It's a long, long way from North Idaho to Rancho Murieta, California. As our temperatures dropped and our horse's haired up and our arena became a mud pit through early November Dan and I began to wonder just what the heck we were doing thinking about loading up and driving 16 hours through what might be very inhospitable road conditions to attend our very first Cowboy Dressage show.
But, I'm nothing if not stubborn and stuck to our chosen course and Dan grudgingly had the truck serviced and made sure the trailer was ready to go, secretly hoping for a snow storm that would shock some sense into me. Luckily, our trip down was uneventful and we arrived at the gorgeous Rancho Murieta Equestrian Center on Tuesday evening.
The facility is absolutely breathtaking. We were overwhelmed with the shear size and number of arenas on a single facility. We have a few small private indoor arenas back home but nothing in our area that can even hold a candle to this beautiful horse Disneyland. We were greeted by smiling faces and welcoming arms and the ever gentlemanly Garn Walker who helped us to find our stalls and get settled in.
I'm not sure that you will believe me when I try to describe the welcoming environment present at the finals. This is the big Cowboy Dressage show that wraps up the entire year. Hopes are high for good rides, of course, but more than anything else, people are just universally happy to see you and happy to share this dream with others who are trying to find a better way to be with their horse. This is a community of horse people that is inclusive instead of exclusive and that is dang rare in ANY equine discipline. They are supportive, helpful, gracious and kind. They embody this movement in horsemanship in everything that they do. You can't be a kind person in the barn and a jerk outside of it. It doesn't work that way. These people carry kindness in their hearts to their best abilities and inspire you to do the same.
The long weekend kicked off with a mini clinic presented by Eitan, Lynn and Garn with demonstration riders to help us understand what was being asked of us in some of the trickier maneuvers in the tests. Tricks of the trade were shared and questions were encouraged. Every single person riding this weekend was more than willing to share tips, ideas or encouragement as needed and that included our "founding fathers". The Cowboy Dressage World Leaders (a title that makes them sound much more intimidating that they are!) were always willing to answer questions, offer advice or lend a hand. It means so much to have them so accessible and willing to help. Garn and Eitan especially spent some very valuable time with Dan and I just helping us to figure things out and what we could do to improve our scores a bit over the weekend.
Every evening there was either a demonstration or presentation to attend and though it did make our days seem a little long, this is a dedicated group of folks and the evening activities were well attended. I was honored to present a talk on taking what we are learning on the Cowboy Dressage court out into all the other things we do with our horses. The illustrious Dr. Miller gave a great presentation on equine behavior sharing some of his wonderful videos. We were treated to the unveiling of a great and instructive new DVD on the court and the maneuvers that is hot off the press from Cowboy Dressage World. Anybody who is new to Cowboy Dressage or those of you teaching others will want a copy of this great, easy to understand DVD. The highlight of the evening demonstrations was a rare performance of Eitan and his Morgan stallion Santa Fe Renegade on Saturday evening. Eitan rode with a host of mounted riders on horseback surrounding the court. It was breathtaking to watch and I don't believe there was a dry eye in the house when the music changed to Garth Brook's "The Dance" and Eitan directed the applause to Santa Fe and sat and stroked his beloved partner as the riders filed out of the arena.
The afternoon freestyle programs were also well attended and are, I think, everybody's favorite class to watch. It was during the first afternoon of freestyle performances that an event occurred that really embodies the spirit of Cowboy Dressage as a competition. If you aren't familiar with the garrocha, it's what Eitan likes to call a "big schtick". It is a 13' pole that you carry while riding and perform maneuvers including canter and roll backs and swapping of the pole from side to side. It's highly technical and incredibly entertaining to watch. One of the garrocha riders dropped her "schtick" after only about a minute into her performance. When it hit the ground the crowd collectively moaned and all looked at each other wondering what happens now. She had been riding so beautifully and we all wanted to see more and felt the little bobble entirely forgivable. The rider shrugged as she sat her horse looking at the pole on the ground while the music played. Soon members of the audience were offering to run out and pick it up so she could continue. The judge nodded that it was fine to continue and somebody jumped the rail and handed her the pole. The music had a little trouble getting restarted and things were rough for 15-20 seconds or so but then the music and rider got in time again and to the absolute delight of the folks in the audience the ride was completed and there were cheers and applause for the horsemanship demonstrated and not another though given to a dropped pole.
There were over 800 rides in 4 arenas over 4 days at the Finals. It was impossible to see it all. We were privileged to watch some amazing riding and excellent horses. There were also plenty of folks there having a little trouble. Life with horses is not always perfect is it? My horse was one of the ones having some trouble. He had a lot of trouble settling on the court and was nervous and tight and not listening making it extremely difficult to keep soft feel at the forefront. Soft feel is a partnership and a dance and my dance partner was doing the Hokey Pokey while I was trying to lead a waltz! At a normal horse show, that's just tough luck. But, here at Cowboy Dressage the horse always comes first. We tried at first to just have his buddy stand quietly in the arena on the side lines or at one corner but it just wasn't enough and he was getting progressively tense as the days passed. So, in order to make my horse feel more comfortable and secure on the court I asked several of the waiting riders to just line the court while we rode our test. For our final tests we had 8 helpers giving Chico moral support on the sidelines. It worked! We were able to quietly complete our tests and Chico was able to end on a positive note staying quiet and calm with a good experience on the court. Hopefully that will be a good starting place for him and we can build from there.
The final evening award ceremony was also a highlight for us. There was a pile of ribbons, buckles and tack to be given away and each person that won was so thankful and excited to be recognized. I was so proud when Dan won the reserve "Most Improved Award" and was presented with a vintage silk wild rag. He will wear it proudly and will never forget the time he spent at finals with his little red horse. But the very best of all was the high point award of the weekend. We were all waiting on the edge of our seats to see who would be awarded the big award. I don't know about anybody else, but I sure didn't have an inkling of who might have won. There is just so much going on all weekend it's largely a surprise to find out how the scores tallied. The big award for the weekend went to none other than our young 12 year old Ambassador of Cowboy Dressage Avril and her Arabian mare Myla. They took home the Dale Chavez saddle, bridle and breast collar. Again, not a dry eye in the arena as this amazing young horsewoman bounced her way to the saddle that she will have to grow into! I cannot imagine a more fitting end to the weekend than to see this hard working girl take home the big award. Were else could something like that happen where a 12 year old and her horse come in and beat them all? I think it means we are doing something right with Cowboy Dressage.
The 2014 Cowboy Dressage World Finals Gathering was an unbelievable success. If you missed it I encourage you to make plans now for next year. This show is going to continue to grow. The 2013 Gathering had 500 rides and we had over 800 rides this year. This is a movement that is going to continue to grow and flourish because it is being guided and guarded so carefully to be sure the mission remains in tact. This is something you want to be a part of. It's something you need to be a part of. So, come along friend, and ride. The Cowboy Dressage world is just waiting for your handshake membership. What are you waiting for?