WDAA Honors and Awards

Welcome to the WDAA Honors and Awards page. We are proud to highlight the top achievers and benchmarks in western dressage.

 The Ellen DiBella Volunteer of the Year Award (prior to 2023 known as the WDAA Top Hand Award)

This is presented to a volunteer or volunteers whose contribution to WDAA and its educational mission was outstanding during the current award year..

Top Hand Award

2014 – Neide Cooley

2015 – Joyce Swanson

2016 – Debbie Riehl-Rodriguez

2017 – Ann Marie Avansino

2018 – Cliff Swanson
            Kelly Coldiron
            Katharina Nowotny-Boles

2020- Jen Sigety

2021- Susan Lang

2022 - Whit Acres Farm

Ellen DiBella Volunteer of the Year Award

2023 - Deborah Hausman
            Nichole Foley
            Kim Mackey
            Diane Doll
            Phyliss Ray 

McLaughlin Ribbon Awards Sportsmanship Award

2023 - Sharron Booth 


WDAA Hall of Champions

A horse who has passed but has won a Western Dressage World Championship or Reserve World Championship at the Western Dressage World Championship Show, or an alliance partner’s World or National Championship.

2014 – Sontree Golden Oscar – Morgan

2015 – JBS Raising The Bar – Missouri Fox Trotter

2017 – Blondasaurus Ruth – Belgian

Ten years ago, Leah Wilson and her family rescued an untrained two-year-old Belgian mare and brought her to their home near Marysville, Ohio where they named her Ruthie. After being trained as a saddle horse by a young Amish man, she became a favorite school horse and 4-H partner to several junior riders. An adult student of Leah’s gave her the name Blondasaurus Ruth when she entered her in the local show, and the name stuck.

“Ruthie” excelled at several equestrian sports and was trained to do a little bit of everything except drive. This included hunter paces, trail riding, and barrel racing. She was shown at the All-American Youth Horse Show, combined training events, and at local USDF schooling shows. When western dressage classes began to be offered in central Ohio in 2012, Ruthie became one of the primary western dressage competitors from the Central Ohio Riding Club. Her graceful and agile nature made her a crowd favorite wherever she went.

Her first appearance at the WDAA World Show was in 2014 – Leah’s daughter, Cassidy Shepard, and Ruthie won Level One Test Three Junior Champion, and they proved that horses of any breed, age, or background can be successful at western dressage. Ruthie gained some new admirers when she and Cassidy had the honor of presenting their Level One western dressage freestyle at the 2016 Equine Affaire in Columbus.

In June 2016, while in training to compete in Level One and Two at that year’s WDAA World Show, Ruthie sustained a serious leg injury and unfortunately never recovered. She is still very sadly missed by all those who loved her.

WDAA World Championships with Cassidy Shepard
2014 Level One Test Three Junior - Champion
2015 Level One Test Four Junior – Reserve Champion

2018 – Canabar Kokopelli – Morgan

Koko possessed dual American and Canadian citizenship having been bred and raised in Alberta Canada.  I believe him to be the most successful Western Dressage horse in all of Canada.  I would also venture that Koko was the most successful Morgan in Western Dressage.  Those claims are based on 1 high point, one reserve high point, and 2 world championships at WDA’s world championships, and 3 world championships, 2 reserve world championships, and a dozen national championships at Morgan Grand Nationals.  I would also venture that he performed 100 tests and won at least 90 of them.

Koko was also one of the very first western dressage horses.  In 2010 he was in training with Cliff Swanson.  The very first set of WDA tests were mostly written by Cliff while on Koko’s back!  Koko moved to Aaron Brown’s in 2013 and at the age of 16 really came into himself.  The “statistics” above were compiled in his 5 years with Aaron.

Western dressage was the perfect venue for Koko.  A slight stifle abnormality had kept him from the highest echelons of western pleasure.  A love of drumming kept him from the highest echelons of trail- I swear he loved the sound of his hooves hitting those poles!  Western dressage was made for his physical and mental abilities.  We had 5 glorious years of western dressage together and I thank everyone involved with WDA.

Koko passed away in June of 2018 from an undetermined infection.  He was in training for 4th level.  He was only 21 and is sorely missed.

2018 - Mountain Rose Charisma – Appaloosa

Mountain Rose Charisma, an Appaloosa better known as “Chinook,” was brought into this world as a byproduct of the Premarin drug industry. By good fortune, Chinook’s dam was rescued from the production line, and Chinook was given a chance at life.

Emily Johnson became Chinook’s human partner when he was a young foal, and she had the honor of raising him, starting him under saddle and competing on him until his untimely death just last month.

