I'd been looking forward to the Cowboy Dressage Clinic at Rhodes River Ranch for several months. I planned to audit & learn all I could about this sport - a refined version of Western Dressage - fathered by Eitan Beth-Halachmy, owner of Wolf Creek Ranch. Quoted below;
It is Eitan’s vision that this be a western discipline that is enhanced by dressage, not ruled by it. The tests are very western. Like the early west the rules are simple and the freedom abundant. It is based on release, not contact. Soft Feel, founded by great horseman of the past is Cowboy Dressage™’s core. It is the goal of Cowboy Dressage™ to promote and teach that in a competition atmosphere, bringing it to light to a public that is in great need of it.
When I had registered for the clinic - Kacey, trainer at RRR, told me about the tests that were given at the end of the day. You could chose which test you wanted to ride & Eitan would assess each rider on their level of competency. I decided to trailer Farah up. Arriving at 8 a.m. Sat. morning - I spent one of the most interesting days imaginable taking in everything I possibly could - knowing that opportunities to learn from such great horsemen are very rare. I wasn't disappointed.
I'd been unsure about the "clinic" environment too, in so many I've seen - the clinician is in the arena - usually with too many "participants" - who are sitting on their horses bored. They watch the trainer work with whichever rider is having the most difficulty in understanding whatever concept is being taught.
This was different! Each horse/rider team entered the arena alone - the star of Eitan's undivided attention! :-) He seemed to be master of finding the perfect middle-ground - between correcting mistakes, improving technique & complimenting each rider on what they did Right! I studied every move, following on the cheat-sheet showing the lay-out of the new Cowboy Dressage Court & understanding how it's size correlates to the required movements.
Eitan was generous with his time, asking for & answering questions, posing for a photo - even riding a participants horse when he was asked to demonstrate one of his techniques. Everyone was having a Wonderful time! Of course the facility itself makes that easy to do! With lunch included at the restaurant - we had time to discuss what we'd learned ask more questions & enjoy the great food!
At the end of the afternoon - there was an hour break before dinner. After taking to people who had been there / done that, I decided that I would go ahead & test. I saddled Farah & headed to the large outdoor arena to practice what I'd tried so hard to learn. The test patterns are written clearly with diagrams of the direction of movement - I'd studied them most of the morning. Once Farah was warmed up, I headed inside the arena to see if I would have any issues with the dressage court. Farah seems to drop down a gear when she's inside :-) Her attitude has always been; "Ok, if it's really what you want to do..." Once I had a feel for the size of the court vs. the size of her strides - we headed back out to wait our turn.
Butch had been at work, a rare Sat. where he was needed at an Everett job. I called & told him that I would be the last to test - so to please try to make it to see our debut in an arena! Just minutes before we were to enter for our warm-up, he walked in! What a guy!
One thing about RRR, not only do you have horse-people watching, but all the people having dinner in the overhead restaurant too! Funny though - how I managed to tune it all out. Farah & I had NEVER done what I'd call a "jog"!!! It's a western term for what I think of as a slow trot... slow trot... Farah! Not! Especially after just finishing her first Limited Distance ride top-ten. :-) But we did our best :-) I sat her trot :-) That gave her a clue that this was NOT to be a speed contest :-) How I wished I'd bought "real" stirrups rather than ride in my endurance EZ stirrups! So hard to get my heals down where I needed them! Only one flub... not a bad flub... but we made it through the pattern! Sweet Success! The relief I felt at having it over was almost as good - as at the finish of a long, hard endurance ride :-0
It was really challenging & fun to work on the fine points of riding - the Light Hands goal - a partnership built on trust & reward! First step in that direction - under our saddle pad!