Temecula trainer shares insights on co-existing quite nicely in the worlds of “traditional” and “western” dressage.
The discipline of Western Dressage has been steadily gaining enthusiasts throughout its relatively young existence and. As one of its earliest proponents, Carol Tice is not surprised at all. The appeal lies in the training method’s ability to produce a “pleasurable horse” no matter the breed, tack or attire, she asserts.
Carol is unique in that she happily co-exists in the traditional dressage world and in the relatively new sphere of Western Dressage. She was president of the California Dressage Society from 2007 to 2009 and continues to be an active volunteer for the organization at large and the Temecula Valley CDS Chapter in particular. She is also director of Region 7 for the United States Dressage Federation.
From the early 2000s on, she’s developed a strong WD program at Rocking T Ranch, first in Yorba Linda and now in Temecula, the enterprise that continues Carol and her husband Jim’s long contribution to the Southern California equestrian scene.
Rocking T’s lesson and training program is split about 50/50 now between “traditional” and “western” dressage riders and Carol expects the latter to gain more followers and acceptance going forward.
WD is about much more than riding a dressage test in western gear and garb. Building “an equine community that combines the Western traditions of horse and rider with classical dressage” is the core message of the Western Dressage Association of America’s mission statement. “We honor the horse. We value the partnership between horse and rider. We celebrate the legacy of the American West.”
California Riding Magazine editor Kim F Miller asked Carol to update us on the Western Dressage trajectory from her vantage point.
Kim: Coming from a western riding background, how did you come across dressage in the first place?
Carol: This goes back to when I teamed up with Jim and had our riding school in Yorba Linda. I was showing, or I should say, “attempting,” to show Western Pleasure and I felt there must be a better way to get your horse round and soft than just jerking on the reins. It was suggested that working with a dressage trainer might help and that’s when I started riding with Sherry Guess. As I started riding “regular” dressage, I became fascinated with what you could do with the horse’s and rider’s bodies and I began incorporating that with my western riders and horses.
I also found that I liked riding the more forward-moving horse better than the slower one found in Western Pleasure.
The misperception that WD shares that slow gait with Western Pleasure gets in the way of understanding WD. The group that we started with were all riding western performance horses: reiners and cutters. They’re uphill and they’re not going slow.
Western dressage is really about riding a pleasurable horse.
Kim: It sounds like you began pursuing WD before it really had a label or any kind of regional or national organizing body.
Carol: We did little shows at our stable, including Training level dressage tests that could be ridden in a western saddle. We had dressage trainers, including future “S” judge David Schmutz, come out and judge them. That was back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Soon after, Western Dressage began to emerge on a national level. A couple of associations cropped up to represent it throughout North America, with the Western Dressage Association of America emerging the most. They then offered affiliate opportunities to local organizations, one of which is the California Western Dressage Association.
(The United States Equestrian Federation designated the WDAA as WD’s national affiliate in 2014.)
Kim: What type of riders at your program led the way with WD?
Carol: I started working with students who would love to do dressage, but there was no way they could be competitive in Open dressage. They liked that they could show off their horse’s nice training and how pleasurable it made them to ride.
It’s an introduction to people who would maybe like to step over into traditional dressage but don’t have the horse yet. It gives them a place to be comfortable, in comfortable tack, before making the transition.
Some of my students evolved from traditional dressage riders who found that, as they got older, they couldn’t ride the big movements of those big dressage horses. When they stopped purchasing the Warmbloods, the horses I had at my disposal to ride were nice western performance horses. I now have a nice ranch Quarter Horse, Smoken Reed Bar, doing Second Level dressage and he enjoys it.
Kim: Do your traditional and western dressage clients “work and play well together?”
Carol: Yes! They are able to comment to each other about straightness, the activity of their horse’s gaits or observe that a horse’s gait may look more like a western jog than the uphill gait we want.
Kim: Having sat in on recent CDS annual meeting discussions, it’s clear that not all “purists” are crazy about western dressage.
Carol: That’s true. But what they mainly don’t like is use of the name “dressage.” If it was called something else, I think almost everyone would really embrace it. I know a couple of judges who were a little opposed to it at first, but now that they’ve seen the type of rides and riders they’re judging, they feel differently.
I think it’s very good for our business because it offers an appealing and accessible entry to the sport for people who are coming to it. Dressage has maybe not been great about providing that in the past.
Kim: Are there any issues regarding western rider’s perceptions about dressage?
Carol: There’s a bit of a glitch in that Western Pleasure riders tend to have a problem with the judges because most come from traditional dressage judging. Some feel that the judge wants to see a slightly less than traditional dressage mover in a western saddle and that they’d penalize a Western Pleasure horse with a slower, shorter stride.
In defense to the western horse, there are many aspects of being a western horse and I see judges as being very fair in their use of directives and collective marks.
Kim: It’s also clear that adding WD classes has helped some CDS chapters keep their show circuit afloat.
Carol: Most chapters would not be able to hold a full two-day show without having the western dressage classes. Some chapters hold only one-day shows but now can have two arenas, thanks to adding WD classes.
Kim: Is there enough participation to hold WD-only shows?
Carol: PepperGlen Farm in Norco is the only place in Southern California I know of to hold straight WD shows, and they often have to turn riders away. There’s been some talk of holding shows that could bring Southern and Central California riders together, creating enough demand to have WD-only shows.
Kim: What about Cowboy Dressage?
Carol: That is very popular, too. For someone that is totally new to dressage, their tests and the court they use may be a little more friendly and their “challenge court” that incorporate obstacles into a test is fun to ride!
It seems that Cowboy Dressage is more popular in Northern California and Western Dressage more so in Southern California. A lot of riders compete in both.
Kim: Is there a state championship for CaWDA?
Carol: We are working toward that. Right now, there is the WDAA national championships held in Guthrie, OK in October.
Kim: Thanks, Carol!
- April 2 in Norco - PepperGlen Western Dressage Show
- April 8 in West Covina - Pomona Chapter CDS Spring Fling show with WD classes
- April 9 in Cottonwood - Wy-Not Cowboy Dressage Workshop
- April 8-9 in Norco - Western Dressage Clinic with Brandie Haining
- April 19 & 23 in Ramona - Cowboy Dressage Workshop
- April 23 in Poway - Discover Western Dressage with Kathleen Elliott
- April 23 in Wilton - Dressage at Pacific Equestrian Center