Cowboy Dressage™

Cowboy Dressage Terms for Judges

In order to help riders improve, we have listed some common terms that most Western Riders will understand as comments on their score sheet. Please refer to these terms as much as possible. Riders will be using their score sheets to improve their skills. The more clear and concise the terms, the more helpful the score sheet will be.

Please also keep in mind that everyone deserves a “pat on the back” and try to give constructive comments along with what needs improvement. At no time should a rider feel defeated because of what a judge wrote on the score sheet. Competitors are trying so hard to “get it right” but keep in mind this discipline is new to many of the competitors. The judge’s job is to be helpful and to point out what he/she sees - both positive and negative.

When judging Cowboy Dressage, many different breeds and types of horses will pass in front of you. It is important to judge each horse as an individual and base your judgment on that particular animal’s individual merits regarding gaits and conformation. Think about form to function and ask yourself, “Is that horse giving all he/she can with its particular type of conformation?”

Comments generally understood by Cowboy Dressage Competitors:
When referring to straight lines, appropriate comments are:

  • Drifting to right/left
  • Missed letters
  • Not at letter
  • Not straight
  • Horse crooked (head, shoulder, hip) left or right
  • Line crooked
  • Stop crooked
  • Back crooked
  • Straight, but not on c-line
  • Wandering

When referring to bending lines and circles, appropriate comments are:

  • Circle not round.
  • Too big/Too small
  • Turned before/after letter
  • More bend/Less bend
  • Started before/after letter
  • Unsteady rhythm
  • Corner too deep/Corner too shallow
  • Horse bent to outside (counter bent), haunches/shoulders falling in/ falling out.

Cowboy Dressage Terms for Judges
When referring to other aspects of the ride, consider using these terms:

  • Pushing on bit
  • Throwing head
  • Broke gait
  • Unsteady rhythm
  • Apears to be sore or uncomfortable
  • Mouth open
  • No self-carriage
  • Too fast
  • Too slow
  • Frame needs to be longer/shorter
  • Needs more “giddy up” (more power from hindquarters)
  • Tension in poll/neck/back
  • Hollow back
  • Above bridle
  • More release in ___ (leg, hands, reins, etc.)
  • Over bridled
  • Not centered on entry
  • Transition abrupt/slow/hesitant
  • Not level behind/in front
  • Leaning in/out on shoulder/haunches
  • Horse late to rider’s aids
  • Horse anticipating.

Definitions for Judges:

  • Balance - refers to lateral balance (side to side), or longitudinal balance (balance back to front) (an easy term for lack of longitudinal balance is: on forehand. If you discuss balance, clarify what type of balance you are talking about, be specific such as: falling on inside/outside shoulder, haunches falling in/out, on forehand, etc. The more specific you are, the more it helps the rider know what you saw.
  • Cadence - The measured beat of movement; Balanced/rhythmic flow
  • Self-Carriage – refers to when the horse is able to carry itself in balance through the various maneuvers without any or very little support from the rider’s aids. The horse remains in balance with little help from the rider.
  • Control - The riders ability to guide the horse through the various maneuvers
  • Performance - The result of the rider guiding the horse through the various maneuvers
  • Rhythm -The recurring characteristic sequence and timing of footfalls and phases of a given gait.

Cowboy Dressage Terms for Judges
Definition for judge of SOFT FEEL (beyond the written definition):

Soft Feel is more about the rider’s ability to support and help the horse throughout the test - even if the horse is nervous or spooky. Soft feel comes from the rider and is felt by the rider from the horse, no matter what is going on with the horse. How well does the rider support the horse to develop trust and confidence in any situation?
Not just definition but the use of soft feel.( P. E. R. R.-Sounds soft does it not).

  • Preparation (the picking up of reins to adjust and help horse),use of the hands, legs, seat, voice (rider’s aids)
  • Execution of maneuver ( the result of preparation )
  • Release. The learning process or thank you for the execution.
  • Relaxation. The partnership, harmony and lightness should be the goal.

A visual understanding of Harmony and Partnership:
When the horse and rider are working as a single unit (partnership), with communication going both ways - from rider to horse and from horse to rider. The horse and rider are trying hard to communicate with each other and work harmoniously together to reach a common goal, whatever it may be.


Note: This is not a completed or finished body or work, but it is a start. We are working hard every day to improve Cowboy Dressage and make it easier for riders to understand.
Thank you, Cowboy Dressage World

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