Under the instruction of North American Western Dressage certified judge Amanda Lane-Sommer, eight equestrians and their horses participated in a June 23 horsemanship clinic organized by club member Michelle Rasmussen of Morning Star Stables at the Tomah Saddle Club show ground. The riders learned various aspects of dressage, a type of riding generally associated with English style riding.
In recent years, stock seat riders have been adapting dressage techniques to expand their horse’s training. For centuries, dressage was generally dominated by riders wearing long-tailed jackets and top hats training their horse toward competing at Grand Prix level.
Western dressage incorporates those classical horsemanship principles for the western rider to further the communication and relationship between horse and rider.
Rasmussen organized the event to provide an opportunity for area riders to learn the various techniques and procedures of dressage training. The Tomah-area stable owner and trainer showed under Lane-Sommer in several categories at the NAWD virtual shows last year.
“We wanted to expand the opportunities to members and nonmembers interested in this popular sport and to help their horsemanship,” Rasmussen said. “I selected Amanda because she is a North American Western Dressage certified judge and she was available.”
The western dressage instructor first introduced clinic participants to the dressage court, a 20-by-40-meter arena. The outside of the dressage court is lined with markers bearing letters of the alphabet set at designated distances. The letters mark where riders are to begin a maneuver, transition to another gait or perform a halt.
“When halting at the letter, the rider’s leg should be even with the letter and the horse’s legs should be square,” Lane-Sommer said.
She worked the riders and their horses in the geometry of dressage by having them ride circles and straight lines at walk, trot and canter.
The riders were informed dressage tests also include variations of each gait. The variations include regular, working and collected strides. Lane-Sommer advised the riders the walk should receive as much attention as the faster gaits. How a horse performs at the free walk can determine the points a rider receives in a test.
“The free walk is asked for in every test, and a free walk can earn double points,” Lane-Sommer said. “It’s an opportunity to let the horse stretch and relax in the test. You want to maintain connection during the free walk, not just throw the reins away.”
Lane-Sommers advised riders to avoid developing tension in their bodies while riding.
“Stay relaxed through your body,” she said. “If you’re relaxed, you horse will be relaxed.
Relaxation is one of the “building blocks” of the dressage training pyramid. The other blocks are rhythm, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection.
Lane-Sommer and her sister Michaela Lane operate Double Lane Horsemanship near West Bend. Lane-Sommer started her training career working for a hunter-jumper stable in Virginia.
In 2014, she discovered western dressage and found it to be a good fit because it helps horses and riders of any riding discipline.
She has competed in the dressage world show in Oklahoma competing at level 1. She found the western tests are similar to the “eastern” ones; although, western tests tend to have more turns on the forehand than eastern tests.
Dressage tests are a series of maneuvers riders and their horses are to perform at the various gaits and variations of the gaits. The rider and horse are judged on how well they execute the maneuvers. As the horse and rider become more proficient at the lower level tests, they move on to more challenging tests.
Lane-Sommer had the clinic participants ride sample tests to introduce them to the particulars of competition. She instructed the riders in the etiquette involved in the tests such as the salute riders are to give the judge at the beginning and end of a test.
While many riders still haul their horses to shows to take the tests before a “live” judge, NAWD allows riders to video their rides at home and send in the tapes for evaluation. These “virtual” tests allow judges to give the riders more feedback about ways to improve their rides than in-person tests.
More information about NAWD can be found at www.northamericanwesterndressage.org. Lane-Sommer can be contacted at http://dlhorsemanship.vpweb.com/Home.html or by calling 262-343-6705.