons certified trainer who conducts Western Dressage Clinics said.

Randy Byers, a John Lyons certified trainer and Western Dressage instructor on his horse "Carbon" “I’m a western guy first – you’re never going to see me in breeches,” Byers said.

Byers showed off some Western Dressage moves on his 6-year-old quarter horse, Carbon, at an open house introducing the Midwest Western Dressage Association on Saturday, May 7, at the Leatherdale Equine Center at the University of Minnesota. Similar to dressage, Carbon performed everything from lateral moves to flying lead changes with the ease and grace of a ballet dancer.

“Western horses have been taught to be brave; dressage horses have nice mechanical fluidity and precision; I want to bring that relaxation, rhythm, and timing to the western breeds. I think we can bridge the gap,” Byers explained, and jokingly said, “the western people have kind of a wall up against English-riding people – they think they’re snooty and drink too much champagne; the English people think the Western-riding people are barbaric and drink too much beer.” “English riding has great things; western riding has great things: with Western Dressage we’re building a bridge to connect the two together,”

  Byers said

 Barb Anderson Whiteis, Caille Farm Right now the discipline is in the development stages.

According to its website (, Western Dressage was first introduced by Eitan Beth-Halachmy, a horseman who began encouraging the addition of “Cowboy Dressage” classes at horse shows around the country. When Jack Brainerd; a well-known trainer, judge and breeder; met Beth-Halachmy in 2007, the two joined forces and started teaching “Cowboy Dressage” courses around the country.

Next, The American Morgan Horse Association ( led the initiative to formalize Western Dressage as its own discipline. The result is the United States Equestrian Federation ( named the discipline “Western Dressage” and announced at its World Equestrian Games last fall that it is developing rules and tests for this innovative discipline. Currently there are six levels of testing.

How does the Midwest Western Dressage Association enter the equation? Prior to the USEF introducing its new Western Dressage division, Jen Johnson developed a passion for the discipline when she was looking for a solution to a problem she was having with her horse. “I couldn’t get my mare to collect and I could not capture her face because every time I tried in my dressage saddle, she would pull me out of my seat.”

Johnson bumped into Byers at the Minnesota Horse Expo in 2010, and started quizing him about her mare.

“He explained that I didn’t have the leverage I needed to capture her nose in my dressage saddle, but I would have the leverage I needed riding in a western saddle,” Johnson said. Johnson convinced Byers to give her a 2-hour lesson. “During that lesson, a light bulb came on for me – leverage is the key,”

  Johnson said

 Johnson’s excitement is contagious. Her sister, Greta Liubakka, joined the ranks of western dressage fans, too. Together, they launched the Midwest Western Dressage Association last fall (

“We’re giving a name and face to a discipline that has existed for a long time,” AnnMarie Hernick, the Secretary of the Midwest Western Dressage Association said, at its recent open house. She pointed out that less than 20-percent of horse owners choose to show competitively. “For the rest of us, Western Dressage can help us have more control, and be comfortable and more confident in our riding,” Hernick said, “we want to help people improve their partnership with their horse.”

Western Dressage – a new discipline?

The Midwest Western Dressage Association is not affiliated with the Western Dressage Association, or the USEF Western Dressage division; but Johnson is helping shape the future by participating in some of the strategic planning sessions.

Laurie With riding her Fjord "Oz" “Everything is still in the process of being formed. Right now we don’t know exactly what this is going to look like,” Johnson said. While the discpline of Western Dressage is being formalized, one thing is for sure – the Midwest Western Dressage Association events are a place where riders can network, have fun, and learn – while developing a great relationship with their horse. If you’ve enjoyed this story – please be sure to “Like” it – and help us spread the news! Please tell your friends to go to: to join the mailing list. Also – do you have a story idea? Be sure to click on the “story idea” page – we’re always looking for interesting news about local horse enthusiasts!

by SUSIENELSON on MAY 20, 2011