May 2017 - Book Review: Cowboy Dressage
Written by CRM
Friday, 28 April 2017 21:53

Cowboy Dressage
Written by Jessica Black
Published by Trafalgar Square
Reviewed by Lucy Bobeck

Cowboy Dressage is an American style of dressage celebrating the American West and its horsemen. The purpose of western dressage is to make the horse, a better version of itself.  Approximately 20 years ago, Eitan Beth-Halachmy decided to marry classical dressage and the American cowboy, building a western horse into much more than a show horse.

Jessica Black’s book has a unique layout as the whys and hows of cowboy dressage are detailed first, the history of western dressage is found towards the back of the book. The layout of the book mirrors the philosophy of cowboy dressage – it is performed in the spirit of our time, so can adapt and be molded. There is an emphasis on rider and horse as a partnership rather than master and servant.

The partnership ethic is evident in the use of tack, no double bridles or over-bent necks, yet the movements are made with precision and grace.  Bitted bridles are mandatory in classical dressage, but this is not the case in western dressage: traditional bosal hackamores are allowed. It is frustrating in many circles that classical dressage will not allow bitless bridles in competition. Western dressage allows snaffle and regular western bits with curb chains and chin straps (such chains or straps must be flat). There seems to be a push to preserve the natural flow of a horse and an aversion to abusive practices such as rollkur (over-bending the horses neck).

Another indication of the embracing nature of western dressage is the use of poles rather than ropes. Despite the traditional use of ropes by cowboys, there is a division in Cowboy Dressage that uses “la garrocha” which is a long pole used to move cattle in Spain. The pole is a nod to the European roots of horsemanship, but is used for circling (without cattle being present) and is an indication that western dressage will continue to adapt and include other cultures as it evolves.  As rules, tests and divisions (youth, freestyle, vaquero) may be updated quarterly, check current regulations at: www.cowboydressage.com.

Classical dressage has sometimes been criticized for snobbishness, but cowboy dressage does not require formal wear and top hats.  There are restrictions on what the rider may wear, and most will be in a regular western rider’s closet.  The inclusiveness of western dressage looks as bright as the colors of the western shirts worn by the riders.


Reviewer Lucy Bobeck is a South Bay and Southern Nevada rider, she has a passion for rescued horses, especially her own rescued quarter horse.