Chinook was an absolute character – playful, mischievous, bright, talented, athletic and eager to please. He and Emily rode trails in Colorado, dabbled in versatility ranch horse competitions and found their way to western dressage in 2011.

Chinook and Emily earned many western dressage high points and championship awards in their state, and in 2014, they made their debut at the Western Dressage World Show, where they earned two reserve world championships.

Although Emily is grieving his loss, she says that her gratitude for knowing such a talented horse is far more abundant. Her “Spotted Wonder” was one of the forever loves of her life.

2020 - Holiday Compadre - Morgan

Holiday Compadre, a Morgan stallion born in 1987, was the Morgan World Champion Western Pleasure horse in 1993 and 1996. He also was a seasoned cow horse. But it was his electrifying musical freestyle presentations of dressage and reining movements with Eitan Beth-Halachmy that wowed crowds far and wide and were a catalyst for the creation of western dressage.

Holiday Compadre retired from show business in 2002 and moved to Parker CO to a comfortable life as a breeding stallion with his own herd of mares and green pastures to enjoy, under the watchful eye of his loving guardian, Ellen DiBella. He was inducted into the AMHA Show Horse Hall of Fame in 2014. He passed away in 2019 and is deeply missed by all who knew and loved him. He is the sire of Morgan several horses that now show in Western Dressage.

2020 - Finest Five - Paint

Paint mare Finest Five had several careers in her 30 years. It was through Western Dressage that her “star quality” made an indelible impression on those who watched her perform. Her first western dressage test was in 2011 with her young owner, Cassidy Shepard.  The following year Five and Thallia Blight (a student of Cassidy’s mother Leah Wilson) began what would be an 8-year partnership that included winning three WDAA World Championships at Basic level. They also appeared in presentations at the Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio for several years. In 2019, Five was awarded a WDAA Register of Merit and was inducted into the Dressage Foundation’s Century Club with long-time human friend Carol Pizor.  All three women - Cassidy, Thallia, and Carol – would like to express their gratitude for this beautiful, wonderful mare and how she helped them become the horsewomen they are today.

Finest Five never lost her zest for life and keen attitude for work.  She continued to be a gentle teacher to young riders throughout her last autumn and winter. In May 2020 she passed away quietly at home and is deeply missed by those who knew and loved her.  Finest Five lives on in her daughter Forecast’s Oracle, and her son Fine Elderberry Vrod, both of whom are being trained and shown in western dressage.

2022 - Invite to Invest - AQHA

Invite to Invest, or “Calvin,” participated in multiple Western Dressage Association of America (WDAA) shows over the years, placing 7th overall in the Open Basic Horse at the 2019 WDAA World Championship Show, as well as earning Reserve Champion with junior rider Makayla Regler in the Exceptional Rider class at the 2020 WDAA On-Line International Challenge.

Calvin was an American Quarter Horse gelding who loved his job, was a fun horse to ride. He was ridden by both youth and open riders and received the WDAA Recognition of Merit in 2019. Sheila Purdum, WDAA member since 2014, owned and loved Calvin till he was euthanized following a tragic pasture accident in November 2021. At the time of his passing, Calvin was only 3.7 points short of earning his WDAA Recognition of Achievement. He will be greatly missed.

The Western Dressage Association’s Hall of Champions honors horses who have passed away but have won a Western Dressage Association World Championship or Reserve World Championship at a WDAA World Championship show, or an alliance partner’s world or national champion in western dressage.

2022 - Tommy Temon 

In 2018, under the guidance of Bryan Meyerhoff, Tommy Temon and Joanne Lanzisera attended the WDAA World Show and earned 4 World titles and numerous other awards. This was the first time Tommy or myself ever showed at a World show level much less leave the state of Florida. 

He has earned his Register of Merit, Register of Achievement, Register of Excellence and Bronze Medal through the WDAA Horse Lifetime Points and Awards Program.

He has earned a Reserve Horse of The Year through USEF with Joanne and a Reserve and third HOTY with youth rider Lilly Kirkley.

Last year, at 22 years of age, he earned an AQHA Reserve Western Dressage title.

In September 2022,as Hurricane Ian was approaching Sebring, Florida, Tommy Temon, a 2000 AQHA gelding, began to severely colic, sadly, he did not survive.

