Marchadors & Dressage, a letter to the USDF

From Alessandra Deerinck:

A few months ago, with the support of some other people have written a proposal to USEF/USDF to officially open the discipline of dressage to gaited horses by introducing separate classes to judge them.
What do you think?
I am looking for suggestions and more support.  Contact me: Alessandra Deerinck DVM ph: +1 760 715 1554

Here is the document that is in the hands of USEF and USDF and will be submitted to the rules committee:
To whom it may concern at USEF/USDF

Currently, horsemanship – the interaction between horse and human – is evolving at a fast pace and in a direction that considers the welfare of the horse more than previously.
The present culture has created a strong awareness for the welfare of the horse. People are being held accountable for how they interact with their horses in obtaining the performance they seek. Horsemen and their horses reflect the culture of the community they live in. It is up to the individual to establish values, and conventions that are ethical and humane, to benefit us, and the creatures with whom we share our lives.
Like many other countries, the United States of America was developed through the work of our ancestors with the cooperation of domestic horses to transport armies, workers, merchandise or mail. While the use that man makes of the horse has taken many connotations, it is interesting to note how the horse’s behavior towards man has never changed over time, and the classical rules of horsemanship remain valid. Because it is no longer necessary to use horses as work instruments, people who opt to have one in their life freely choose to do so, and do it for pleasure.
Over time some human beings were allowed to distort the meaning of locomotion into a theatrical act, altering the natural gait of the some horses by introducing practices that are abusive and unethical. Unfortunately this became an accepted practice in the United States of America, and is still a common image that people picture when they hear the words “gaited horse”.
Some organizations, like FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) have been active in the support of the efforts of the USDA to eliminate the barbaric practices of the breeds identified in the Horse Protection Act. Because of these practices, all gaited breeds and gaited horses carry a stigma. Now it is time for a change. Support from the USEF/USDF, provided by giving a space for healthy and sound performance to the gaited horses, can be extremely beneficial.
True gait is scientifically proven to be part of the genetics of a horse (genetic research done on DMRT3 is one example). Scientific studies have found equine genetics to be so strongly defined, and efficient, that the equine species has always been able to adapt to the times it lived in, and can also revert to its wild state, if given the opportunity, and the right natural setting. True gait is natural, performed from birth, but can be deeply influenced by the interaction between human and horse. This is one reason for which it is important to give riders healthy guidelines to regulate equestrian sports.
A horse with a breed specific gait is different from a horse that has the three traditional gaits (walk, trot and canter) only by the way it moves.  Gaited horses provide a smooth comfortable way to move on horseback and are an asset to the equestrian community. Because of the comfort of their smooth gait, gaited horses have proven to be exceptional athletes in endurance as well as to benefit to many younger, older or impaired riders who can continue to ride.

The Request– The creation of dedicated classes for gaited horses at USDF/USEF shows

Currently, because gaited horses do not trot, they are not acceptable in the discipline of Dressage as defined by the FEI.
The following are our supporting reasons for our request:
– Gaited Dressage is of interest to many owners of gaited horses. Although a small percentage of the equestrian world, there are many riders of gaited horses who practice dressage as a way of interacting with their horse. Gaited horses can benefit by being given an opportunity to express themselves in a sound and healthy manner. Dressage is training, and good training is necessary for any breed of horses.
– USEF has supported other styles of riding in the past. Western Dressage is recognized by USEF. Both WDAA, NAWD and Cowboy Dressage have opened their doors to gaited horses. Although appreciated, these competitions are not held everywhere, and are in the western style of riding. This does not satisfy the wishes of those who ride in the English style and follow the classical discipline of Dressage.
– Dressage has a strong tradition, built throughout the centuries, and is a well-established discipline across our nation. It is important to provide an official space to compete in dressage for gaited horses that are ridden in an English style. But, most importantly ,to do so under the authority of the recognized official organization, to prevent the introduction of modifications that could alter the classical principles. At the actual time, there is no officially recognized, nationwide venue, for the people who practice dressage with gaited horses in the English style, to congregate with other likeminded equestrians.
– While it would be difficult to conduct dressage shows just for a small number of horses such as the gaited horse community spread throughout the US, it is however possible to add classes for gaited horses in the areas where they are present, during regular and already sanctioned dressage shows.
– Creating classes for gaited horses with the rules and regulations of traditional dressage would provide gaited horses a new, and at the same time classic, avenue for performance. The addition of special classes or categories would greatly benefit the welfare of the gaited horses at this pivotal time. It would provide riders and their horses a safe and sound niche to express themselves. No harm will be done to the discipline of dressage by allowing show managers to have dedicated classes, if they operate in areas that have riders with gaited horses willing to attend. Riders with gaited horses would embrace and conform to the discipline of Dressage, its culture, rules, regulations, tack and attire, and become new members of USEF/USDF
– It can all begin at a schooling level, and eventually evolve from there.
If separate classes for gaited horses will added, gaited horses would perform according to dressage rules, but would use their breed specific gait rather than the trot. The official tests could be modified, by substituting the specific intermediate gait for the trot.
Gait evaluation is included in the dressage scoring system. Guidelines such as freedom and regularity of gait can be applied to gaited horse classes keeping in mind the differences in biomechanics. Dressage classes for gaited horses do not have to evaluate the quality of the horse’s gait according to the breed specific criteria. This would be the subject of Breed Shows.
The criteria for evaluating each breed specific gait are already classified standards and can be used by a judge, if he wishes to get informed about a gaited horse breed. Resources can be found in the work of IJA (Independent Judges Association), an existing organization whose expertise is to evaluate gait, with experience within many different gaited horse breeds.
– At this specific time in history we feel that this request is appropriate and can benefit the welfare of the horse, and we are asking the USEF and USDF to consider it, and open the doors to the owners and riders of gaited horses who are interested in Dressage as the discipline of choice under the approved classical standards.

We thank USEF/USDF for considering our inquiry.

Alessandra Deerinck DVM San Marcos CA
Nancy Zadrozny Ramona CA
Pauline Stotsemberg Murrieta CA
Theresa Longo MD Riverside CA
Jacob Martinez Riverside CA
Dianne Little CANADA
Lynn Kelley AZ CO
Nicole Mauser Storer IL
Scot MacGregor
Rosie Heffley CA
Eric Stenne CANADA
Noelle Vander Brink FL
Valerie Giacalone Lewiston UT
Lynn O. Boone NC
Rebecca N. Boone NC
Charles R. Tracy NC
Alexandre Alcoforado Lowell MA
Aline Oliveira Greene Lexington SC
Terry Fitch Magnolia, Texas
Laurie Klassen Sask. CANADA
Brooke Little Ocala, FL
David Tanner Ocala, FL
Faye Little Ocala, FL
Sharon Johnson Lakeside CA
Peggy Dean Santee CA
Nichole Perry Lakeside CA
Vivian Thwaites Escondido CA
Eloise King Los Angeles CA