Dressage comes from the French word, “to train or drill”. Originally dressage was training for war horses. They were taught to execute manuevers to maim the enemy and protect the rider. Today dressage is no longer about training for military actions. It is however a highly competitive discipline of horseback riding in which large numbers engage.
Western dressage is the blend of “dressage” techniques using western tack and with a less rigid rein action. The horse is requested to perform many of the same dressage movements that our trail horses receive as part of their routine trail training. As an example, our horses are taught to open and close gates. The horse is side-passed to the gate and once unlatched, asked to step sideways pushing the gate until open or closed.
Climbing over rocks and fallen trees involves dressage as the horse is asked to place his feet in particular positions as part of the everyday training given. Learning foot positioning gives discipline to the horse that translates into rider control and ultimately a safer horse. By using ranch and trail obstacles for the training, the horse learns quicker and starts to understand a purpose for the training rather than rote drills. Giving the horse a job to do while training brings purpose to learning.
Rainee McGeehan makes the point on how much better a trail horse performs that has dressage training. See Western Dressage Association post. I suppose we see it just the opposite, i.e., how much better a western dressage horse performs that has been given a lot of trail training. If you enjoy dressage, mix in some trail training to make your horse better in the ring!