In Cowboy Dressage we are interested in building our equine partners slowly, and we expect them to be with us for a very long time. Longevity, strength, and soundness take the place of fast-paced learning. By considering the rate of growth of the equine skeleton and the time it takes to properly prepare a horse for the ultimate in Soft Feel and self-carriage, we feel it is important that we do not start horses too young. All horses, regardless of breed, develop at the same skeletal rate. While a thick-bodied young Quarter Horse may appear stout and mature at three, his skeleton doesn’t stop growing until he is five-and-a-half or six years of age.
Futurities do not exist in Cowboy Dressage, and there is no reward given for a young horse that excels at a Gathering. In fact the overwhelming attitude is to not push young horses too far or too fast. We bring our horses along slowly, allowing them to grow and mature to their full potential before asking them to perform more than just the basic tests.
Part of our education with our horses is teaching them to learn. The old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is founded in the belief that all species need to learn to learn. This is part of the reason that horses tend to get started before their bodies are ready for heavy work. Their minds, like young children’s, are like sponges and behavior modification can become more challenging as they age. But, we can teach our horses to learn and use their body without the added stress of carrying a rider. Groundwork allows us to begin to build that partnership and establish the basics of communication and response to our aids without adding undue stress to the horse’s body. While we carefully lay the foundation for our horses through groundwork exercises, we help them learn to learn. Groundwork, then, is the very bottom of the foundation that we lay in our teaching programs.
In Dressage the Cowboy Way, authors Eitan Beth Halachmy and Dr. Jenni Grimmett provide the ultimate guide to training the Western horse.