Classical dressage and classical Western Riding have a great deal in common. Not really surprising since they both come from the same Renaissance European philosophies maintained and evolved through the practicalities of use and when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas in the early 1500’s.
These conquistadors brought with them cattle-working and warfare practices that stemmed from the classical schools of Europe and now form the basis of Western Riding today.
Dressage, was originally equestrian military training and once had a practical value when men fought with swords from horseback. Since its original purpose has become completely obsolete, modern dressage has taken a less practical and more refine form which to many classical riders is distorted.
Extremes such as an excessive contact and roll kur/hyper flexion have sadly become accepted norms in many yards. Also, with the popularity of German warmbloods, and the desire for extreme gaits – many breeds of horse have been virtually eliminated from the dressage competition scene due to their physical limitations.
In Western riding, the same has happened in competitions such as western pleasure (where an exageratedly low head carriage and slow gaits have become the norm).
The nicer aspects of Western riding, such as the looser rein, relaxed performance, and classical dressage (higher) hand position mixed with classical dressage theory is an interesting concept, and has already gained international interest.
According to the Western Dressage websitem the Western Dressage horse will have a shorter stride than a Dressage horse and the Western Dressage horse will be asked to walk, jog and lope as opposed to walk, trot and canter.
Sports such as western dressage, and working equitation are expressing the modern horsemans desire to ride correctly without causing pain to the horse, and these sports are bringing working breeds (western in the Western dressage, and baroque horses in working equitation) back into the spotlight!