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5.16

Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Santa Fe Renegade. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) defines engagement as “increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (‘lightening the forehand’).”

Engagement is a prerequisite to impulsion (thrust): the “releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse’s elastic, whole-body movement.” Engagement is carrying power, whereas impulsion is pushing power.

Many people who ride horses have no idea what the technical terms mean. Although Cowboy Dressage tries to avoid confusing language, engagement and impulsion are such important aspects of forward motion that they need to be understood and recognized, and so they are explained in the book COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

In simpler terms, engagement refers to the manner in which a balanced horse brings his hind legs under his belly to move forward off his hindquarters efficiently. Engagement is the basis for a horse’s impulsion–the energy with which a horse moves forward. The true lightness of Cowboy Dressage can only happen when the horse is engaged and moving with impulsion, with his weight over the hindquarters rather than on the forehand.

The hindquarters are the energy source of the horse. At the same time, he carries most of his weight on his forehand thanks to the head and neck. Engagement helps the horse achieve balance under these physiological conditions. To better bear the weight and enable balance, the horse must round his back and bring his hind legs well forward under him. This is called tracking or tracking up (USDF). Tracking is a necessary component of engagement, but it should not be confused with reach (how far the hind leg reaches forward).

Nor should engagement and impulsion be confused with speed. A horse that is rushing will often be strung out and hollow-backed, the opposite of being engaged. The front and hind end may appear disjointed or unconnected. Conversely, a horse that is engaged will move from behind in a balanced, energetic fashion at any gait and any speed.

Although the Cowboy Dressage horse may not have the length of stride or suspension that a traditional dressage horse has, he should show engagement and impulsion. All four feet should be working together in a rhythmic fashion.

To achieve impulsion and engagement, encourage your horse to round his back, stretch and lower his neck, and move forward actively. The energy has to flow naturally through your hands at a free gait. Much of the time spent on the horse’s foundation should be dedicated to encouraging forward motion. Good horsepersons make engagement and forward motion a prerequisite to every maneuver.

6.5B

Encourage your horse to stretch and lower his neck as seen in this free jog.

Again, remember that energetic forward motion requires strength and endurance: the horse must be conditioned slowly until he has the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of Cowboy Dressage or any other equestrian discipline. Much of the cadence and beauty of the finished gaits comes from long hours simply moving forward at the walk, jog, and lope.

Find out more about developing beautiful gaits in your horse in COWBOY DRESSAGE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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“Cowboy Dressage is really starting to take hold,” says Reining Hall of Fame Inductee Jack Brainard, and this, according to Brainard and renowned author and father of imprint training Dr. Robert Miller, is a good thing—for people and horses. Care for the horse’s welfare is part of what’s making Cowboy Dressage a success: “[People] are here for skill and compassionate horsemanship,” emphasizes Dr. Miller.

Jack Brainard and Dr. Robert Miller are just two of the respected horsemen featured in COWBOY DRESSAGE: RIDING, TRAINING, AND COMPETING WITH KINDNESS AS THE GOAL AND GUIDING PRINCIPLE, the new book by Jessica Black and Cowboy Dressage founders Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy. We caught up with Black and asked her a little about her history with the Beth-Halachmys and Morgan Horses, as well as her new book and current studies at the University of Oklahoma.

 

TSB:  Your new book COWBOY DRESSAGE was written in conjunction with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy, the founders of this new riding discipline and equestrian community. You were a teenager when you first met Debbie. Your mother was breeding and raising Morgan horses, as Debbie still does today, and the result of their friendship was Holiday Compadre—the famous Western Pleasure Champion Morgan. What do you remember of the Morgan show scene in those days? How do you think it differs from today?

JB: I was a lot more involved then than I am now: I started showing in Morgan shows when I was 10 and did so until I was 20 or so. I never had my horse with a trainer (though I did take lessons), so I was always at a disadvantage against those who did; this hasn’t changed much, I imagine. What has changed are the classes offered. Back then, we had 13-and-under and 14-17 for junior exhibitors.  There was only English Pleasure, Hunt Seat, Western, and Park—no Classic Pleasure, for example, and definitely no Cowboy or Western Dressage! On the other hand, there was “Most Classic Morgan” and Road Hack and Roadster under Saddle. And there were a lot more horses: Roadster to Bike used to be a scary class, it was so full and fast. In junior exhibitor classes, the ribbons always ran out and there was a reserve. The last time I was at the Morgan Medallion Classic, maybe four years ago, entries almost always ran out before ribbons.

 

TSB author Jessica Black on her first Morgan, Capella Command, at the Morgan Medallion Classic in 1982 or '83.

TSB author Jessica Black on her first Morgan, Capella Command, at the Morgan Medallion Classic in 1982 or ’83.

