One of things that continues to impress folks that are brand new to Cowboy Dressage and the Gatherings is the culture they encounter at these events. We hear over and over again, "I've never experienced anything like this!"
Every equine discipline has it’s unique feel. A barrel race isn’t going to feel anything like a dressage show and an open horse show feels much different than a regional breed show. Cowboy Dressage has it’s own very different feel and environment and the one thing that each person new to Cowboy Dressage will tell you after their first event is that it is universally welcoming.
There is a feeling of calmness, ease and quiet at a Cowboy Dressage Gathering. It feels like family, even if you are brand new because everybody is so anxious to warmly welcome you into the family. From the Gathering secretaries to the grounds men to each and every participant you find smiling helpful faces.
Is it an act? Horse people, especially horse show people, aren’t generally known for being overly friendly. Are all these people just putting on a friendly face? Not in the least. Cowboy Dressage is built on the premise of kindness. Kindness to horses. Kindness to each other. Softness and lightness and joy suffuse the environment at a Cowboy Dressage Gathering.
Besides the happy and welcoming environment created by the people, newcomers will also be surprised that there isn’t a “look” to a Gathering. You will find all manner of horses, people, tack, and attire. Each person feels free to embrace whatever “Cowboy” means to them. Never has such an eclectic bunch ever mingled in one arena! You’ll see some of the more common western show attires from folks coming from the Western Pleasure world. You’ll see youth riders in their favorite (and probably only ;) ) button up shirt. You’ll see wild rags, bolo ties, neckerchiefs, bow ties, or regular ties. You’ll see reining saddles, trail saddles, show saddles, roping saddles and barrel saddles. You’ll see snaffles, bosals, two handed western bits and spades. You'll see jeans, riding skirts, chaps, chinks and armitas. As long as it's "cowboy" it'll fly!
Because Cowboy Dressage welcomes one and all there is no “look” that you can point your finger to and say, that looks like a Cowboy Dressage rider or horse; with one very distinct exception.
Each and every person looks happy, excited to be there and excitedly nervous, but not overly pressured. This is a low key environment from the regional shows to our “Final Gathering”. The horses are happy and quiet and obedient. The warm up pen is a friendly gathering of friends riding together. The judges are warm and welcoming and encouraging. Please, thank you and you’re welcome ring out in the arena. If you make a mistake during your test, you can stop and the judge will help you find your spot so you can start over. At the last Gathering I was complimenting a lady on her nice soft ride. She had also lost her way during her test, had to go back and start over from the last letter missed. She was flustered and upset about it and I told her (and so did the judge) that it just didn't matter. She came up to me later with her 2nd place ribbon absolutely thrilled. She couldn't believe she could mess up, restart her test and still score second in the class. When soft feel and partnership and gaits are more important than individual maneuvers, you bet you can!
Another distinct difference is that many of these horses that come to do Cowboy Dressage have another job that they do. Their other job may be as show horses in another discipline, but most of them are also trail horses, lesson horses, ranch horses or pleasure horses. It makes for happier horses overall. You don’t see horses at Cowboy Dressage Gatherings that pull back, rear, buck, kick, or act out. In general, the worst behavior problems we deal with in Cowboy Dressage is separating buddy horses, but because in Cowboy Dressage we are all about the horse, this simply isn’t an issue. Every rider is allowed a horse or two if needed to accompany a nervous horse into the arena. The environment is kept quiet and peaceful for the horses and for the people.
As a veterinarian, horse shows can be a very busy environment to be a part of. I’ll admit to keeping my presence as quiet as possible at open shows when I am there to show my own horse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been late to enter my own class because somebody’s horse threw a tantrum in the trailer/stall/cross ties and needs to be sutured up so they don’t miss their class. The end of the show was always a busy time as well as folks struggled to load unwilling horses and called on me and my drugs to help them.
Of course, horses are horses and anything can happen at any time, but the quiet, calm environment that we create for horse and rider at Cowboy Dressage Gatherings, means these incidents are exceedingly rare.
The Cowboy Dressage culture is one of "come one, come all". We want you to be a part of the revolution taking place in horsemanship. There is room for everybody interested in softness, partnership, and harmony. Even if you never plan to show, there is a group of people out there waiting for someone just like you to come and join the ride. So, saddle up! C'mon, we've got places to go, horses to ride, and people to meet!