North American Western Dressage Takes a Stand Against “Behind The Vertical”

North American Western Dressage (NAWD) is dedicated to protecting the welfare of all horses being ridden in competition. It is with that goal in mind that NAWD has taken a public stance against horses being ridden “behind the vertical” and enacted steps to protect horses against this style of riding in NAWD competitions.

Western dressage has continued to gain popularity and competition participation has increased; as such, participants continue to look for examples of good or bad riding. Professionals and judges of Western dressage are often asked, “What is the look I need to have to win?” At NAWD, our best answer is, “The look that is right for your horse based on that moment in time.” The Western dressage horse comes in all shapes, sizes and abilities, and as such, there is not a single “perfect” look; there are, however, universal correct biomechanics that are relevant to protecting the welfare of the horse.

As Western dressage continues to develop, NAWD leaders have noticed the perception that a horse held in tight check through the reins may be viewed as being “collected,” “on the bit” and “in a working frame.” In actuality, many of these horses are being pulled behind the vertical with the reins, thus closing the angle of the throatlatch and constricting breathing while also affecting the freedom and relaxed movement sought in the correct Western dressage horse. Scientific evidence has proven that when a horse positions his head and neck with the frontal plane of the face behind an imaginary perpendicular line from the ground to the eye, he loses 10–12% of his breathing capacity. (To read some of the scientific research, visit the International Society for Equitation Science HERE.)

Riding a horse behind the vertical is wrong in any discipline. Simply put, it is wrong for the development, welfare, longevity and nobility of the horse. This is the position we have always held at NAWD, and we are now encouraging others to take a firm stance against it, too. We invite you to pledge your support to stand with us against behind the vertical at


When you take the pledge, your name will be published on the NAWD website as a supporter of protecting the horse from the detrimental effects caused by riding behind the vertical.

In line with NAWD’s continued efforts to educate, promote competition opportunities and to protect the welfare of the horse, the organization’s judging and education team have enacted new guidelines that instruct our judges to award a score of no greater than a 4 (insufficient) when a horse is ridden behind the vertical with no attempt made by the rider to correct this issue. The rules went into effect February 1, 2016.

Read more about the NAWD Licensed Judges Guidelines at We welcome other competitive organizations to use this guidance as a model for protecting the welfare of the horse as well.

NAWD Professional Members are lining up to take the pledge as supporters of protecting horses from the detrimental effects caused by riding behind the vertical. Noted equine professionals John Saint Ryan of California and Andrew McLean, PhD, of Australia have also voiced support for NAWD’s competition guidance on this issue.

North American Western Dressage (NAWD) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating horse enthusiasts about the universal benefits of Western dressage and providing fun, affordable ways to participate in this popular new sport. NAWD offers a variety of programs—Six Feet on the Ground groundwork tests, traditional Western Dressage, Western Dressage Trail and Ranch Horse Western Dressage, and Pre-Intro Western Dressage for even the youngest exhibitors–as well as virtual coaching and showing opportunities, achievement awards and more. Learn more about NAWD at and at






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