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2024 WDAA/USEF Judges Seminar Experience Essay by Nance McManus

Dressage: (French) to train. May I point out not only the horse needs training? Also, the rider (and/or trainer) need training too. Luckily with the western dressage wheel we have a better idea of what training can do for us AND especially our horses. Being someone that enjoys competition I was curious to learn more of what the judge’s training would have to do with my scores. What could I do to get a better score and understand better what our judges are trained to look for and encourage? So, I signed up for the USEF/WDAA Judge’s Education Seminar in Denver and spent this last weekend, 3 days, getting a drink of water from a fire hydrant.

Over the three days we went from how to judge gaited horses to rail classes, Intro through Level 5 to exceptional riders to freestyle and even online judging. The brilliant 4 leaders that taught the classes were Cindy Butler (President of the WDAA), Joanne Coy, Jodi Ely, and Gail Matheus (brilliant video clips and computer work Gail). They brought amazing lessons to the weekend. Smartly Joanne Coy made sure that an “R” judge was sitting at every table. There were about 14 of us auditors and the rest were applicants or judges.

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In Memory of Ellen DiBella, WDAA Founder

View the Memorial Email for Ellen DiBella as a PDF.

Leslie and Nox's Journey to the World Show

With a total of six western dressage tests under Equinox’s (Nox’s) cinch and my belt, we headed to the 10th annual World Western Dressage Show in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Nox is my novice husbands horse that was found on a ranch in Reno, Nevada. He is Clydesdale and quarter-horse cross. He was afraid of everything five years ago. A lot of trail rides, kisses and carrots lead him to trust my husband and I.Exactly one year before Worlds, Nox and I went to our first local horse show in Las Vegas. He could still not be cross tied and we nearly missed our morning classes because he wouldn’t load into the trailer. With Jessie Bonneau’s guidance, training, and friendship, we entered our first western dressage test last Spring. I memorized and practiced the wrong test (2017) and got a bell, but we finished. We decided that Nox was much better fit for WD, still not giving up on local English/western classes to build our relationship and performance.Nox and I have been built from the ground up. We started with my knowledge from 4-H many years ago and his memory of abuse and fear to where we are now, both physically and mentally. We placed third in our first rail class at the World show last week and improved on every test during the week. More importantly, Nox and I learned so much about each other. He was relaxed and confident his week at Worlds, much more than I was. When you say “It’s all about the journey” it really is. I could have bought a horse that was trained and ready to go and win, but I have different goals. I want to build a relationship with the best horse in the whole world, Nox. I want to see what we are made out of as a team. I want to set goals and succeed, growing along the way. I want my “husbands” horse to enjoy this journey as much as I do. So far, Nox and I are feeling amazing and enjoying our journey day by day. I wouldn’t give that up for any trophy or prize in the entire world. See you next year in Guthrie! Nox and I will be working hard and enjoying the journey everyday!

Submitted by Leslie Browder

Voices from the WDAA World Show by ProStride

The Horse Radio Network Western Dressage with Stacy Westfall:  The online Western Dressage Association of America was a huge hit this year.  Hear the voices of some of the amazing competitors and how the WDAA impacted them this year.  Listen in…

Listen to the podcast here:

It’s About the Journey: An Interview with Past WDAA President, Ellen diBella.

by Katherine Rosback

“I would say, ‘not right now!’” she replies with a hearty laugh. After a couple of weeks of phone tag, I have finally connected with this incredibly energetic past-President of the WDAA, Ellen diBella, and have just asked her if the WDAA has their sights on the Olympics. “Right now we are working on just bringing out the best in people and in people’s horses and developing the needed pool of judges.” Ellen is one of the founding members of the WDAA. She has owned and shown Morgans since 1972 and is an avid supporter of the Western stock horse.

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New Organization, Old Discipline

How the Western Dressage Organization Came To Be.

by Katherine Rosback

(First in a three-part series on the beginnings, the rules, the tests, and the future of Western Dressage.)

