My First Cowboy Dressage Event, by Elise Lalor

I spent the last week at my first “Cowboy Dressage” event and wanted to take a moment to write about what the show experience was like.

Ali Kermeen invited me to the show by asking me to set a show goal to “make Denny a better horse than before he left to the show”. It seemed like a stretch goal for a horse to be a better and happier animal after a show, but i put my faith in Ali, albeit tentatively.

I knew I could always scratch my classes and just ride in the warm up arenas. After all what kind of dressage show would benefit a young, green, mustang with some obscure hang ups?

The first thing I wanted to say is that cowboy dressage and western dressage are not the same. That confused me for a long time. The major difference is that the USEF isn’t invited to cowboy dressage. And that was apparent the moment you walked to the arenas. The rules were more laxed, and the lack of hyper vigilant rules meant people had to talk to each other and not complain to a ring steward.

The classes are geared for anyone wanting to do something fun with their horse.

The culture is that you are at the show for the entire event. When you are done with your classes you will help others by reading tests, or helping be a “Buddy horse”. A buddy horse is a horse that sits next to the dressage court to give comfort to a horse that is showing, if the rider requests that support.

Buddy horses are encouraged, and horses are not scored any different if you have them or not. Denny had up to 6 buddy horses in one test! These were all riders who were between rides waiting to help other riders. Talk about feeling supported!

The scores are weighted to partnership, feel, and light hands is a triple coefficient.

The horses were all quiet, and I saw a stallion and a mare being led away from a show ring together being led on a simple halter through a crowd of people. I didn’t see any stud chains, side reins, bucking, rearing, or grooms.

The classes have something for everyone, and riders were well into their 80’s competing. The senior riders had volunteers helping take the saddles on and off their horses.

The environment and culture at the show was something I have never witnessed before at a show. Support of those competing, and the welfare and happiness of the horse was paramount throughout the show.

For those disillusioned with competitive horse sports, or those who want to get a young horse, or a horse with horse show PTSD to a show, I encourage you to check out cowboy dressage.

I’m thrilled with how far Denny came from day one to our final day.

I met each one of my goals I made for myself and Denny the Mustang. Denny is a better horse, and I’m a better horseman for the show experience. And I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that after a show.

Thanks Ali, and the cowboy dressage community, for giving my mustang a chance. I am positive we would have been excused and perhaps asked to leave the facility at any USEF show the first day, but instead the community circled around Denny, and he came out a better horse because of the experience.