It still feels to me that my Cowboy Dressage 2017 season just started a few weeks ago. As I’m looking back on a year of accomplishments and growth and fond memories of my Cowboy Dressage family it is hard to reconcile our Final Gathering has already come and gone. If you are like me and still reeling from the long weekend or were unable to attend, allow me to share with you what you missed!
Though there is no doubt the temperatures can be quite challenging in early September, there is also no denying that the gorgeous setting of the Rancho Murrieta Equestrian Center outside of Sacramento, California is an amazing setting for our Final Gathering at any time. The immaculately maintained facility is large while still seeming to be cozy and close enough to attempt to stay engaged with all the activities that are occurring across the grounds. The Cowboy Dressage World Partners and volunteers worked hard to bring us a variety of educational opportunities as well as fun competitions to keep the action hopping all through the extended weekend. This is part of the reason why our Final Gathering of the year continues to be an event that draws participants from all corners of the country as well as far reaching regions of the globe.
The Gathering kicked off on Tuesday September 5th with the first day of Power Clinics and educational opportunities offered to a lucky group of participants that could take advantage of the excellent instruction presented by our Cowboy Dressage World Partners, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Lyn Ringrose-Moe and Garn Walker. Riders could attend sessions with each of the talented horseman to concentrate on varied topics including transitions, lateral maneuvers and lope departures. Each of the Cowboy Dressage Partners bring their own unique skill set and different point of view while all teaching the same basic principles of soft feel, partnership and harmony and building self carriage in our budding Cowboy Dressage Handshake members.
Wednesday September 6th the Gathering really got rolling with our first day of tests ridden in 3 arenas which were manned completely by our own home grown and instructed Cowboy Dressage Recommended judges. It is a testament to the hard work of World Partner Lyn Ringrose-Moe who has worked tirelessly to create shape and guide our judges program ensuring that our handshake members continue to be rewarded for the elements of Cowboy Dressage that we hold most important. While the tests were being judged throughout the day there were also multiple educational opportunities to attract our members. Australian Natural Horseman, Ken Faulkner paired with our own veteran of Natural Horsemanship and Cowboy Dressage supporter, Dr. Bob Miller, DVM to put on a demonstration of colt starting and roundpen skills. Marcia Moore-Harrison and Davalee Minden of Potlatch, Idaho provided a stimulating and beautiful demonstration of the possibilities of building partnership through liberty work with an eye on someday including liberty groundwork classes at our Cowboy Dressage Gatherings. And, while all of this was going on in separate corners of our facility, the Power Clinic sessions continued with the Cowboy Dressage World Partners in the big arena. As if this wasn’t enough to keep any of our handshake members busy, the vendors that bring so many wonderful products to our Gathering were busy setting up for a complete shopping experience along the main thoroughfares!
Thursday and Friday September 7th and 8th were busy days of riding tests for most of our members as each horse and rider pair did their best to show how far they had come in their own personal journeys throughout the year. As always each arena was like a mini family reunion with cooperation and support in evidence for members that may or may not be in direct competition throughout the show. Cries of “Good Luck!” and “Nice Ride!” are common among the participants while offers of callers, buddy horses and just good old encouragement continue to be offered to friends new and old. One of my favorite pairs to watch throughout the gathering was two of our youth riders. Both of these young girls have been competing for several years but only get to see each other at the Final Gathering each year as one is from Washington while the other is from California. They laughed and joked hanging out before each of their tests and were genuinely happy when one of them beat the other. When one girl would have a tough ride the other was there to offer encouragement and uplifting words and when one would have a good ride the other would cheer louder than the rest. We don’t have to do a thing to encourage sportsmanship among our young riders in Cowboy Dressage. In a community built entirely on kindness it’s just what we do.
Thursday and Friday evenings after the tests were completed it was time to focus again on education. Both evenings featured presentations by our Cowboy Dressage Professionals on topics of their choice that were designed to help each of our members in unique ways. Topics varied from Yoga for Horseback riders to a Saddle fit and a very informative talk on the different actions of our common pieces of headgear for our horses. Each of the professionals put a lot of time and thought into their presentations and it is gratifying to see that just as our Recommended Judges program has grown and thrived, our Cowboy Dressage Professionals program is also bringing together the very best and brightest likeminded horsemen and women that the world has to offer.
New to the Competition this year was the Cowboy Dressage Musical Drill Freestyle Competition. We had two large drill teams competing for the top honors and it is so much fun to watch a group of riders exhibiting soft feel work through maneuvers in unison. I believe this will be a division that continues to grow as more and more riders discover the joy of riding together in formation.
And we can’t forget the always entertaining Left Hip Body Clip competition sponsored by Wahl clippers. Several members participated this year and the artistic abilities of our Cowboy Dressage family are inspiring. One of our competitive drill teams each had the same clip on their left hip which were not only beautiful but a great way to identify the drill members.
Of course, the culmination of our year from a competitive standpoint is the Top Hand Competition. While entries were down this year from previous years the same cannot be said for the level of horsemanship. The elite Top Hand Competition is in its third year this year and we have seen each year a tremendous amount of growth in the skills exhibited by those riders brave enough to through their hat in the ring. The test scores on the preliminary rides this year were 5-10 percentage points above previous years. The competition could not have been closer and the riders were separated by mere fractions of a point as they came to the top 5.
For the spectators (and I believe the riders as well) the real excitement in this competition stems from the switch ride as each rider draws for one of their competitor’s horses to ride a mystery test. As in previous years it is encouraging to see that, while this is a very serious competition with big prizes on the line, each rider is thinking first and foremost of their mount and the success of their fellow rider. After the switch you can see each rider explaining what their horse is like and helping them to avoid trouble spots during the test.
This year we were excited to watch two of our returning Top Hand riders and mounts back in the top 5. Jennifer Purcell and Kellie Shields both rode in the top 5 last year with their mounts, Griff and Fireman. New to the line up this year was our first youth rider, Joy Wilcox as well as Tami Beach and Nina Burkett. When all was said and done each rider did a very commendable job with obvious respect for their competitor’s mounts. Rising to the Top of the Fields was Kellie Shields followed by an astounding finish by Joy Wilcox. A big shout out goes to Jennifer Purcell’s, horse Griff who has twice now been the horse to draw in the switch successfully taking each of the riders that have drawn him to the top spot.
Sunday the show wrapped up with the last day of tests followed by the awards ceremony. Not even the high temps could damper the enthusiasm as the Cowboy Dressage community gathered to hand out 2 tables worth of awards to the hard-working members of our community. Most of the awards are well spread out throughout the group but you occasionally see some of our hardworking members needing a sac to carry out all of their winnings. The Cowboy Dressage World Partners and gracious sponsors continue to do a wonderful job of ensuring there are plenty of awards to go around.
So, with the closing of our Final Gathering we officially bid adieu to the 2017 Cowboy Dressage season. But don’t think the hard work is all over until next year! Our Partners, professionals and volunteers are already hard at work organizing and planning for next year. The Final Gathering will be later next year with new October dates which should help us avoid the high temperatures! More education, events and exciting developments are in store for your 2018 Gathering! Until then, happy trails!