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2017 Top Hand Competition

Photo credit: Richard Horst Photography

September 9, 2017
Rancho Murieta Equestrian Center
Rancho Murieta, California

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The Cowboy Dressage Top Hand Competition was the brain child of the Cowboy Dressage World Partners. It is now seeing it’s third year of competition. The level of horsemanship continues to astound us each year. The growth and skill between each horse and rider’s partnership is rewarding to watch and be a part of.

We are very proud of all our riders in Cowboy Dressage and the Top Hand Riders represent the what Cowboy Dressage is as a discipline and sport.

Keep in mind that the judging of this competition is not just about skill, precision, horsemanship and partnership but also Kindness. Fifty percent of the rider’s score is based on that alone.

We mean what we say, we ride what we believe.

Come watch these accomplished riders. They put it all on the line but never cross it.  A unique competition.

These rider’s have some good ol’ cowboy grit!


Blue Fountain Farm Photography

 2017 Top Hand Competition

Saturday, September 9th morning Qualifying Rides

Saturday, September 9th afternoon Top Hand Finals

In the tradition of the Cowboy and the ranches of the west there is no higher compliment than being christened the top hand.  All Cowboys worth their salt strive to be worthy of such a title.  It is not a title given lightly nor one that is awarded to a man that hasn’t put in their time.  It is a title of honor and respect.  While the Cowboy needed to be a man of many skills, including some of the dirtier ground crew work, the highest skill of the Cowboy and the one most respected was the horseman.  In all the skills the Top Hand had mastered, it was his skill as horseman that most earned him the title.

In Cowboy Dressage we honor the tradition of the Cowboy and the lifestyle of the West while building partnership and harmony with our horses.  We believe that in order to create the ultimate horse we have to be the ultimate partner for that horse.  By working to improve communication with the horse through soft feel we aim to create the perfect working partner that is soft and willing and capable and able to take on any job on the ranch or in the arena.

Creating that partnership and relationship with a horse requires a rider that is dedicated to the goal of soft feel.  While it takes time to develop true partnership in a horse, a rider that embodies soft feel can cultivate partnership in any horse that he mounts.  A true horseman can quickly adapt to communicate with each horse that he comes into contact with.  You might say the rider that has embraced the principles of soft feel and partnership in Cowboy Dressage is worthy of being called a Top Hand.

As we in Cowboy Dressage honor the Cowboy we also honor the horseman and no skill in the horseman is as highly valued in Cowboy Dressage as the skill of soft feel and partnership.  Do you think you have what it takes to be a Top Hand? Cowboy Dressage World is poised to give you the opportunity to find out.

While the end goal of Cowboy Dressage is not the competition we feel that it is right and fitting to honor the Top Hands out there that have dedicated the time and energy to become worthy of the title.  Though we no longer have the ability to prove our worth while riding for the brand each season, we can get together to showcase and honor the work we have done with our horses and recognize the men and women that have made themselves worthy of being deemed Top Hand.

General Information for Top Hand Competition


  1. Open to Amateur and Open Riders, Clinicians and Professionals.
  2. All riders and wranglers must be 18 years or older.
  3. Riders may enter more than one horse.
  4. If rider has more than one horse in Top Five, then highest scoring horse must be ridden.
  5. All Cowboy Dressage World Rules will apply.; if there is a conflict in Rule Verbiage – these Rules take precedence.
  6. Part one of the Top Five Competition will be ridden on qualifying horse. All riders are aware that the Top 5 Competitors will be required to switch horses for second ride of Top Five Competition on Saturday p.m.  The switch will be determined by a draw.   A mystery test will be ridden twice.  Once on the competitor’s qualifying horse and then once on the draw/switch horse.  A combined score of both tests will determine the winner.  The preliminary test score is not calculated towards championship.
  7. A separate Release of Liability must be signed for Top Hand Competition.
  8. All riders must be members of The Cowboy Dressage World Hand Shake. This is mandatory.  It is free.
  9. If you are showing in both the Gathering and Finals, as well as Top Hand, a separate entry form will be required.   However, only a one-time fee is required for stall/tack and drug fee.
  10. Wranglers are allowed for Top Five Horses. Wrangler stays with horse during switch for riders.
  11. For switch rides, rider may change saddle but not bridle.
  12. Wrangler may offer water to horse if needed.
  13. All Top Hand Competition Tests will have only maneuvers or combination of maneuvers already required in our approved tests.
  14. Substitutions of a horse and/ or rider is allowed ($100 substitution fee) up until Friday, September 8th at 5:00 a.m. with veterinary excuse or approval by CDW Partners. Refunds only before entry closing date with written veterinary or Doctor’s excuse.
  15. No refunds after entry closing date.
  16. All exhibitors should check rules page at for new rules for 2017.
  17. On Saturday night September 9th, all Top Hand riders may not use the court for warm up before competition. Any familiarization to arena must be done in arena outside the court itself.
  18. All riders must supply a photo of themselves and their horse with a short Shirt size is a must too.  Entry will not be considered complete without these.  Send photo, shirt size and bio to Debbie Beth-Halachmy at:  In Subject line put: CDW Top Hand.  This information is due at close of entries.  All this will be listed at:                    
  19. Please check back often as there may be unforeseeable changes.

