I’ve been part of the Wahl Professional Animal team for seven years and an equestrian for nearly all my life. In my teenage years I competed in western pleasure and spent endless hours trail riding. I’ve also dabbled in reining, games, jumping, and working cattle. I love to try new disciplines and riding styles, but about five years ago I stumbled across my true love—Cowboy Dressage. At that time, I was searching for something to focus on (outside of trail riding) with my Friesian-cross gelding, Cheli, and I attended a local introductory clinic for Cowboy Dressage. I immediately fell in love with the values, people, and challenge of Cowboy Dressage. I’ve been hooked ever since.
First, the guiding principles of Cowboy Dressage promote a high-standard of horsemanship. A healthy, positive relationship between horse and rider is of the utmost importance and the rules of Cowboy Dressage are setup in the best interest of the horse. For example, the Cowboy Dressage rule book allows the rider to choose a bit based on what is best for their horse and riding level. A snaffle bit, shank bit or hackamore are allowed on any age horse. Riders can also choose to ride with one-hand or two depending on what they are most comfortable with (no matter the age of the horse). Do you have a horse that gets nervous when they are in the arena by themselves? No fear. In Cowboy Dressage, you are allowed a “buddy horse”— another horse which a friend can bring into the arena and place just outside the court while you are riding your test (to soothe your horse’s nerves). Furthermore, there are no penalties for talking to your horse or petting them when competing. These are just a few of the rules that set Cowboy Dressage apart from other disciplines and create an environment in which horsemanship is promoted and the horse is always honored.
I’ve also noticed that the values and principles of Cowboy Dressage attract a certain type of rider. The experience of the rider varies. I’ve met those with all kinds of backgrounds—reining, dressage, pleasure, barrel racing, cutting and more—but what I’ve noticed most is that Cowboy Dressage riders have open minds, friendly faces, and are non-judgmental. Every breed is welcome, and every person is welcome. Western tack and attire is required, but you don’t need anything fancy to compete. And, there are options for everyone—pro, amateur, and youth divisions are offered as well as classes for partnership on the ground, liberty, gaited horses, freestyle, vaquero, challenge courses (obstacles) and more. Because of this, the competitions are inviting. Every single event I’ve attended has been full of laughter and community. You need a caller? A stranger will happily volunteer. Your bridle broke? Someone will gladly lend you theirs.
Furthermore, Cowboy Dressage is challenging. It pushes me to be a better rider and gives me the means to grow and learn. In a Cowboy Dressage test (where a pattern is executed in a Cowboy Dressage court) you are given scores based on harmony, partnership, and “soft feel” (the ability for the rider to send messages to the horse while having the sensitivity and awareness to feel the messages the horse sends back). The rider is also scored on their preparation, execution, release, and relaxation during the test. Beyond that, precision, balance, cadence, carriage, and control are taken into consideration. That’s a lot of stuff to remember with each maneuver, right? Well, the wonderful thing is, after every test the rider receives a score sheet (from the judge) which notes a score for each portion of the rider’s test. That way you know what you need to improve and work on for the future. You don’t have to guess. And at the next event, you can ride the same test (if you so choose) and compare your score to your previous test scores. This allows you to compete with yourself, set goals, and be motivated to improve horsemanship skills and specific maneuvers.
In essence, Cowboy Dressage hooked me with its values, amazed me by it’s community, and keeps me challenged and motivated in my riding. It’s everything I could ask for to help make me a better rider and keep my horse happy.