2023 - Dry Spindoll - AQHA

Sometimes it takes the better part of a horse’s life to find what they are really good at.  Such is the case with the little Quarter Horse mare Dry Spindoll.  Foaled in 1996 and sired by Dry James, her pedigree reads like a who’s who of foundation breeding  with the great horses Doc Bar and Poco Lena close up.  “Spinny” as she was known in the barn had a varied career with just one dedicated owner who did about everything there was to do with a horse, except Western Dressage.  At 20 years old, Spindoll was leased to Michelle Binder-Zolezzi of Relational Riding Academy to become a lesson horse at the school.  She was sound and active and when put together with the right young riders, Spinny simply shined.  Spindoll went to WDAA World Championships  four times with 4 different junior riders and even participated in the Online International Challenges  where she won jackets and more for multiple riders.  Honestly, we lost count of how many World and Reserve World titles, national, state, regional, and local awards Spindoll carried her riders to during her time with us.  Spinny came to life doing Western Dressage in the show ring and earned scores from WD judges and dressage judges alike over 80%! 

Spindoll was  a living tribute to her good old fashioned Quarter Horse breeding.  She looked like Poco Lena, moved like a cat, was sound, honest, hard working and did anything asked of her.  She took perfect care of her riders, even though the little itty bitty ones were not her favorite.  She excelled teaching  intermediate riders  the ropes and was completely trustworthy taking them into the show arena even at the biggest venues like the Lazy E.  In 2017, Spinny and Rose went to World’s, won all their rail classes as well as 3 of the 4 tests, and so earned the Junior Introductory Level World Championship buckle.  Her second trip to World’s in 2018 she carried Korbin to the Reserve World Champion Junior, finishing just behind his other QH mount, Paddys Irish Starlet.  With this pair of horses, he was awarded the WDAA Youth Sportsmanship Award.  Then in 2019 and 2020,  Spinny took Carilyn and Sophie to the World’s Show where they earned Top 10’s in the Junior division.  In 2021, Spindoll competed at Intro, Basic and Level 1 under both riders to complete her Bronze medal at the age of 25.  Returning home to her original owner after Worlds in 2021, she carried a granddaughter to victory at local shows for another season before retiring to pasture with a goat for a friend.

The young people that Spinny touched say best what she meant to them. Spindoll was the subject of a school essay in which 9 year old Sophie wrote:  “My face bright, I mount Spindoll.  It never occurred to me that I’d be riding on a 5 time World Champion western dressage horse! Spindoll acts calm, her head low and her black knotted mane pressed against her neck by the wind.  I give her a bump with my heels to walk on from the mounting block.  Even though she is calm, I am not!  My head is full of thoughts like what we could do together!  I find a way to calm myself and find her stride.  Her hooves against the dirt make the sound “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…” they seem to say.  A smile stretches across my face and it won’t leave. Spindoll’s brown body glistened in the early morning light like water when the sun hits it.  Strong black legs lifted off the ground as she walked.  In the barn that day excitement filled the air.  Even the sad brown walls seemed happy for me. Up in the loft the birds sang a happy tune.  Her hooves in the soft brown dirt made footprints like crescent moons.  I felt like we could conquer the world… Now I ride Spindoll each time I ride and in my opinion she is the best horse in the barn.”  And so she was.  Smiles beamed from the new students who met her when they found out how important Spindoll was and they loved her just as much as Sophie, Carilyn, Korbin and Rose did when she was theirs to ride.  Relational Riding Academy was truly blessed to have such a Quarter Horse in the barn, the breed and the discipline were blessed to have such an ambassador, her riders blessed by the experiences she brought them and Dry Spindoll was blessed with the best of horse lives.   

2023 Larks Best Bet - AQHA

Jay and Julie Cain’s beloved Larks Best Bett, “Betty” was euthanized on April 17, 2023, due to complications of Laminitis at the age of 20. She was our shining star, we bred, raised, trained, and showed her beyond our wildest dreams.

As soon as she was born, she had an opinion about everything, she needed no help getting up, did not want an injection and on and on. At the same time, she could be unsure of herself and sometimes unpredictable.

Western Dressage with the help of Palm Equestrian Academy became our (Betty and Julie’s) favorite events. The progression of western dressage training developed Betty into a confident performer and willing partner in and out of the showring. Whatever we asked she delivered.

Some of her accomplishments include 3 WDAA world show appearances 2016, 2018, and 2019, WDAA High Score (2018) and 4-time WDAA World Champion, WDAA Reserve Champion, AQHA Select World show top tens (over fences), 2019 USDF All Breeds Award AQHA Training Level Horse of the Year Open and Amateur. Betty also enjoyed trail riding alone or with friends. Betty was a Rugged Lark granddaughter on her Dam’s side and on her sire’s side a great granddaughter of a Kentucky Derby Winner, Swaps. She was once in a lifetime horse. She is missed in our barn every day and forever in our hearts.