Schedule for Top Hand Competition

 Friday , September 8th at 6:30 p.m.

  1. Draw to be held by office at 6:30 p.m. for order of qualifier go. Riders may be present.
  2. Order of qualifier go posted by Office September 8th by 8:00 p.m.
  3. Qualifying Test for Saturday Qualifying Rides – Cowboy Dressage Challenge Test Walk/Jog/Lope – Test 2
  4. If there is a conflict of drawn ride times for riders with multiple horses, then ride times will be managed by show office.
  5. Question and Answer on Friday, September 8th 6:30 p.m. after draw for Top Hand ride times. Discussions, updates, etc.  Be there!!
  6. Photo Shoot to follow Q & A. Location TBA

Saturday, September 9th  Morning  Arena 1

  1. Qualifying Rides Take Place
  2. One Judge will judge Qualifying Rides
  3. Top 10 finalists to be posted an hour after final qualifying Top Hand ride
  4. Mystery Test will be available upon posting of Top 10 riders at show office

Saturday, September 9th After Lunch Arena 1

Top 10 Riders

  1. Top Ten Riders/Horses will be present in Arena 1 at start time.
  2. Must be mounted and ready to compete.
  3. Sixth –Tenth Place Riders will be announced (not in order)
  4. Sixth –Tenth Place Riders will leave arena and Top Five will stay for draw.
  5. Draw to take place for order of go for Top Five Riders.
  6. 6th place rider/horse should be on deck in warm up arena in case of any last-second scratches.
  7. Top Five auctioned off in a Calcutta.
  8. Upon completion of Calcutta Bidding on Top Five Riders to begin.


  1. The combined score of the 1st and 2nd Go (Mystery test) will determine the placings for Champion.
  2. The previous Qualifying score is not counted in final Top Five Placings.
  3. 50% of the score is on general impression: Soft Feel, Partnership and Harmony.
  4. 50% of the score is based on technical merit.

The Top Five Riders

First Go

  1. Top Five Horses will have time to familiarize themselves with arena during Calcutta but cannot go inside court.
  2. Top Five Horses cannot leave the arena.
  3. Top Five Riders can leave for bathroom break if needed – use Wrangler.
  4. The first rider will have 2 minutes before the bell rings to warm up and then 45 seconds after the bell to enter arena at A and begin test.
  5. Each rider thereafter will have 2 minutes to warm up once previous rider leaves arena at A. They will then have 45 seconds after the bell to enter arena at A and begin test.

Switch Go for Top 5 Top Hand Riders – Mystery Test

  1. Mystery Test
  2. Upon completion of all First Go rides, wranglers will hold horses and a draw for “the switch” will take place. Wrangler will stay with horse and rider cannot mount or handle horse until 2-minute notice is given.  The rider has 2 minutes to prepare on new horse and then another 45 seconds to enter arena and begin test after bell.
  3. If there is a saddle change needed, time will be given on an as-needed basis.

Presentation of Awards

  1. Upon completion of all rides winners will be announced and Calcutta winners will be announced.
  • Top Ten 10-1 to be awarded
  1. Riders do not have to be mounted during awards. Wranglers can hold horses.

Tie Breaker

In case of tie, a new mystery test will be ridden by the top two riders.  This is a totally unknown test to both caller and rider.  If a tie continues the Soft Feel Score will break the tie.

Ticketed Dinner will follow awards. See entry for dinner ticket. Be there to celebrate!!!


The rider is encouraged to memorize their tests.   The use of a caller is not mandatory.   Cowboy Dressage World allows the rider to use a caller of their choice, however, the ultimate responsibility for accurate and correct riding of the test falls upon the rider.   If the rider chooses to use a caller, it is the rider’s responsibility to arrange for one.   Cowboy Dressage World will not be providing callers for riders.


Awards are calculated and given to a single horse and rider combination.


Top Hand Champion

Cowboy Dressage Saddle to Top Hand Champion

Cowboy Dressage World Top Hand Champion Buckle

Champion Ribbon


Top Hand Top 2-5 Awards

Cowboy Dressage World Top Hand Finalist Buckle

Top Hand Champion Finalist Ribbons


Top Hand 6-10 Awards

Top Hand Top Ten Ribbons


Permanent link to this article:

Amateur Top Hand winner Jill Plumb

Winners of 2016 World Gathering and Show and Top Hand

  Here is a partial list of the winners. You can find a complete list at: Candids are on the Kodak Moments Page and more beautiful photos can be found at: And the winners are…… Top Amateur and Open Awards Open Overall High Point- Marcia Moore Harrison tie with Dee Myers Amateur Overall …

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Top Hand and Finals Winners for 2015

And the Top Hand winner is……………… Megan Gallagher!!! Young Megan (from Grass Valley, California!) is the winner of the first ever Top Hand Competition at the Cowboy Dressage World Gathering and Finals!  We couldn’t be more proud of her, and ALL the participants in this new addition to Cowboy Dressage. The level of riding, softness and harmony was superb. Congratulations …

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