 

TSB: COWBOY DRESSAGE specifically states that the discipline is intended to be available to all horses and all riders, regardless of breed, gait, or geographic location. Why do you think this particular pursuit can cross the usual boundaries that divide much of the equestrian world?

JB: I believe there are two primary reasons.

First, the guidelines allow for any breed: riders, judges, and clinicians are taught to assess each horse according to its conformation and ability. As such, a Morgan-type is expected to move in one way (higher head carriage, for example), whereas a Quarter-Horse-type is expected to move in another (more downhill conformation, different movement). There is no single image of the “perfect” Cowboy Dressage horse, and the competition is really against oneself: the point is to take the horse you have and improve your relationship

Second, Cowboy Dressage has developed outside of the standard breed paradigms. Because it’s not USEF, shows tend to be held separately from breed shows. This encourages anyone to participate. There are also tests specifically for gaited horses, and even minis can be shown in the Partnership on the Ground classes.

 

TSB:  There’s a lot of back-and-forth over the difference between Cowboy Dressage and Western Dressage, which is legitimate, which is better. How do you feel they are similar or differ? Can they coexist?

JB: They do coexist! I think this is a good thing. Western Dressage suits some people (it’s USEF and people can compete at breed shows; there are a lot of competition levels) and some types of horses (tending more toward traditional dressage, with bigger movements), whereas Cowboy Dressage suits others (it offers its own shows, in more relaxed venues, with an emphasis on learning and community rather than performance) and other types of horses (more Western-y, smaller movements). Some people and horses do both successfully.

They are also both “legitimate,” whatever that means. They both started with the inspired team that was Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Holiday Compadre, and although they have taken different paths, both are valid. I wasn’t “paying attention” when CD and WD separated, and I certainly don’t know the whole story, but I think there was a lot of disappointment initially, that they couldn’t stay together. That’s understandable, but in retrospect, I believe it was the best thing for everyone. Instead of one new outlet for people and horses, we have two! The horse world as a whole benefits from having two options, because a lot of people who would never go to a big breed show are enjoying CD, while at the same time a lot of people whose horse-time is taken up with breed shows would never go to a CD event.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

JB: My mother used to longe me on her Anglo-Arab mare named October. On a blue bareback pad. This was before I got my first pony, so when I was around three years old. I remember doing balance exercises, like holding my arms out to the side. Once the mare shied and I had to grab her mane (I remember that bit better than anything else!)

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

JB: My first pony, a Shetland called Angel, bucked me off (or “toppled” me off) when I was around four or five. To add insult to injury, she kicked at me, and WORSE, I was wearing a brand new Cowboy hat, and it got dirty. I picked up my hat and marched out of the arena, swearing that I would never, ever ride again.

 

Black on her first show pony, Jaggers, at age seven.

Black on her first show pony, Jaggers, at age seven.

 

TSB: You’ve had some impressive horsey adventures, including riding Lusitanos and galloping Thoroughbreds and Arabians in Spain, as well as galloping Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses in Mexico and Panama. Can you share one story from your riding adventures abroad?

JB: That’s difficult, because there are so many! I’ll go for one that’s sort of funny. During the years I spent at the racetrack in Madrid, I was part of a group that owned a four-year-old mare called Baigorri. She raced in my colors, but there were nine other owners, mainly friends. We had a lot of fun. Anyway, Baigorri was a nasty mare who would rather kick you than receive a pet; she wouldn’t try to buck you off, but she would try to exit the track via any gate, at top speed. One day I was riding her in the training track that winds 1,700 meters through trees and brush at Hipodromo de la Zarzuela, in Madrid. At this time, the track had been closed, and was sadly neglected; since there were fewer people around, the jabali, or wild boars, had decided to invade the tracks. That particular morning, I was trotting Baigorri alone, and we came round a curve on the first loop to find three huge boars in the track. She spooked, but when I insisted, kept trotting. The boars moved into the trees, but once we had passed, they came onto the track behind us and started trotting in our direction. Baigorri thought they were chasing us (and they might have been—who knows what goes on in a pig’s mind). She started pulling hard and trotting as fast as I would let her. The boars went off into the bushes after a few hundred feet, but Baigorri remained a nervous wreck. After about half a mile, I pulled her down to a walk, and she was immediately stiff. Within a few feet, I could tell she had tied up. I hopped off, led her slowly back to the stable, and called the vet.

Since then I have added “fright” (and wild boars) to the list of things that can cause tying up!

 

Black's first racing win was on Gran Sol, a four-year-old gelding trained by Paco Galdeano, in an 1800m race at the racetrack in Madrid, Spain (1996).

Black’s first racing win was on Gran Sol, a four-year-old gelding trained by Paco Galdeano, in an 1800m race at the racetrack in Madrid, Spain (1996).

