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The best of both worlds

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current issue, please click here.

Ken Faulkner preparing for his cowboy dressage test on Smoke.

Ken Faulkner preparing for his cowboy dressage test on Smoke.


By Ken Faulkner

The appeal of Cowboy Dressage spans both classical and Western disciplines and brings riders and competitors together with a style of horsemanship and a philosophy that is good for the souls of both horse and rider.

This exciting new style of horsemanship draws on the best philosophies of classical dressage and the style of the early vaquero bridled horses and their riders. The vaquero, or early Californian cowboy horses, display a similar style of shape and movement to the classic traits of their Spanish ancestors. Enter Israeli-born Eitan Beth-Halachemy, a deep thinker and rider who has walked both horsemanship styles in his life and worked to combine the best philosphies and moralities of both styles, creating what is now known as Cowboy Dressage.

It was while studying pre-veterinary medicine in Vienna that Eitan grew to admire what he saw at the Spanish Riding School and, on moving to California to further his studies, he felt at home among the vaquero, the Spanish-Mexican heritage behind the North American cowboy herders and  the forerunners of Western riding.


Eitan Beth-Halachemy.

Eitan Beth-Halachemy.

Probably the signature statement of Cowboy Dressage is “soft feel”, a holistic display of a horse and rider both responding to soft hands, legs, energy and rhythm. A participant in a Cowboy Dressage clinic would learn about achieving shape and softness through the release of pressure. To hold soft feel in your hands and with your legs is the most amazing sensation. It’s using your hands and legs to hold a deep conversation with your horse.

The aim of Cowboy Dressage is to have soft and light communication between horse and rider, with the horse developing self-carriage and balance through the reward of “soft feel” by release of the reins. This method of training and lightness of rein allows the horse and rider to become a partnership and appear to be moving effortlessly together through various manoeuvres with freedom and balance. 

Cowboy Dressage tests are designed to cater for all levels of riding ability and all breeds of horses, and the tests create a framework to progress both the horse and rider to higher levels. The tests of the Cowboy Dressage competition should display straightness of lines, true flexion of the circle whilst showing good gaits with rhythm and stride, while the intricacies of some of the tests reflect the higher learning of both horse and rider.

The tests range from in-hand and walk patterns, to higher level lope and freestyle patterns that include both Western and classical dressage manoeuvres. As well as the basic court, there is also a challenge court where tests are performed using a range of cones and poles to test the horse and rider’s communication and precision. 

If you’re accustomed to English Dressage, the Cowboy Dressage court (arena) will feel familiar. It’s a little smaller at 20x40 metres, and divided into equal measurements of five and 10-metre increments, with each five-metre increment marked by a letter. The grid on this new court is designed to help the rider with precision and execution. 


The dressage arena for Cowboy dressage is very different to the usual dressage arena we are used to seeing.

The dressage arena for Cowboy dressage is very different to the usual dressage arena we are used to seeing.

Cowboy Dressage is judged with points being awarded for each part of the test, with lightness of rein and the horse’s demeanour and willingness being rewarded. Partnership as well as the demonstration of “soft feel” are important components, with the Soft Feel score multiplied by three.

The creation of Cowboy Dressage has been a labour of love for both Eitan and his wife, Deb Beth-Halachmy, now based in California and spreading the word of Cowboy dressage worldwide.  Eitan is a world-renowned horseman who in partnership with his famous horses, Holiday Compadre and Santa Fe, has won many World Championships and performed shows across the world, including the opening and closing ceremonies in both the 2006 and 2010 World Equestrian Games.

Cowboy Dressage competitions are attracting huge crowds of competitors and spectators across the world and has finally arrived in Australia in an official capacity.  In May this year Eitan and Deb asked Kathy and myself to lead the Cowboy Dressage movement here in Australia, which we are delighted to do.  In November this year, we are bringing out one of Eitan and Deb’s business partners, Lyn Ringrose Moe, who will be conducting the first official clinics, judges’ boot camp and shows to be held in locations in Queensland and in Victoria.  Check out the Facebook page for Cowboy Dressage World Australia for details on upcoming events.


The famous Cowboy handshake.

The famous Cowboy handshake.

It’s not only about the horsemanship, Cowboy Dressage also promotes an attitude of encouragement and camaraderie.  It’s free to join the Cowboy Dressage World community with the only requirement being that you agree to the “Cowboy’s Handshake” on the Cowboy Dressage World website www.cowboydressageworld.com

I think you’ll agree it’s a sentiment that makes the world a better place.


With your handshake and your word, you pledge “to try” to:

•    Become the person others can trust with a handshake and your word.
•    Exemplify the Cowboy Dressage way of life and find the courage to chase your dreams.
•    Not allow defeat when faced with setbacks in your life and your horsemanship.
•    Treat all horses and people with integrity and kindness.
•    Look for “the try” in your horses and always reward them.
•    Look for “the try” in people as you travel down your horsemanship path.

Happy riding!





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