North American Western Dressage (NAWD) is dedicated to providing access to equine education and solid training fundamentals to horsemen around the world. NAWD member Jodie Palella from New York shares her personal journey and how NAWD has helped her and “Hallmark” take their partnership to new heights.

Horses have been my obsession for as long as I can remember, though growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., made being around them a bit of a challenge. I'd do anything I could to scrape up enough money for an hour trail ride at the local stable. Lessons were out of the question. I had enough natural ability to be asked to become a trail guide — I was 13, and it was this horse-crazy girl’s dream come true. I got to ride lots of different horses all day long, every weekend. My days were spent taking groups of people through the trails and galloping up and down the beach. It was a great experience, but I still dreamed of having a horse of my own.

With some savings and birthday money, I bought my first horse for my 16th birthday. At 16, with only a part time job, paying board at a New York City stable left me once again with no money for lessons, so I had to be content with trail riding. Fast forward 30 years, I decide I'd like to do some team penning. I didn't think I’d find a "real" cow horse here in the Northeast, so I just Googled “cutting horses in Weatherford, Texas.” I found an ad, made a call, talked to an owner and a trainer, watched a video, mailed a check and got a 4-year-old cutting/reining horse delivered to my door a month later! It was kind of a crazy way to buy a horse, but I got super lucky. He was everything they said he'd be.

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It didn't take me long to realize that Commander Hallmark knew a lot more than I did, so I tried to get help. I went to various trainers for lessons, but good Western trainers are in short supply around my area. While I tried my best to be the rider that this fine horse deserved, I spent the next 15 years turning this light, soft, sensitive horse into one who was over-reactive, hiding behind the vertical and would, on occasion, get annoyed enough to try to buck me off. By chance, I took a handful of dressage lessons with him right around the time Western dressage began to surface in this area. That led us to doing local schooling shows pretty successfully.

The thing that always bothered me at these shows were how ridiculously high our scores were. The comments were vague. I'd have preferred honest feedback over ribbons and inflated scores. I didn't really click with the trainer I was using, and I really wanted to compete in reining. That's when I discovered NAWD. This program is by far the best thing that's ever happened to me. I discovered the ranch horse program and realized that that was the perfect discipline for me. The organization provides me with access to the help and training I've been searching for over 40 years. I submitted a video to be judged in my first virtual ranch horse show just over a year ago. The judge’s comments were very long, detailed and accurate — she didn't miss a thing. She saw mistakes that I never thought anyone would catch in a video. I knew right away that I’d finally found my trainer.

I've been working with Julie Slater, the judge from that fateful video, for just over a year now. She based my first lesson on the video she had judged. My lesson plan told me what she wanted me to do with my horse, and it included videos and diagrams as well. I've never found it easier to learn, and I love having all of the information to refer back to. I'm finally getting the equine education I've always wanted. My relationship with my horse is now the one I’d always hoped for. “Hallmark” is 19 now and doesn't hide behind the bit anymore. He’s once again soft, light, responsive and very happy in his job. I really owe everything to NAWD.

Start Your Journey

North American Western Dressage offers a variety of programs designed for virtual learning, wherever “home” might be. Whether you enjoy Western or traditional dressage, ranch horse, trail, groundwork or something else, there’s a place for you in NAWD. Virtual training through NAWD’s testing program gives you access to detail-oriented trainers from around the country, all of whom are dedicated to improving the partnership between you and your horse using the tenants of good dressage training. NAWD’s virtual showing and TRAX programs provide added incentive to test your partnership in competition, providing the opportunity to feed your competitive spirit and evaluate your journey while also earning great prizes, too.

Palella competes in the Ranch Horse Program, which is found at

Learn more about NAWD and join the family today at

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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