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Western Dressage: An Arena for Inspiring Young Riders

Published on 5/28/2018

Our guest blogger this month is Ann Marie Avansino, a graduate of the WDAA Train the Trainers™ program. With 20 years experience as a riding instructor, the last eight of which have been at her own Wild Wine Farm in Linden, CA, Ann Marie has dedicated herself to sharing sound horse handling and riding techniques to riders of all ages and abilities.

Train The Trainers (TTT) 2014-25DAnn is a CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association) instructor, and studied at the Classical Stock Seat School of Arizona. She has been a Youth Ministry Professional for 30 years. By combining these life passions, she gives young people the opportunity to develop compassion, dependability, accountability, self-confidence, respect and meaningful relationships not only with horses but others as well.

This month, Ann Marie shares with us some great tips for using Western Dressage to start young riders on the path to becoming good horse people and good teammates.


As young people begin their journey with horses, Western Dressage gives them a venue to develop confidence, horsemanship, and advance skills that strengthen the connection between horse and rider. Young riders also learn teamwork and gain lasting friendships while building an understanding of the sport.

Alois Podhajsky, in his book The Riding Teacher states, “ It should be every pupil’s serious endeavor to learn as much as possible from his teacher and to enjoy the process of learning.”

The dressage arena sets the stage for instructors to motivate and inspire students to learn, with a classical mindset at the core of all instruction. Building the connection between horse and rider and developing responsibility to the horse and his well being puts a happy, healthy horse before the greed for ribbons. The pursuit of your horse as partner, team mate and friend comes first! It is the desire to improve, not the prize, that makes a lifelong horseman.

Some of the ways we use Western Dressage training and events to build a horse/rider team while also teaching riders to support each other in the barn and at shows  include:

  • Pair advanced youth riders with beginners to foster peer to peer mentoring. Hold tack and boot cleaning competitions, horse grooming contests, stall cleaning events, best homemade horse treat bake-offs, and best circle or straight line competitions. At shows, name the most helpful pair ‘Show MVPs.’
  • Learn tests by forming small teams (3-4) and have a “two feet on the ground” challenge. The students learn the pattern on the ground before learning it on horseback.
  • Include youth in Western Dressage Clinics (auditing and riding) and multiple learning opportunities. Assign videos to watch via the barn Facebook page, and invite riders to post discussion comments. Assign and rotate roles of videographer and photographer, and allow the youth team to post photos.
  • Spend time with the show team to review tests together and share the judge’s comments. Set goals for the team such as “The judge commented on every exhibitor that we need more bend. This week let’s help each other with bend.”
  • Give youth who are new to horse shows duties such as Head Groom or Lead Equipment Agent before they go as an exhibitor.

“To set an example of conduct implies a great obligation.” Adolis Podhajsky.

As instructors, we must all set the example of being coached. Every professional athlete has a coach, so should we. Allowing our students to see us being coached builds an open attitude towards lifelong learning.

We are in an exciting time of rapid growth in Western Dressage, and the future of any organization lies with the inspiration of its youngest members. Building an environment for our young riders that develops a classical mindset and gives them the opportunity for personal growth and team work is an important endeavor and one that will ensure the future of Western Dressage.

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California Western Dressage Association

785 Tucker Road #G410
Tehachapi, CA 93561