Here is everything I know in a nutshell:
Good riding is always good riding, It does not matter what type of tack your horse is wearing.
Horse-crazy since I can remember, I grew up in Germany. I started taking dressage lessons as a child. I rode school horses, and soon also horses no one else wanted to ride. Instruction consisted mostly of imperatives: heels down, eyes up, reins shorter, sit straighter, use more leg, more energy, work harder. I tried. I wanted to be a good rider, but deep down I wondered: does it have to be so hard? I wanted to enjoy riding. Even more than that, I wanted the horses I rode to enjoy being ridden.
During the mid-1980’s, when I was a teenager, Western style riding made its first appearance in Europe. I remember watching reining horses for the first time — short, stocky Quarter Horses who could slide and spin and do flying lead changes on a totally loose rein. They, and their riders, looked relaxed, like these movements didn’t cost them any effort at all. My jaw dropped. I knew I wanted to learn how to ride like that.
After graduating from high school, I moved to the Southwestern United States and spent several years as an assistant to successful Western trainers. I became good at starting young horses in a round pen before Natural Horsemanship was a buzz word, but during that time I lost many illusions about horse shows. I realized that not all horses who perform on a loose rein are happy and relaxed, and that not all dressage horses are tense just because they are ridden with contact.
I started my own training business almost twenty years ago, and have worked with many different breeds of horses ever since: Quarter Horses, Arabians, Mustangs, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods. Many had other, often not very successful careers in disciplines like Hunter-Jumper, Racing, Western Pleasure, or Reining before they found their way into my program. Some of them had serious trust issues with humans. Very few were talented dressage horses in a traditional sense. Yet, they all benefited from dressage-based training. I realized that my early focus on riding dressage was not a waste of time after all. I realized that it doesn’t matter what kind of tack we put on our horses, as long as it allows communication. The basic principles I learned from my Western mentors very closely resemble those of dressage: we all want a calm, balanced, light, straight, responsive, and happy horse.
Happy horses are more beautiful.