Any time you are getting into a different discipline, it is important to know what tack is allowed in competition. The smart rider will research ahead of time to learn all the rules about what tack is permitted and what is not.
I recommend practicing at home with the tack you plan to use at the show. This is so important! Train with at home the bridles, bits, and saddles/pads that you would use at a show. This allows you and your horse to be familiar with the tack and helps avoid unpleasant surprises on show day.
Most people will have a nice show saddle that fits the horse and rider, but never use it unless they are at a show. Instead of using their “good” saddle at home to school and practice in, they may have a “working” saddle, but one of poor quality that does not fit the horse and rider. If you want to ride well you have to have properly fitting tack for you and your horse. Properly fitting tack will allow you to have better balance in the saddle.
Bits are another topic. Some people will train at home with a milder bit and use a harsher bit at the show. I advise against this practice because it will only cause problems. When a horse goes to a show, he is in new and unfamiliar surroundings. A new place will always make a horse more sensitive. Using a more severe or responsive bit to get control of a horse who is more reactive at a show will only intensify the horse’s reactions even more.
Keep the same bit and use the mildest bit possible to promote relaxation. A relaxed mouth will always give you a more responsive horse.
The Western Dressage Association of America is very new, only a few years old. The association just released their rules a few months ago, which you can find at their website, https://westerndressageassociation.org/. Please refer to page 14 through 17 for all the tack and attire rules. Let’s summarize what tack is required:
Headstalls and Bits
• Western headstalls – a western cavesson is optional
• Smooth snaffles, 3-piece smooth snaffles, or mullen mouthpiece bits are allowed. Use the snaffle for any level test and all ages of horses. Snaffles are ridden with two hands.
• Hackamore (bosal) can be used in Introductory and Basic Levels only.
• Curb bits can be used on any age of horse and any level. They can be ridden with two hands. If you refer to the tack rules, you will find the specific sizes and types of bits that are legal. (You should also review the section on illegal bits so you don’t use the wrong one.)
Saddles and Whips
• Western saddles that are permitted include stock saddles, work saddles, Aussie, or native or side saddle can be used. Silver on saddles will not count over good working equipment. A horn on the saddle is not required.
• Whips are allowed no longer than 47.2”.
• Check out the section on illegal equipment, as it shows other miscellaneous Western tack that it not permitted.
I have worked for more than 25 years with a family-owned saddle maker company from North Carolina called Phil Harris Leather. I have developed a western dressage schooling and/or show saddle for us ladies of light weight (under 130 lbs). It has a Quarter Horse tree that will fit most breeds of horses and has wonderful balance. If you would like to see what it looks like you can visit my website at www.lynnpalm.com. It takes about three months to receive a saddle once you’ve ordered one because they are all handmade, and the Phil Harris saddles are very popular. If you would like to try one of our test ride saddles, I would be more than happy to send you one.
If I can help you with any tack questions or fit, please email me at email@example.com. Now, get out there and try a western dressage test to get your feet wet. I know that if you do, you will love it!
Also, we would love to have you come ride with us. We love to share our dressage backgrounds and knowledge with you. You can join us at our Ocala, Florida, farm or at one of our Ride Well Clinics on our USA Tour at a location near you.
If you would like to train with Lynn & Cyril at home with Western Dressage, take advantage of the following supportive training materials:
Head To Toe Horsemanship
Western Dressage – A Guide To Take You
To Your First Show
A Rider Guide To Real Collection
“Dressage Principles for the Western Horse & Rider” Volume 1, Parts 1-5
“Dressage Principles for The Western & English Horse & Rider” Volume 2, Parts 1-3
“Let Your Horse Be Your Teacher” Parts 1 & 2
Books: Head To Toe Horsemanship Western Dressage—A Guide to Take You to Your First Show A Rider Guide to Real Collection
DVDs: “Dressage Principles for the Western Horse & Rider” Volume 1 Parts 1-5 “Dressage Principles for the Western & English Horse & Rider” Volume 2, Parts 1-3 “Let Your Horse Be Your Teacher” Parts 1&2
For more information on these training materials and more, as well as clinics, please visit www.lynnpalm.com or call us at 800-503-2824.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 11