The discipline I’m learning is Cowboy Dressage. Almost every rider I meet who learns I’m attempting this somewhat new field of riding says, “I’d really love to get into that,” so I thought I’d share a little bit of why I love it.
First, is the dressage part. Dressage means the art of training. I love training my horse and improving our skills together. Some of you may not know what classical dressage involves, but when people ask me what it is, I say “dancing with your horse.” At the highest levels of classical dressage, riders seem to float along as their horses dance across a riding ring. I’m nowhere near that level, but the good thing is, I don’t have to be at a high level to learn and enjoy the aspects of classical dressage I will eventually master that are found in cowboy dressage. The best part about dressage is the beautifully high level of communication between my horse and myself. For you women riders out there, it is comparable to your husband really, completely listening to each of the 10,000 words you try to share at dinner. After a good practice with my horse, Ollie, I feel as though somebody completely gets me. He listens and enjoys the conversation of our dressage practice.
Cowboy dressage differs from classical dressage in several ways. First, and a great thing for me, is that posting is optional. I have terrible arthritis in my knees, and posting hurts a great deal. So I sit the trot gently, I hope. Second, of course in cowboy dressage, riders use a western saddle. The patterns used for events also differ from classical dressage slightly, as they are all focused on the circle, rather than asking mounts to go deep into corners. The patterns of cowboy dressage include lots of circles, both twenty meter and ten meter, pivot turns on the haunches and forehand, change of gates from walk to jog to canter at specified letters, just like classical dressage, and change within the trot from free jog to working jog, and free lope to working lope. Horses must also stop and back when the rider enters and leaves the ring, as patterns require. The challenge of executing these patterns involves making these changes of gait and direction precisely where the pattern demands, and doing so in a collected frame when at the working walk, jog, and lope. When the horse changes to the free walk, jog, or lope, the horse’s frame should stretch out and become more extended, while the gate itself becomes quicker. As most dressage riders would agree, this all takes place very quickly, so the partners in the dance have to communicate quickly and well. In the more advanced challenge court, the horses also have to pass over poles on the ground as they produce these patterns. One of the goals of cowboy dressage is that riders encourage their horses to do all these patterns with a light contact on the reins.
Another difference from classical dressage involves the type of horses used. In classical dressage, riders usually desire large and expensive breeds with big movement. Stock type horses, including quarter horses, paints, and palominos form the backbone of the cowboy dressage movement. In addition the men who have spearheaded cowboy dressage, Jack Brainard and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, emphasize that in this discipline competition is for fun and learning, and membership is based on a handshake and a promise to attempt to emulate the concept of training your horse gently, with the goal of light contact on the bit and partnership with your horse. I’m a fairly new horse owner and trainer, and I love having a job to give my horse in learning these basic and fun patterns and gaits. The communication between me and my horse that comes out of this training is the biggest part of the joy for me. I really love the improvement I’m seeing in my riding as well. If you are looking for a fun way to improve your communication with your horse, your horse’s balance and gaits, find a cowboy dressage clinic or event and come ride! Your can learn more about cowboy dressage at www.cowboydressageusa.com.