A Western Dressage Clinic With Julie Goodnight

by Pat Van Buskirk

What a treat – Julie Goodnight teaching Western Dressage on a cool Spring day at Latigo Trails Heritage Center in Elbert. Latigo’s wonderful facilities are A-1 – indoor and outdoor arena, indoor restrooms, a full service restaurant and even a bar.

Julie Goodnight is best known for her award-winning television show airing weekly on RFD-TV—Horse Master with Julie Goodnight, where she combines natural horsemanship skills with classical riding. Julie emphasizes safety for the rider and obedience for the horse, plus has a keen skill in imparting her knowledge to riders and spectators alike.

I had the pleasure of riding in this clinic – all eight hours of it – and believe, me, we worked. Julie managed to cram her normal two-day clinic into one day for the Western Dressage Association® of Colorado. The riders were all top-notch and the clinic moved along smoothly without stress on either the horse or rider.

 julieInstructingWe began on a “free walk”, as we call it in Western Dressage. Julie instructed us to put our horses on the rail and ask them to walk a straight line to each corner of the arena, stretched out with a free, draped rein. The objective was to see if our horses could stay the course without our fussing with them. Julie explained that if we are always holding our horses in a line, we end up nagging and picking at them, creating an adversarial relationship. Instead, she asked us to trust our horses to do the right thing and correct when they didn’t. Within just a few minutes, our horses were walking straight toward where we had pointed them, stretched out and relaxed.

Julie instructed us in position, beginning with stirrup length. She stressed how difficult it is to maintain correct position if stirrup length is incorrect and adjusted lengths for several of the riders. Next, she instructed us in proper body position, with the alignment of heels to hips to shoulders to head. As each rider passed, she helped us align our body in order to move with our horse.

As the day progressed, we learned about aids, including reins, legs and seat position. Julie teaches control of the horse with your seat and legs, using the reins only for corrections. We practiced speed control, turning and stopping, all from our body position, and some riders were even moving their horses around the arena with the reins lying on their horses’ necks.

“Learning occurs in transition,” Julie explained to us. We worked on walk-trot, trot-walk, trot-canter, canter-trot and for some of the more advanced horses, walk-canter and canter-walk. Each of these transitions was initiated with our body position, using our legs or reins only for corrections, and soon the horses were responding from our bodies alone.

Julie truly is a master, in both teaching horses and their riders. As a member of the Advisory Board for the Western Dressage Association® of America, she was able to explain rules, tests and where we are going in our new discipline. Her knowledge and her ability to communicate with any rider, at any level, is truly and gift and we are so fortunate to have her as a part of our organization.

Thank you Julie, and thank you to Nancy Miller, WDACO Clinic Coordinator, Mary Gunn, WDACO President and the many board members who made this clinic possible. It was indeed a treat!