WESTERN DRESSAGE by JACK BRAINARD
Cowboy Dressage: An Evolution in Horsemanship.

In my reading, I find that the word Dressage means “training”, and since all horsemen have seen a little of Dressage, it is not completely foreign to them.  Since this form of horsemanship is ages old (knights in armor practicing a little of it), we know that control of movement is the basis, and old world horsemen developed it and brought it to an art form.  There were many of these great horsemen practicing intricate movements on their horses one thousand years ago and they surely did not have the quality of horses that we do today.  Here are a few of them:  Xenophon-200 BC, Pluvinal-1200, Carriciolo-1600, Newcastle-1675, De la Guerinere-1751 and Baucher-1865.  These men could do fabulous things with a horse.

Dressage is not new, but its beginnings are much in evidence today. Through these hundreds of years Modern Dressage has evolved and during the last century it has become competitive. 

Since I am by no means an authority on the art, I still hold an avid interest in it because it is the only form of pure horsemanship that I have ever seen; the only one there is. 

In my observation however, I feel that modern day Dressage experts are highly opinionated.  They feel there is only one way to train a horse and that you must not do this or that and their judges feel the same.  It is a ridged formality and your horse must be trained and shown in the prescribed manner.  Exactly as they were years ago: body straight, no leaning, ride with seat etc. 

Surely in modern times with better horses we can discover new or better results with some variations in that ridged protocol just as cowboys found a better way to start colts.   As an illustration: 60 years ago there was one standard method of starting a colt.  You pulled up a hind leg and whipped on him with a sack.  All cowboys knew about “sacking him out.”   It was based on restraint. Today our colt starters can walk into a round pen and be riding the colt quietly in 45 minutes.  They discovered a new method.

I am thinking there can be new innovations in training Dressage horses as well.  Horsemanship does not have to be a one way staid method of training a horse.  I think there is such a thing as creative development, and I think there are new innovations soon to appear in the Western horse world.

This brings me to the point of my story which is Cowboy Dressage.  Why can’t we apply Dressage training to a Western horse ?  He would surely be a better horse.  We can !  And we can do it without the Classical Dressage fraternity’s approval.  Our horses might not be painstakingly perfect, but they will be pretty good evidence that we can make pretty Dressage movements under a Western saddle and they will surely be “broke” horses.

Of course we will use old Dressage training techniques because they are proven, but why not try a few of our own or a few innovations that are part of Western horsemanship ?  Why not develop a few unique Dressage based movements that are adaptable to the Western horse ?  This can surely be done and we can also have fun, satisfaction, and results doing it.

Today we have living proof of what can be done with Dressage movements under a Western saddle.  He is Eitan Beth-Halachmy, who lives in Grass Valley, California.  Anyone who has seen his video’s, “Dancing with Cows” and “Poetry in Motion”, can surely attest to the viability and beauty of Dressage under a Western saddle.  Eitan has shown the world what can be done in this area, and it is my firm belief that Cowboy Dressage could be a revolution in Western horsemanship.  It is waiting to happen and it needs serious consideration by all Western horsemen.  This is true horsemanship and its benefits are unbelievable.

There is no reason why our Western horses can’t do the piaffe, half-pass, pirouettes, tempe lead changes and do sliding stops and spins as well.  These things can happen and our horses will be far better doing anything we ask.

I have watched good and great horsemen for 75 years and I feel qualified to express my opinion, and my opinion is that Cowboy Dressage is surely the way to go under my saddle.  I am a believer. Cowboy Dressage could easily be an evolution in Western horsemanship; for true art knows no boundaries.

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