Dressage is mostly "just good riding". It's about balance and lightness and rhythm. It's about making the horse more comfortable to ride and about teaching the rider to ride better. It's about teaching your horse to respond in a quick but relaxed manner to whatever you ask of him. It's about teaching him to stop without throwing himself on his forehand or jerking his head up in the air.
I disagree. Dressage may do those things, but it does so with a different goal and using a different style than traditional western riding. Dressage is NOT about "teaching your horse to respond in a quick but relaxed manner to whatever you ask of him". You can do that with a forward seat. You can do that with a chair seat. You can do that in the traditional western style of riding. You can also NOT do that in dressage, if you are a dressage buffoon - just as you can NOT do it using ANY approach to riding, if you are a buffoon.
I think all those things and more, apply to western riding as well as English Dressage. If you can manipulate your western horse easily through a gate, you're probably doing more dressage than you realize. Same with riding off your seat and neck reining - both are very, very much like dressage.
So if I do those in a forward seat, I'm doing dressage? I think not. There is a reason dressage teachers teach a style of riding. It is the style that works best for dressage. A dressage instructor won't show someone a picture of a top cutter and tell them to ride like that - unless they are being asked about cutting.
There are different styles meant to support different goals in riding. That makes sense. We do not all ride dressage.
As I see it, competing in Western Dressage is just another way to enjoy your horse and to improve your riding skills and your connection with your horse.
It is, but it uses dressage as it base, not traditional western riding.
I also think it should be mentioned that the Western horse (the Quarter horse) has it's roots in the Spanish Barbs brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. Guess what those horses were originally bred and trained to do? Bingo: Dressage. Okay, it probably wasn't called "Dressage" then, (actually it probably was, since "dressage" simply means "training"), and the saddles looked different, but the Spanish horse was (and still is today) built for collection and for use as a good riding horse for war, and working cattle, and just about every other purpose a horse might be used for.
Is collection foreign to Western horses? I don't think so. A western horse doing a sliding stop is collected. A western horse can not to a proper roll-back or spin without being collected.
TEMPORARY, SHORT DURATION collection. The ultimate goal of dressage is sustained, collected gaits (per the FEI). You can teach momentary collection to a horse in one ride. It doesn't require years of training. Dressage, OTOH, rewards certain builds of horses and requires years of training - because its goals differ from traditional western riding.
Sustained collection is SLOW. The West is BIG. BIG & SLOW don't match well.
I'm sure any horse in any western show class would be penalized if he went along leaning on his forehand, or with a hollowed back and his nose up in the air. Why? Because western judges are looking for "collection" too.
No, they are looking for balance. Leaning on the forehand is not balanced. I was reminded of that last night, when I rode my mare in a snaffle for a change, and she kept trying her old trick of cantering with her nose at the ground. My back is throbbing right now from fighting her. She can do a relaxed & balanced canter when she wants, but she will never get the training required for a true collected canter gait. And that is OK. Just as it is OK to want to teach sustained, collected gaits.
Not to mention that English dressage classes all include the "free walk" which is virtually identical to low headed, stretching down, Western walk.
That 'western walk' is a fad used in some sports (WP). It is not how most horses move on the open range. West. Range. Open spaces. Long distances. Barrel racing tests certain facets of movements used in a lot of traditional western riding - speed and quick turns. Dressage does not. That does not make dressage wrong. It just isn't traditional western riding, rooted in the ranches of the west.
So, so many similarities. I'm surprised no one thought of this before.