I’m not one to write extensive show reports, but I just had the show of a lifetime so I’m going to make an exception.
I entered three horses in the Cowboy Dressage World Finals:
-Angie Eagan’s Paint mare “Trampalena” (Lena), in the walk jog challenge division
-Melinda Prosser’s Tennesse Walker “Pusher’s Muddy River” (Tyrone) in the gaited horse division
-My own Mustang “HCE River” (River) in the prestigious Ridin’ for the Brand competition.
I had intended go with another barn for support, but due to an unfortunate accident they all dropped out so I was more or less on my own.
The horses all loaded and traveled well to Murieta Equestrian Center. I rode Lena first, and she was tense but let go of most of her tension and tried to give me a good ride. When we were walking back toward the barn, her cup of worry began to overflow. Rudy Lara asked if I wanted to ride back with him. I didn’t think it would help. I stepped off, and she exploded. She got away from me, and put her leg through her reins. Thankfully JoAnne Gillespie was nearby and easily caught Lena and gave me some kind words of encouragement. I was off to an auspicious start.
One reason that CDW Finals is my favorite show of the year is because of the free education offered. Sharon Speir gave a lecture on detecting subtle lameness. I highly recommend this lecture for anyone who likes horses and wants to give them a better life. Next was a hackamore lecture with Dave Ellis and Phil Monaghan. Brad Tarp was meant to give the lecture, but was called away on a family emergency and these fine horsemen stepped in. I ride Tyrone in a hackamore so I saddled up and attended.
I’ve been riding in my own bosal style hackamores for about a year. Last year at finals I cornered Phil Monaghan and got him to talk to me for about 20 minutes about where I should start. I was happy to get my setup and fit signed off on by both Phil and Dave. I learned some more about the fit and use of the hackamore, and Dave also gave me some help with proper use of the bosal while riding. I’ve found that on the topic of traditional Californio style horsemanship, there is no book or video that is as good as talking to an experienced trainer. There are not a lot of excellent vaquero style horsemen around, so having two at our disposal was a real treat.
One thing that stuck with me is when Phil said “Imagination is what is missing most in horsemanship these days.” I agree completely and would like to see more people learn by mindful experimentation.
The evening finished off with a brief meeting about the future of Cowboy Dressage. It seems like the partnership division is growing and next year more tests will be offered!
Lena let go of most of her anxiety. When I took her to the Cowboy Dressage gathering in the spring time, she manifested her anxiety by charging open mouthed at people who got to close, as well as other horses. I was pleased that she didn’t do any of that, and just had a little reluctance to yield my inside leg. Debbie Beth-Halachmy knew that I didn’t have any one with me and made sure I had a caller for my tests. In fact she had Eitan call my first test. Wyatt Paxton called my second test.
Tyrone did his very first dressage test ever in the main arena. Thanks to Sue Eckles and Cleo Home bringing him some buddy horses, he did great! Like Lena, he could have yielded to my inside leg more, but he got the job done and stayed with me. Considering I had only ridden this horse a half dozen times prior to the show, and our first ride was understanding the concept of moving away from leg pressure instead of into it, I was thrilled.
River was already done with being in a stall. He has lived in a large pasture his entire live and does not do well with captivity. I try to mitigate this with frequent walks and opportunities to roll. Despite having gone on two walks with rolling earlier in the day, he had way too much spunk to do the first phase of the Ridin’ for the brand competition, which was a partnership on the ground test. In warm up, he was alternating between frolicking on two legs, and nipping at my shirt. He was telling me that he was really itchy. I was telling him that I had just spent an hour grooming him for this important event. Finally I acquiesced to him and let him roll one more time right before it was our turn to go. I figured having a dirty horse was going to score better than a horse trying to bite my clothes for our entire test. We did a marginal but passible partnership on the ground test, I know we are capable of doing much better, but we did the best we could that day.
Since River clearly needed more stimulation, I saddled him up and gave him a ride. It was probably my favorite ride of the show. We schooled in the arena during the golden hour listening to Tanja Krauss’s freestyle music and we just danced together. It was a magical feeling.
I got Tyrone and Lena both shown and put away before 10AM. They were very good, and both earned some blue ribbons. Rudy Lara and Rudy Lara Jr were buddy horses for Lena, Tessa Nicolet was a buddy horse for Tyrone and provided me with Dan for a caller. I also got to know Kelly Landry a little bit and her one eyed stallion was a buddy horse for Tyronne too.
River and I did our challenge test for the Ridin’ for the Brand competition. The lope bow tie over poles is the bane of our existence and my goal was not to scare him. Goal accomplished! Again, not our best test ever, but passable. Our jog work, stops, backs, and turns were pretty good.
River hadn’t layed down in his stall yet, so I know he wasn’t sleeping. That is bound to make anyone feel a little strung out and crazy. Tanja Krauss said she unscrewed the light in the stalls so her horses could get some rest at night. I thought that was a good idea so I did that for River.
I was feeling pretty exhausted by the end of the day, like it was the end of the show. But it was just half time.
Tanja’s lightbulb trick worked! River had layed down in the night and gotten some sleep.
Lena woke up a bit bothered. I’m not sure what she was worried about, but despite pulling back when we were getting ready, I decided to ride her. She felt happier to be doing something with me than being in the stall by herself, so I showed her. She didn’t want me to sit down hard on her, so I just didn’t do that. She tried her heart out and I couldn’t have been happier.
