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Outside: Style and intricacies of Western dressage are catching on in region

Posted: February 23, 2014 - 12:34am
Chelsea McHose of St. Augustine and her horse Buddy make their way past the judges' booth as they compete in the arena in a Western dressage event on Feb. 16. The Northeast Florida Dressage Association Spring Series show at the Clay County Fairgrounds featured competitors in both English and Western dressage disciplines.
Bob Self/The Times-Union
Chelsea McHose of St. Augustine and her horse Buddy make their way past the judges' booth as they compete in the arena in a Western dressage event on Feb. 16. The Northeast Florida Dressage Association Spring Series show at the Clay County Fairgrounds featured competitors in both English and Western dressage disciplines.
Lynn Shinkle of Hilliard talks with young Western dressage rider Mya Lundquist, atop Isn't It Obvious, during a break in activity Feb. 16.   Bob Self/The Times-Union
Bob Self/The Times-Union
Lynn Shinkle of Hilliard talks with young Western dressage rider Mya Lundquist, atop Isn't It Obvious, during a break in activity Feb. 16.

Western dressage is leaving its footprints in the equestrian community — one trot, walk and canter at a time.

With its smooth, harmonious movements, it’s becoming one of the area’s fastest-growing outdoor activities.

That’s no surprise to Callahan’s Lynn Shinkle, the president of the Western Dressage Association of Florida.

“Western dressage is about training your horse up the levels, using principles that have been around for years and years with traditional dressage horses,” she said. “It’s all the same, just in a Western saddle.”

Western dressage is a newer form of the sport, derived from the older English dressage. But its European heritage doesn’t mean newcomers should be intimidated.

Western Dressage 101: Key tips for the first-time competitor

“A lot of times, the Western riders have been kind of fearful of this dressage thing, thinking it’s this English, hoity-toity thing. It’s not,” Shinkle said. “Basically it’s training. Dressage means training, at a very high level.”

A former traditional dressage rider, Shinkle learned about Western dressage several years ago. Since then, she’s been active in promoting the sport across Northeast Florida.

“Dressage is about the journey, because you never really get to the end,” Shinkle said. “Just those little steps when the horse softens and gives and bends, you go, ‘I felt it. I felt it. She’s getting it.’ ”

The recent spike in Western dressage interest has raised the profile of the sport as a whole, according to Northeast Florida Dressage Association president Kate Johnson. Her organization coordinates dressage activities, both Western and English, across the region.

“Our participation in our local schooling shows has doubled in the last year, and a lot of that is thanks to the Western dressage inclusion,” she said. “Today we have 20 rides of 115 [total], which is a huge jump from last year. We’re really excited to embrace every element of dressage in the community.”

The sport is also expanding its appeal to younger riders like Maya Lundquist, riding her horse Isn’t It Obvious at a Feb. 16 show at the Clay County Fairgrounds in Green Cove Springs.

“I love training for it, working with my horse and learning new skills,” she said. “It really helps him and I both grow.”

Shinkle said Western dressage has grown rapidly in Northeast Florida. The association set a new high with 20 participants in February’s show — steps that she says can sow the seeds for further development.

“We hope to have clinics,” she said. “We hope to have train-the-trainer events, where we can get trainers in that understand what judges are looking for.”

The association is aiming for a three-ring event in the future, with one ring dedicated entirely to Western dressage.

Although impressing the judges to earn high scores is the objective in competition, the basic challenge of dressage is for rider and horse to work together in harmony.

Johnson said that makes dressage, whether the Western or English style, a rewarding experience for all.

“It’s not about who’s in your class or who you’re competing against on a particular day. You compete against yourself and you compete against your score,” Johnson said. “It’s energizing, and you always shoot for that goal to do better than you did the last time.”