The dust has settled and the buckles have been distributed but it feels strange to be at the close of our Cowboy Dressage Gathering season so early in the year. The new early date for The Cowboy Dressage finals was meant to make travel easier for some of the folks coming from the north and for those of us that braved the snowy passes last year we were grateful to have the earlier date despite temperatures higher than most of us were used to!
As always the folks of Cowboy Dressage World worked day and night to put together both a welcoming and well organized Gathering. There were Cowboy Dressage handshake members from all over the country and from out of the country as well including Australia, Germany, Austria, Canada and I'm sure some other far flung places that I'm missing!
We kicked off the week of competitions with a day of learning as we had presentations by our Cowboy Dressage partners and other top horseman and professionals speaking on such varied topics as gaited horses to saddle fit. The lectures were free to all the participants and well attended and thanks to the great folks over at CD learning were live streamed for all the people that couldn't attend in person this year.
The musical freestyle competition is always a crowd favorite. The preliminary rides took place on Thursday with the top 5 in each division returning for a final go on Friday evening. We saw everything from disco to ballet to steer roping in the freestyle competitions. Freestyle not only allows a rider to show off where they and their horse are in their journey to soft feel and partnership, it also allows for each rider to exhibit their own personal flare. I love freestyle because it gives me a glimpse into the personality of my fellow riders. A truly soft freestyle that is complimented by the music is a thing of beauty and I know I'm always moved to watch the performances. Our open winner this year was Marcia Moore Harrison who rode an inspiring free style with a patriotic theme. Our amateur winners were Rus Partee who rode a moving freestyle dedicated to his wife, Dale, and Lesla Bong who rode to Prince.
While the show itself is fun and exciting with three full days of tests occurring in 5 arenas, the big event of the Gathering is the Top Hand competition. Competitors come from all over to compete in the same preliminary test, Cowboy Dressage Challenge W/J/L #2 which features the dreaded bow tie maneuver. It's a tough tough test and only the best horse and rider pair will successfully navigate the entire test with softness, accuracy and partnership. We had 17 open competitors and 7 amateur competitors throw their hats in the ring to compete for this honor. The quality of tests preformed were awe inspiriting to watch and I was thankful I wasn't the one doing the judging!
After the first day of preliminaries the field of competitors were narrowed down to 5 top riders with fractions of percentage points separating the scores of these hands. They were given a "mystery test" full of tricky maneuvers just a few short hours before entering the arena. Each contestant was "auctioned" off for an exciting Calcutta and then the competition got even tougher as they took to the court to ride the new test. Once they had each ridden, they put their names into a hat to draw for the swap for the horses.
Our top 5 riders were all women this year coming from Oregon, Texas, Idaho and California. We had 3 Quarter Horses and 2 mules in our top 5 this year. It was exciting to see who would draw which horse or mule for the swap and final test. All 5 of the riders rode their mystery test with softness and accuracy making it hard for the audience to even guess who might be ahead in the scoring. After watching the swap rides it was even more difficult, such was the difficulty of the test and skill of the competitors. But, it is after all a competition and there must we a winner crowned. The amateur rider that took home the top prize (amateurs were not required to switch horses) was Jill Plumb and Webber. Our Open Top Hand winner was Oregon's Audrey Goldsmith and her mule Porter. Audrey drew Jennifer Purcell's grey gelding Griff for her switch ride. Second place went to Marcia Moore Harrison from Idaho and her gelding Sam. Marcia drew Kellie Sheild's mule Fireman for her switch ride. Third place went to Kellie and Fireman. Kellie rode Brenda's gelding Chex for the switch. 4th place was Jennifer Purcell and Griff. Jennifer rode Marcia's Sam for the switch. And 5th place went to Brenda Hilgenkamp all the way from Texas and Chex. Brenda drew Audrey's mule Porter for the switch. I think I speak for all the folks in the audience when I say it's the switch that really is the exciting part of this competition. Not only is it fun to watch each of the horses or mules with their new rider, it's so rewarding to see each of these fine ladies go to great pains to help their competition ride their horse to the best of their ability. As they all walked back to the horses and mules waiting patiently with the wranglers you could see them quickly giving each other tips and hints and explaining how their mount was likely to react and where their trouble spots were. It really is amazing to watch and it brings home exactly what the top hand competition is all about. Our top riders are all amazing horseman, true, but they are great people as well. They strive for honesty, integrity and fairness even in the face of fierce competition. The horses were all treated with respect and kindness by one and all. It's a great thing to watch.
Of course there is a ton of other fun things to do and see at Cowboy Dressage Final Gathering as well. The left hip body clip competition on Thursday evening was a crowd favorite. It was fun to see the neat designs that those artistic folks are able to create. If you haven't ever tried it, it is harder than it looks! I gave it my best this year by attempting to recreate our ranch logo on my gelding's left hip. Thank goodness I had some talented folks to do some touch up on it before we had to show our faces, er hips, to the crowd!!! Wahl graciously donated wonderful prized to all the participants and winners of this fun competition.
There were more vendors this year offering fun shopping excursions during the down time between tests. Tack, boots, apparel, books, etc were all available for the discerning shopper. For many the highlight of the entire weekend is the fun awards ceremony/talent show where we see just how talented the folks of cowboy dressage world are. We had singing, dancing, reciting of poems and even Eitan impersonating!
With all this fun wrapped up into one weekend it's hard to believe we have to wait another full year before it comes again. For many of us it is a trek to get down to Rancho Murieta for the Final Gathering. As one of the folks spending 2 days on the road to get there, I can assure you it is well worth the trip. You won't find a kinder and more welcoming environment or a better class of horse people in all the world than gather each year to celebrate another successful year of Cowboy Dressage. So, if you weren't able to make it this year, mark your calendars for next year. The facility is first class. The event is wonderful. The competition is friendly and puts the horse first always.