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My Journey to Western Dressage

Western Dressage came along at a good time in my life and the life of my horse.  I have a long and varied background in traditional dressage, and I have taken advantage of many educational opportunities through the US Dressage Federation and US Equestrian Federation over the years.  I have also been an active participant in my local dressage club, Kansas Dressage and Eventing Association.  As a result of my experiences and education, I'm an L-graduate (able to judge dressage schooling shows), as well as an “r”  Technical Delegate for dressage shows (rules enforcement at dressage shows).  I have also been a secretary or manager for both schooling and recognized dressage shows and horse trials, and I'm currently the President of Kansas Dressage and Eventing.  With my current horse, I also competed through Fourth Level dressage, and I've been teaching dressage to local riders who bring all breeds of horses to their lessons. 

With my horse now aging, and not wanting to push him to express his gaits to the fullest extent at his age, I looked toward the relatively new discipline of Western Dressage.  Maybe Western Dressage was a way I could continue to school my horse, with dressage principles, but still be taking on the demands of a different discipline that might be more challenging to me than to my horse. 

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Mental Preparation for Western Dressage Competition

This brief outline will give you some insights and suggestions on how to better prepare yourself mentally for a western dressage competition. I am going to assume that you and your horse are ready to compete at the level entered and that you already know what is involved in attending a recognized western dressage show.

  1. Discuss well in advance with your instructor long-term and short-term goals for the upcoming show season. Write down your goals and refer to them often. They may need to be modified from time to time.
  2. Read the WDAA Western Dressage Rules. All gaits, paces, and movements are described in detail and are judged accordingly. The purpose of each of the levels is described and all legal equipment, saddlery, and clothing is listed.
  3. You can never be too organized. Have all equipment, tack, clothing, feed, etc. organized before arriving at show. This will save time and especially, energy, so that you can relax and focus on the job at hand: competing.
  4. If possible, have a groom and a ground person/coach. You are the RIDER, you don't want to use up all of your energy cleaning stalls, bathing your horse, etc. Your ground person will keep you on track and focused as well as being able to hand you your coat, etc. A well-rested and focused competitor will always do better than a tired competitor.
  5. Nutrition plays a big part in being able to sustain high energy and clear mental focus. Eat protein at breakfast, eat protein and complex carbohydrates throughout the day. Eat many small, healthy meals often. Avoid refined sugar and alcohol (wait until you are finished!). If you are showing over several days, too much alcohol consumption will impair your energy level and performance- try to take it easy.
  6. Develop a warm up strategy for each horse. Some horses do well with being worked then put away, then taken out right before a class. Others do better with a warm-up right before the test. Bottom line: Every horse is different-find what works.
  7. It is often helpful to find a quiet place before your class where you can focus on your ride. This needs to be a place where you are not distracted and can positively focus on your ride.
  8. THE TEST: It is your responsibility to know your test. Try to select tests that complement your strengths, if possible. Know which movements contain coefficients and where they start and finish (they are worth twice as many points). When riding your test, take some risks. To get a really high score, you need to show some brilliance, GO FOR IT! Try to read your previously ridden and scored test before your next ride, if possible. Some things are easily fixed, such as incorrect geometry or early/late transitions.
  9. If you have a disastrous test-LET IT GO (It's not the end of the world)! It is simply a moment in time that didn't go so well. Do not let it define who you are and how you ride. Pick up and move on. Guess what? It happens to everyone sooner or later, even the judge!
  10. After the competition, assess your performance and compare score sheets from other judges/tests. Look for strengths and weaknesses. Compare and look for an underlying theme in your training. Maybe your down transitions are not scoring well from all judges. This gives you something to work on and improve before the next show. Discuss this with your instructor and be willing to modify your training goals and program accordingly.


I am going to spend a little time to discuss your most powerful training tool: YOUR MIND, especially your sub-conscious mind.

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