What a busy year it has been! I suppose they all are pretty busy, though, aren’t they? Here it is fall already and the Cowboy Dressage World Final Gathering is happening in a couple of weeks and I feel like I’ve barely got a start on my training for the year.
There have been some very exciting things happening in the Cowboy Dressage Community this year. We have a new division that launched this year and will be featured at the Final Gathering for the first time. We have a new twist on what was formerly called the Top Hand competition that is going to be exciting to watch and we continue to see Cowboy Dressage grow and spread across not only the country but the world!
For me personally his has been an exciting year as I begin the Cowboy Dressage journey all over again with my young Morgan gelding, Ernie. While I miss riding the upper division tests it is going to be really fun for me to take a horse from the groundwork divisions to the riding divisions focusing on on the Cowboy Dressage principles of soft feel and partnership. Hopefully I will avoid the mistakes I made with my other horses and Ernie and I will be able to get even farther in our journey than I have been previously.
Part of our journey this year is focusing on the Partnership and new Liberty Divisions in Cowboy Dressage. I have previously used the Partnership division as a means of introducing my horses to the court and exploring partnership. I have always focused much more on the riding tests than the ground tests when I have attended a Gathering so I am new to receiving scores based on my groundwork. Looking at the partnership tests from the judges viewpoint has really allowed me to focus on the little things that really add up in the long run. Energy and forward movement in the leading position is a tough thing to maintain and all of that gets even tougher as you move into the liberty division.
The Liberty Division is brand new to Cowboy Dressage gatherings this year but the concept is not new. There has been discussion about adding Liberty to Cowboy Dressage for a number of years and it took a lot of work by the Partners, Judges and Professionals for this division to get up and running. This has really changed how I approach my groundwork sessions where I am now looking forward into the liberty division tests and figuring out how I am going to create the maneuvers without a lead and still maintaining frame, activity and partnership in my horse. Some days I get it and everything clicks, other days I push too hard and it all falls apart. It’s been a great way for me to explore partnership and what it means to me personally in my relationship with my horse. It’s challenging in so many ways and really provides amazing feedback directly from the horse when you are doing too much or not enough. So much more so than even riding with Soft Feel does in my humble opinion. The only thing keeping the horse there with you is his desire to be there and work with you. As soon as he doesn’t want to be with you anymore the whole thing collapses and you are just left standing there with a dressage whip in your hand trying to will your horse back to your side. It’s a whole new kind of humbling in horsemanship. I’m looking forward to both participating in and watching the liberty division at the Finals this year. Since it is completely new we are all anxiously awaiting the judges feedback on our progress so we know how to proceed going forward.
Also new to the Final Gathering this year is the Ride for the Brand Competition. This is replacing Top Hand this year and will showcase not only the difficult Challenge WJL #2 test but each horse and rider pair must also participate in a Partnership on the Ground test and a Musical Freestyle. I am so excited to watch how this unfolds this year because I believe more so than the past competition this really is who we are and where we want to be going in Cowboy Dressage. Watching the switch ride in the Top Hand Competition was always amazing and certainly allowed versatile and adaptable horsemen and women to rise to the top. But, it also asked an awful lot of those horses that have given so much of their try and commitment to their partner to then adjust to a new rider and still perform at their best. With the new format we are recognizing the elements of the Cowboy Dressage Culture that we hold most dear. From the very beginning, establishing partnership on the ground and into a difficult and challenging riding test and finally to the ultimate expression of partnership, harmony and celebration of the journey with the musical freestyle. I can’t wait to watch and cheer on the competitors.
But that is far from all the excitement we are expecting at Rancho Murieta in October. The partners have invited experts in their field to speak to the handshake members on Tuesday evening before the show kicks off. Dr. Sharon Spier, DVM will be presenting on Lameness and Gait Evaluation in Performance Horses, something each and every member will want to hear about. Brad Tarp, the eminent rawhide braider will be speaking on how to use and fit a traditional bosal. The Grand Entry featuring the Cowboy Dressage World Partners will be Wednesday evening after the first day of classes. Back this year after a hilarious first year is the golf cart decoration and test competition on Thursday evening. You won’t want to miss out on the creative genius in our member teams. Friday night is concert night featuring Western recording artist and horseman in his own right, Dave Stamey. We’ll be dining in the dirt with Dave and entertained by the talented trick roper Rudy Lara Jr before the concert. Then Saturday is the championship round of the Ride for the Brand competition. Finally we meet to celebrate all of our accomplishments as a Cowboy Dressage family on Sunday morning as we dole out the piles of prizes to all the hard working members.
All in all it’s an event that anyone in the Cowboy Dressage family won’t want to miss a moment off. If you aren’t planning to attend the Final Gathering in Rancho Murieta October 9-13th you need to make plans to be there. Fly, run, bike or ride, but get your butt to Northern California this October. We’ll see you there!