Now, I'm sure that most folks that signed up for a Cowboy Dressage clinic would be expecting to arrive at the destination and find a nice soft arena to work in. Not these cowgirls! Dale is so great about embracing the "cowboy" in Cowboy Dressage and instead of setting up our CD court in an arena she used a natural plateau that was a short but pleasant ride from the ranch down into a valley, over a creek and through the trees. Not only did this provide a great way to warm our horses up each day but the terrain allowed for us to all spread out through the woods to head to the court each taking the route that best suited our horses. No nose to tail riding for this group!
It was so peaceful and beautiful on that plateau. We broke into 2 small groups for excellent instruction. For half of the participants this was their first introduction to Cowboy Dressage so we had a informative session prior to mounting that explained the geometry of the court and the purpose of Cowboy Dressage and the partnership we are striving for with our horses. Then we hit the court to begin riding our 10 and 20 m circles. Our plateau court had a special feature at F. It was a small tree that was just about in the middle of our circle.
After our day on the court we took what he had learned about bending, softness and impulsion out to the rest of the ranch. There is so much training and learning that goes on just riding to and from the ranch. Every tree was an opportunity to bend. Every hill was an opportunity to collect the hind quarters underneath your horse. A long slopping hill was a great area to work on your free jog.
On Saturday we headed out for a long trail ride and found a herd of cattle. We spread out and gathered the cattle then pushed them to a small flattish area to hold as a rodear. Pushing the cattle made us ride with purpose and direction in a straight line. We had to quickly transition to a free walk then back to a working walk then back to a free walk or free jog while rating our pace to keep the cattle moving without scattering. Then while holding the rodear the horses had to learn to stand patiently waiting but alert and ready to move should one of the cows make a break for the hills.
Then we worked our horses individually around the rodear.The cows just happened to be a perfect center for a 20 m circle. The draw of the cattle kept the horse's attention and all the horses were looking in and bending through the circle watching the herd. We did a free jog and then a free lope around the cattle. Then we stopped, shaped our horses and did a turn on the haunches moving our horse's heads toward the cattle to use the cows for the draw and help to open our shoulders to move through the turn. Many of the horses that had struggled slightly on the court the day before with opening the shoulders did so freely when asked to do it on the rodear.
We also had a great time in the aspen grove. Besides being a beautiful setting it was full of obstacles to bend and serpentine around and through. We also created a cowgirl jump course that aside from being a hoot was great for asking your horse to move forward and gather himself. These horses were not jumping horses for the most part, but any horse can learn to pick himself up and correctly jump a log in a grove. It gave both horse and rider confidence in each other.
Gaining confidence in your self and your horse was a big theme for this group of riders. While this was a fairly experienced group of women, there were a few greener horses and about half of the group that hadn't experienced Cowboy Dressage before. The court and tests were a little intimidating to them at first. Once they were able to ride the court and master the geometry and move their horses freely with soft feel on a court without rails, taking it to the trail was a small step. When it came time to rodear the cattle and lope around them many of the girls were nervous that their horses weren't ready or they weren't ready without the security of a nice arena. Every one of them did it without incident and did it well.
Cowboy Dressage is not just an arena exercise. We use the court to help us train ourselves and our horses but the training shouldn't stop there. These are Western Performance horses that we are developing. Part of Cowboy Dressage is embracing our Cowboy heritage. That doesn't all happen in an arena. That happens on a hill side as a herd of loose horses gallop up to great you. It happens walking down a trail with logs and creeks and things that help you teach your horse to pick up his feet and place them when and where you tell him too. Riding your horse with purpose shouldn't end when you ride out the arena past A. Carry the lessons from the court with you everywhere and suddenly the world is your court.