 

TSB: You are currently pursuing your doctorate at the University of Oklahoma, with a focus on the intersection of narrative and morality. Can you tell us a little about your research and what you hope to do with it in the future?

JB: In the future, I hope to flesh out a theory of narrative moral agency that explains the way the life stories we create affect our moral decisions. At present, my research is focused on how media (books and film) affects and is affected by social and moral cognition. For example, in a recent paper that received a lot of news coverage (click here) we reported two studies in which watching award-winning TV dramas increased participants’ theory of mind (the ability to interpret others’ emotions and intentions), compared with watching documentaries. I also study imaginative resistance, or the reluctance to buy into fictional worlds in which immoral actions are presented as the right thing to do.

 

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

JB: Only one book?  Hmm. Perhaps William Gaddis’s The Recognitions. Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll say something different. (Maybe I should choose James Joyce’s Ulysses; possibly I would be able to get past page 100 if I were on a desert island for several weeks with nothing else to do.)

The horse would be an Arabian, but that’s probably because my current horse is an Arabian mare. (Or maybe it’s memory of The Black Stallion!)

 

TSB: If you had an iPad and WiFi on your island, what movie would you stream?

JB: The Return of the King, because it never ends…

 

Black riding with her two sons on a recent trip to Spain.

Black riding with her two sons on a recent trip to Spain.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

JB: Wit.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

JB: Courage.

 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

JB: Ride in the Tevis Cup.

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

JB: Alfalfa, black oats, handful of rolled barley, dash of olive oil. Or did you mean human meal? In that case, wine and cheese and good music.

 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

JB: I never have a good answer to this question, because I have found that my best conversations have often been with unexpected (even if sometimes famous) people. When it comes to people famous in academia, if I want to, I can have a conversation with them, so I guess they don’t really count. And a lot of the dead famous people I find intriguing were also male chauvinists, so that puts them out.

Wait! I know. I’d like to interview Mary Bacon from beyond the grave, because I’d love to write a book about her.

 

TSB: What is your motto?

JB: Hmm. Carpe diem. Or, “I was born under a wandrin’ star.” Or maybe, when I’m really fantasizing, “at the still point of the turning world” from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.”

 

COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. Order by midnight, Wednesday, December 16th and you’ll still get free shipping in time for Christmas!

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CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER!

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs for 30 years, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy share the Cowboy Dressage Handshake. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy share the Cowboy Dressage Handshake. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The equestrian pursuit known as Cowboy Dressage was born of a desire to meld the best of Western riding traditions and classical dressage in the pursuit of a harmonious relationship with a horse. Intended to be accessible to all, Cowboy Dressage is open to all breeds and all levels of riders; there isn’t a set frame for overall look, head carriage, or action. The singular goal is to consider the horse’s potential at all times as one strives to achieve a subtle and relaxed flow of information between horse and rider.

While there isn’t an official “association” or fees, there is an informal membership agreement known as the “Cowboy Dressage Handshake.”

“Part of the appeal of Cowboy Dressage,” explains TSB author Jessica Black in the new book she wrote with Cowboy Dressage founders Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy, “is that it allows people to extend the feeling of partnership that they are fostering with their horses to others who are pursuing similar riding goals: kindness, the Soft Feel of complete communication, and a relaxed atmosphere in which to learn. The Handshake is emblematic of the Cowboy Dressage community and partnership.”

 

THE COWBOY DRESSAGE HANDSHAKE

With our handshake and our word, we promise to:
• Continue to educate and teach as much as possible in all formats.
• Keep Cowboy Dressage simple and uncomplicated.
• Provide tests, rules, and information to everyone who wishes to show.
• Support and educate individuals outside the show ring who want to learn and improve as horsemen and horsewomen.
• Strive to maintain Cowboy Dressage as a grassroots, community-focused movement.
• Ensure Cowboy Dressage is accessible to everyone regardless of his or her income or status within the horse world.
• Make this a place where all people can hang their hat and be proud, whether they show, trail ride, barrel race, cut, rein, or just love horses.
• Most of all, we promise to look for the “try” in you, the Cowboy Dressage world members.

 

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.

 

With your handshake and word, you become a member of the Cowboy Dressage World.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

The superbly written and beautifully illustrated new book COWBOY DRESSAGE gives readers everything they need to find a “soft feel” with their horses and then share what they’ve developed with a community of like-minded horsepeople. As the founders of the movement say, Cowboy Dressage is more about a way of life than a rulebook. And with that as its premise, we can see how it can show the way to true partnership with a horse.

 

COWBOY DRESSAGE is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order or to download a free sample chapter.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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TSB author Denny Emerson on the Morgan stallion Lippitt Tweedle Dee at the 1961 Morrisville, Vermont Horse Show.