Tyrone was also a good boy, getting better every day!
It was freestyle day for Ridin’ for the Brand. This was going to be our strong suit. I had help choreographing the routine from Diane Kernoodle of Center Stage Musical Freestyles and the music makes me very happy. I went to River’s stall about an hour before our ride time to get him groomed up. I latched the door behind me, but he was ready to get out of the stall. He shoved the door with his nose and it gave a little bit. He shoved it again, a bolt from the latch came off, the door opened and he was off like a shot.
River is a Mustang, and though we think he was born in captivity, he still has the call of the wild in his blood. This isn’t his first time getting loose, and I knew it would take some time to catch him. He’s not the type that wanders over to the nearest food source and starts eating, he’s the odd type of horse that wants to feel his body move unencumbered in wide open spaces.
Fun fact, there is no fence around the perimeter of Murieta Equestrian Center. I didn’t know that at the time, but I know it now. I had some help with some passersby trying to catch up to him. He visited the bottom of the property where pony club was having a show jumping rally, he crossed through the creek on the south edge of the property, picked up the neighborhood pedestrian/bicycle path, and just like that he was gone. No one saw which way he went.
That’s when I started to lose my composure. Some pony club moms picked me up on their golf cart, one of them got intel that he was in a business park south of the facility. I knew I needed reinforcements so I started calling the few people whose phone numbers I had that were at the show. CDW partner Lyn Ringrose-Moe answered and dropped what she was doing to join the hunt for River. We got word that River was spotted at the nearby airport, so we took a battalion of golf carts down there to meet him.
Finally we spotted him on the runway! He saw us too, and wasn’t ready to be caught yet so he took off through the open space reserve of the river toward Jackson Highway. I called Lyn again, in tears this time, and she got in her car and zoomed down the highway to help. Thankfully River turned back around, and went back to the airport.
There was a clearing between the runway and the river that we got River corralled on. I had a bucket full of treats, and I tried to entice him by shaking it. Most horses would come to that, especially being a couple miles away from another horse and also spending the last 30 minutes on the loose. Not River, he flipped me the middle hoof, kicked out at me and tried to run again. Golf carts blocked his way, so I took a deep breath, set down the bucket, and tried to make myself the source of calm. That worked and River came to me. I haltered him, and he was caught.
I have never ponied River from a golf cart before, but doing it on an airport runway seemed like a good place to start. Despite his rogue tendencies, River is a very good horse and he quietly ponied 15 minutes back to the equestrian center through neighborhoods, shopping centers, and speeding motorists. We returned to stabling with about 15 minutes to go before my ride time. I put the saddle on him, got dressed, and even had time for a little warm up.
Our freestyle went pretty good! It felt a little bit flat to me like my horse was a tiny bit tired, but the whoops from the spectators helped bring out the showman in my horse. On lookers said they couldn’t tell he was tired, and that he looked soft and willing. I want to give some credit to his good nutrition he gets from his Grand Meadows Grand Premium Plus supplement.
That night was the catered party, we had entertainment from Rudy Lara, Jr. doing trick roping and Dave Stamey singing his cowboy songs. The finalists for the Ridin’ for the Brand competition were announced and River and I made the cut! We would ride in the finals the next night!
Lena and Tyrone continued to improve; both of them gave me the best feel on their last ride. We continued to have outstanding support in readers and buddy horses from the friends we made.
The RFTB finals consisted of a mystery test, and a freestyle with no compulsory movements. My old friend Michelle Scott, and her 5 year old daughter Abby, came out to help wrangle my horse and cacti that evening. The mystery test was essentially a mirror image of the challenge test we had done on Thursday, with simple lead changes through the walk instead of the jog. Again, my goal was not to frighten River in the lope bow tie, so I took a page from Tanja’s book, and did some excessive walking in that movement. I knew my score would suffer, but my relationship with my horse would not. My goal was to make it to the final five, and I had already achieved that goal.
Our freestyle was similar to the one that qualified it, but we added some haunches-in butt-waggling and did our lead changes through the walk. We also backed up in a circle. All in all, it was a solid performance.
It came time to announce the winners, and I still hadn’t been called in the final two! I held hands with Jenna because I’d never felt more like a finalist at a beauty pageant, and that’s what they do. Jenna was game to go along, but she was also the clear winner. I came in second!!!
No riding today, just packing up and the awards ceremony. I ran out of clean clothes after my unplanned expedition to the riverfront and airport, so I went in my pajamas. I won my very first tri color championship and my very first buckle! Actually Tyrone did, I just helped 😉
I’m thankful to all the old friends and new friends that I made. For those who helped me at the show, and those who held down my life at home. I’m especially grateful to the cowboy dressage partners for curating this community that is governed by the Old West Code of Honor, “A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks and animals. Be honest in thought, word and deed. Be a good steward of land and its animals. Stay curious and open-minded.”
Even though I went to the show as the only person with the three horses, I was never alone. It is impossible to be without friends at a Cowboy Dressage Gathering.
Ali Kermeen is a Cowboy Dressage level 2 clinician, and has a handful of other certifications from various equestrian organizations in several different disciplines. She owns and operates HC Equestrian in Milpitas, CA and enjoys her mustang River in Cowboy Dressage, Working Equitation, and Trail Riding.