Training and Showing In-Hand: NAWD’s Six Feet on the Ground Program

North American Western Dressage Six Feet on the Ground 2016 Credits: Jen Johnson

Thanks to the Internet, a new type of horse competition is growing in popularity: virtual horse shows. During these competitions, hosted by North American Western Dressage, patterns are posted online to be performed in front of a video camera stationed at “C” — the point in the arena where a traditional dressage judge sits during riders’ performances. Videos are then uploaded to YouTube and evaluated by certified judges. A few days later, placings are announced and awards are distributed.

While there are a number of riding classes in each show, some of the most popular are unmounted pattern classes called “Six Feet on the Ground.”

“In Six Feet on the Ground, we emphasize the principles in the training scale, which are applicable to every discipline and provide a working model for success even before we get in the saddle,” NAWD President and Founder Jen Johnson said. “Working with your horse on the ground is the first step in developing a partnership and we should consistently take the opportunity to evaluate this most basic foundation-building activity.”

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Six Feet on the Ground is not showmanship or halter class. There are 10 patterns to choose from that progress and incorporate classical training principles that both horse and handler are evaluated on. Additionally, NAWD hosts in-hand trail and in-hand freestyle classes at some shows and has recently added long-reining, too.

The “Six Feet on the Ground” program from NAWD is an ideal way to keep you and your horse fit any season of the year. It does not require a dressage court or formal arena, and horses are shown in a simple halter and lead rope or cavesson. Tests 9 and 10 allow for a snaffle bit to be incorporated as the horse and handler prepare to transition to long-reining or saddle work. Chains are not allowed, and the competitor wears a neat western or English outfit, plus any protective clothing to keep horse or handler comfortable. 

“There are many different ways that people train their horses on the ground, and this program allows them freedom and flexibility to work with their horse in the way that is most effective for them,” Jen said. “One of the coolest things is that Six Feet on the Ground is very versatile. From younger horses to those who compete under saddle, to those who are retired from riding, Six Feet on the Ground is a great option.”

Equestrians report that the Six Feet on the Ground program has helped them build a solid foundation and partnership with their horses.

Learn more at

Submitted by Lindsey Buhrmann

Lindsey Buhrmann is the year-end 2016 Adult Amateur Champion for the North American Western Dressage groundwork program, Six Feet on the Ground. Although a brain injury prevents her from riding, she spends her days working with her horse in-hand.

About North American Western Dressage

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, as well as virtual coaching and showing opportunities, achievement awards and more. Learn more about NAWD at and at

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