TSB author Denny Emerson on the Morgan stallion Lippitt Tweedle Dee at the 1961 Morrisville, Vermont Horse Show.

It is a common misconception among many new to horses, and sadly some with a lifetime’s experience, that horses “plan,” “scheme,” and “plot” to frustrate and embarrass us, and always at the worst of times. Of course, this belief is based on the presumption that they think like humans, and so suffer the same faults of personality. But as influential trainer and coach Denny Emerson points out in his fabulous book HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD, more often than not, the roots of our problems in the saddle lead back to us, not to our horses:

 

“My horse won’t do what I want!”

How often have you heard this statement? But now the train of logical thinking starts to go off the track. It is true that the rider’s horse isn’t doing what she wants him to do. That much is a fact. But unless the rider is a true, honest-to-God, educated horseman, the conclusions stemming from the initial statement will be untrue—here’s how the typical anthropomorphic “logic” usually works in real life:

“My horse is misbehaving.”

“My horse is being bad.”

“I, therefore, have permission to punish him.”

 

In contrast, here are some possible correct conclusions, stemming from the premise, “My horse won’t do what I want”:

“I must not be explaining what I want correctly.”

“He must not have a base of work thorough enough to enable him, either mentally, physically, or emotionally, to perform the action that I want him to perform.”

“My seat (hands, balance, whatever) is not steady and ‘feeling’ enough to convey the proper stimuli to induce him to perform the action that I desire.”

“In making this request of my horse, I am creating athletically induced pain, either from asking him to lift more than he has been prepared to lift, or stretch more than he has been prepared to stretch. I need to go back to an easier level, build a proper foundation, then try again.”

 

These are the right kinds of conclusions that are drawn by true trainers and real horsemen with correct knowledge of how horses experience and respond to stimuli. The wrong conclusions, that the horse is “misbehaving” and “being bad,” stem from the rider’s misinformed perception that the horse has a malign “motive.” The rider’s false premise is that the horse understands and is capable of doing what she wants, but simply chooses not to out of stubbornness or for other contrary reasons.

So the rider starts to get frustrated and angry. The horse gets more confused and upset. The rider gets even more frustrated and angry, and the horse gets even more confused and upset … The downward spiral has begun. It has nowhere to go but down, and it can lead to some real brutality on the part of the rider.

I don’t know any rider who hasn’t been guilty of this, sometime, somewhere. The good riders and good horsemen usually catch themselves before it gets out of hand. The really bad riders almost never do. That’s why so many horses live their life in a world of fear, pain, and conflict—because their riders are angry people and terrible horsemen. This is the single worst part of the entire saga of man’s relationship with the horse. Robert Frost wrote, “God mocked the lofty land with little men.” We can modify this line to, “God mocked the lofty species with little men.”

Training derived from genuine knowledge and true thinking, not false anthropomorphic thinking, is one of the most important choices you have to make if you ever expect to be a quality horseperson.

 The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.  —Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

 

HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD by Denny Emerson is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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RIDING FREE, the new book from Andrea and Markus Eschbach, promises you CAN feel safe and secure when riding your horse without a bit, without a bridle, without a saddle…even without all three!

The Eschbachs have an amazing ability to spell out the steps you need to take to prepare your horse for a life of minimal tack and maximum fun. Their new book is a joy to read and a thrill to try out–they provide both theory and step-by-step exercises that anyone can use.

In fact, RIDING FREE inspired TSB Managing Director Martha Cook to give a bitless bridle a try.

A Morgan in a bitless bridle--it is NOT a figment of your imagination!

“When I read Riding Free: Bitless, Bridleless, Bareback,” says Martha, “I was intrigued by Dr. Robert Cook’s research on how a bit affects a horse’s breathing and reflexes for chewing and swallowing. The science made a lot of sense to me. I have a Morgan gelding who exhibits any anxiety during schooling or out solo on a trail ride by champing his snaffle bit. The more he champs the bit, the tighter his whole body becomes. The action of champing builds tension, and I feel working the bit becomes the anxiety. It’s difficult to move beyond the tension once this sequence begins.

“I figured, what do I have to lose? I purchased one of Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridles and gave it a try. So far, so good after a handful of rides both in the arena and on the trail. I find school figures lack accuracy, but I’m sure this will improve as my horse becomes used to aids without the direction of a bit. The best thing is I think my theory of taking the bit out of the equation when riding on the trail is working.”

You can download a sample chapter of RIDING FREE by clicking HERE and finding the DOWNLOAD button on the right side of the page.

Read a review of RIDING FREE on TheSweetFeed.com by clicking HERE.

Order your copy of this exciting new book at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE and where you can get 15% off your entire order now through the holidays.

TSB Managing Director Martha Cook poses with her Morgan after a successful foray into the woods in a bitless bridle.

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