WDAA Nominees for USEF Youth Sportsman's Award

Every year WDAA has the honor of nominating 1 junior member for the USEF Youth Sportsman’s Award. The goal of this award is to identify potential future leaders in the equine industry from all breeds and disciplines.

2016 - Emma Santellan - CA

2017 - Taylor Rogers - CO

2018 - Aubrey Albers - IL

2019 - Korbin Eckert - WA

2021 – Samuel Bohner - OH

2022 - Kiley Hamilton - CA

2023 - Kiley Hamilton - CA
WDAA is thrilled that WDAA youth member Kiley Hamilton has been named the 2023 USEF National Youth Sportsman of The Year! For more on Kiley and her outstanding achievements please visit this link https://www.usef.org/media/press-releases/kiley-hamilton-wins-2023-usef-national-youth?fbclid=IwAR3CnG_Ym-EJBTsyxQ1XM5-Dmq08bf0f3xMdRBHw29Uh9qWSHP2eHxl8F18

The Dressage Foundation and Western Dressage

Several years ago, as interest in Western Dressage was growing around the country, The Dressage Foundation (TDF) started to receive requests for grants to help the growth of Western Dressage and the education of its riders.  At that time, TDF’s Board of Directors offered to support Western Dressage because they agreed that classical dressage principles are beneficial to all riders and horses. 

Since then, grants have been awarded to dressage clubs hosting events dedicated to Western Dressage.  For example, the Western Dressage Association of Oklahoma teamed up with the Oklahoma Dressage Society in 2012 to host a “Classical Dressage meets Western Dressage Clinic and Workshop.”  The event was awarded a $2,000 grant from TDF’s Violet Hopkins Fund.  Since Western Dressage was relatively new at that point, the goal of the event was to introduce Western riders to the correct basics of dressage.

Around that time, TDF also started welcoming Western Dressage riders into the Century Club.  To join the Club, the ages of horse and rider must add up to at least 100 years and they must ride any level test at a dressage show or event.  As of May 2020, eleven Western Dressage riders from across the country have joined the Century Club!

Century Club Rides

Century Club Ride - Cayce Black and TLP Liquid Asset2012 Team #113

Cayce Black and TLP Liquid Asset (Paint)
86 and 15
Jupiter, FL

Century Club Ride - John Fitzgerald and Jacks Host2014 Team #161

John Fitzgerald and Jacks Host (QH)
72 and 32
Hakalau, HI

Century Club Ride - Thomas Faylor and Wildmoon2015 Team #199

Thomas Faylor and Wildmoon (Morgan)
83 and 20
Ann Arbor, MI

Century Club Ride - Yan Ross and Merlin2016 Team #232

Yan Ross and Merlin (TB)
73 and 27
Prescott, AZ

Century Club Ride - Suzanne Hall and April's Cricket2016 Team #246

Suzanne Hall and April’s Cricket (QH)
70 and 30
Winchester, OR

Century Club Ride - Harry Alban and MNK Made to Play2016 Team #259

Harry Alban and MNK Made to Play (Morgan)
76 and 25
Grand Junction, MI

Century Club Ride - Leanna Bellinger and Fleeting Chance2016 Team #263

Leanna Bellinger and Fleeting Chance (Arabian)
76 and 24
Hayes, VA

Century Club Ride - Isabel Surrey Saylor and Conclusions Shadow2017 Team # 320

Isabel Surrey Saylor and Conclusions Shadow (QH)
77 and 24
Reddick, FL

Century Club Ride - Stella Gordon and Madoc Best Regards2017 Team #324

Stella Gordon and Madoc Best Regards (Welsh)
75 and 25
Conroe, TX

Century Club Ride - JoAnne Percy and King's Sunny Doll2018 Team #341

JoAnne Percy and King’s Sunny Doll (Paint)
66 and 34
Wenatchee, WA

Century Club Ride - Carol Pizor and Finest Five2019 Team #382

Carol Pizor and Finest Five (Paint)
71 and 29
Columbus, OH

To learn more about TDF’s grants for educational events:

To learn more about TDF’s Century Club:

About The Dressage Foundation

The Dressage Foundation, located in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit donor-driven organization that is dedicated to educating, supporting and advancing the sport of dressage.  The organization solicits contributions, appropriately allocates the donations and awards grants and scholarships to dressage riders, judges, instructors, breeders, high performance teams, nonprofit equestrian organizations and more.  For more information, please visit www.dressagefoundation.org.