The ‘soft feel’ discipline on fire in the world of Western riding
The dream of being a cowboy and living the code of the American West was a childhood passion in the
hearts of two extraordinary individuals born, not in different states, but on different continents. Together,
the two were destined to found a movement that is changing the lives of horses and their human partners
around the world.
Eitan Beth-Halachmy (born in Israel) and his wife and life-partner, Deb, born in California, first discovered
each other after Eitan’s amazing journey to the United States. Eitan came to complete his degree in
veterinary medicine, but left school in California because of his overriding desire to train horses. One of his
strongest influences had been a Hungarian Calvary officer who instilled in Eitan a regard for horsemanship
and the horse that resonates in Eitan’s philosophy today.
Their journey began with Eitan’s inspiring demonstration rides across the U.S. on Deb’s home-bred stallion, Holiday Compadre, who was retired in 2003. Eitan’s horsemanship was formally recognized with the Barbara Worth Oakford Memorial Trophy awarded by the United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) for outstanding Western Horseman of the year for 2002. In September 2006, Eitan and Santa Fe Renegade were honored by representing the U.S. at the closing ceremony of the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Aachen, Germany. Beginning in 2007 and going forward, Eitan has been one of the select clinicians to participate in the renowned Light Hands Horsemanship Clinic in Santa Inez, Calif. In 2010, Eitan and Renegade again represented the U.S. at the WEG in Lexington, Ky. He has appeared with Renegade and Gallahad’s Golden Warrior at literally hundreds of prestigious equine events in the U.S., Sweden and South America.But along the way, Eitan (known to his friends as, “8”) and Deb (who acts as Eitan’s agent, promotes and photographs events, communicates with fans and horsemen around the country and rides herself) and a few like-minded horse trainers recognized a need for a more humane, understanding and systematic training path for horses in general. They identified the need to introduce dressage techniques into the world of the western horse. That set their thinking on a new path to educate horsemen using dressage as a technique to light hands and to promote partnership and harmony between horse and rider.They call this western discipline Cowboy Dressage™, and although it is less than two years old as a formal entity, the concept has caught on like wildfire. The first Cowboy Dressage™ show in California last fall resulted in 524 entries. Just one day of Cowboy Dressage™ classes was scheduled at a show in Kansas last fall and overfilled with 92 rides. Texas is “burning rubber,” as Eitan announced in his version of English to a crowd that laughed hysterically. Cowboy Dressage associations in a number of states have a full lineup of clinics and shows already set for the 2014 season.Cowboy Dressage™ is a purely western discipline with classic dressage influence. The goal is to achieve true collection by shortening and lengthening the frame of the horse with use of the rein and seat to aid the horse in lightening its forehand and achieving self-carriage over time. The guiding principle is soft feel, which is described as a wordless, intimate and, for some, a spiritual communication that hallmarks the partnership between horse and rider. The rider’s timing and use of release, relaxation, preparation and execution are the fundamentals of soft feel.Cowboy Dressage™ the Competition has been developed to offer riders the opportunity to ride maneuvers in a brilliantly designed 20- by 40-meter dressage court that is broken into 5-meter increments to allow for easily understandable 10- and 20-meter circles to utilize the entire court.Maneuvers range from working to free walk, jog and free jog, intermediate gate for the 30-some breeds of gaited horses in the U.S., and working and free lope. Turns on the haunches and forehand, back and backing in a 10-meter frame are just a few of the combinations. Cowboy Dressage™ tests also include “Partnership on the Ground” and “Partnership on Horseback” tests for youth and amateurs. Freestyle classes where the ride is choreographed to music are fun for horse and rider and enormous crowd-pleasers.The dressage court also can be configured as a “Competition Court” with poles and cones that provide interesting step-through and over obstacles to horse and rider.The tests are useful in demonstrating the horse-rider partnership in light use of aids by the rider, elegant self-carriage of the horse with engaged haunches and elevated withers and poll. The visual presence of soft feel, and lack of extreme tension on the reins (“Give and take,” Eitan calls it, emphasizing that “give” does not mean throwing the rein away.)“Cowboy Dressage competition is not about wins,” Eitan says. “It’s really about you, yourself and your horse. Have a good time, be nice to each other, be nice to the horse.“We are not about perfect, correct. We are trying to make the western horse a better horse and the western rider a better rider. Start putting ‘partnership’ in your relationship with your horse. Be gentle, light, tell him what you want him to do and he will do it pretty quick.”Cowboy Dressage™ is available to you free, and in the western way, on a handshake. Information, tests and articles are available at www.cowboydressage.com. www.cowboydressageworld.comEitan Beth-Halachmy is the founder of Cowboy Dressage. His dream of Cowboy Dressage is now a reality. Find out more about Eitan and his lifetime journey in horsemanship at www.cowboydressage.com or firstname.lastname@example.org