Photos by M. Marriott
by Jenni Grimmett
We are home and the horses are settled into their own beds again after a 10 day trip to Northern California and back for the 2018 Cowboy Dressage World Final Gathering. This was our 5th Finals Gathering and they just get better each year. So many amazing things happened at the Ranch Murieta Equestrian Center this year. I’ll try to put into words the magic that goes on each year when we bring together like minded horsemen from across the globe to celebrate soft feel, but if you weren’t there to experience it yourself, there is always a little something loss in the translation. It’s like the difference between being in the audience to watch an amazing freestyle performance and seeing the video of it later. You kind of have to be there to experience the magic.
We arrived on Monday to begin set up and decoration for our barn isle and to allow the horses a day to recover from the 2 day trailer ride. Greeting old friends and meeting new ones as you settle into camp always sets a welcoming tone. I was pleased by how our horses settled right into the calm and relaxed environment. Chico is now a seasoned traveler and campaigner, but Dan’s mare Mia hasn’t been to many shows with us. Because the rest of the horses are happy and settled and quiet, it’s easy for the new horses to settle right in. I know of two young horses that arrived at finals for the very first time this year during one of our busy show days and they walked onto the grounds like there was nothing to worry about. I think it speaks volumes for the calm and relaxing atmosphere that we work so hard to cultivate.
The Cowboy Dressage World Partners work so hard to make this Gathering an event to remember each year. This year we were treated not only to a special lectures on disaster preparedness by partner Wyatt Paxton and equine behavior by Dr. Robert Miller, DVM. Then after some amazing cupcakes provided by the cupcake wars we were all entertained by 7 time WMA Cowboy Entertainer of the year, Dave Stamey. Dan and I have long been Dave Stamey fans and the opportunity to see him in this intimate private concert setting was so wonderful. Dave is an amazing songwriter capturing the essence of the western spirit with a healthy dose of horseman in there as well. We were thrilled to listen to 2 full sets of Dave and his amazing guitar playing while we all sang along. I could have listened to Dave for hours and it sounds like plans are already in the works to bring him back to see us again next year.
Wednesday kicked off our first day of classes. The office staff, volunteers and gate folks made the running of the show seamless this year. Keeping 5 arenas flowing with tests and happy riders is a feat itself. We had two large warm up arenas in two convenient locations and of course, the atmosphere at each arena remained welcoming and quiet for the horses participating in the show. We had riders in our group in 3 of the 5 arenas keeping us hopping and logging lots of “steps” as we campassed the grounds. No problem there, though as it gave us ample time to mingle and nod and say hello to our friends as we traveled from one end of the grounds to the other.
Wednesday evening was the opening ceremony with all 5 of the Cowboy Dressage Partners welcoming the participants. Aside from having all 5 of the partners mounted to ride into the court, we also featured our fellow Idahoan and veteran Marcia Moore Harrison carrying the American flag for the anthem. Then demo riders showed any newcomers what a test ride might look like in each of the divisions including partnership on the ground.
Thursday evening after a full day of tests we were all entertained by the golf cart competition. I was amazed by the level of participation and the effort that went into the 11 entries. The decorations and enthusiasm displayed by the groups was awesome to see. What I originally thought was going to just be a parade of golf carts turned out to be a driving competition with fun directives such as “Stop at 8 and do the hokey pokey” or “10 m circle working drive”. Many of the entries had folks on foot that followed the cart along. The MM Connection entry featured “Bad” Betty Nagle driving while they blasted “Bad to the Bone” on the boom box. Watching 84 yr young Betty get out and do the hokey pokey while getting tangled in the fake cobwebs decorating the cart had me in tears of laughter. The judges agreed and awarded this cart the award for the evening. Jessica Hutchings entry with the Peter Pan theme was also a crowd favorite. They had all the characters of Peter Pan including Capt. Hook and Wendy with Tinkerbell riding along. The best were the inflatable costumes for the parrot and the crocodile that ran along behind the cart during the test. We were all cracking up watching them try to hoof it behind the cart through the test. The last entry was Australian entry featuring Phil Monaghan at the wheel and Dink riding shotgun. Phil decided to drive the course riding backwards straddling the steering wheel. One minor little wreck and they survived the drive with Dink holding on screaming for her life! It was a great event and I’m sure we will see a repeat of this one with the level of participation and the crowd getting into the act as well. Be planning your golf cart entry for next year!
Friday evening was the final night of musical freestyle performance and for that evening they moved the freestyles from arena 4 to the big arena 1. The acoustics and seating are so much better for the freestyle performances in that arena. There were several excellent freestyles this year that were a pleasure to watch. The quality of the rides continues to improve and this event definitely continues to be a crowd favorite. We had 2 hours of freestyle performances on Friday. It was fun to watch all the performances.
Saturday wrapped up the regular tests and concluded the show as we prepared to watch our Top Riders gun it out in the Top Hand Competition. 11 riders threw their hats in the ring this year allowing all of the preliminary qualifying rides to be showcased during a catered dinner in arena 1. The rides were great and the food was fabulous as we gathered to watch each rider give their best. This test (Challenge WJL Test #2) continues to be a great one to separate the men from the boys and none of the rides were perfect, each rider having a bobble or two on this difficult test. The highlight of the evening for everybody that was in attendance was a moment that I won’t soon forget as it is best example of our Cowboy Dressage Culture and putting the horse first. Phil Monaghan who travels each year from Australia to ride on a borrowed horse with partner Tanja Kraus has been competing in Top Hand since the 2015. Each year Tanja and Phil hop on these horses that they only see once a year to come and compete at the highest level at finals. The horses are used as therapy horses for the rest of the year and have to really step up their game to come and compete not only in Top Hand but in the other upper level tests as well. Phil and his horse, Smoke had had a very good week with some beautiful tests. But as they rode into the court on Saturday it was obvious that Smoke was not as interested in the Top Hand ride as Phil was. Phil attempted to get him back in partnership but after a few maneuvers pulled up and tipped his hat to the judges explaining that his horse wasn’t with him tonight and he was pulling him from the competition. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. The Top Hand Competition is not undertaken lightly. Its expensive to enter and the rides up to that point had not been perfect either. Phil likely could have muscled through and completed the test with no more serious bobbles than some of the other riders had. But, he knew Smoke was tired and had given his all the previous days of the test. He pulled up, took himself out and earned the respect of everybody else there.
When the tests were tallied and scored that night we were left with our Top 5 riders. Jessica Hutchings, Tanja Kraus, Rudy Lara, Heath Parsons and Abigail Miller. As always the switch rides on the mystery test the following day allowed the cream of the crop to rise to the top and after a great ride on both her own mare and the switch horse, Sparkles, owned by Heath, Tanya Kraus of Australia was crowned the victor and Sparkles was awarded the top horse.
After the conclusion of the Top Hand rides the remaining high point and soft feel buckles along with some special awards were given out. I love how the awards in Cowboy Dressage tend to spread out and there were many different faces coming up to receive special recognition for their hard work and achievements. Having the final awards presented on Sunday afternoon allowed for a seamless awards presentation as all of the point tallies were calculated the previous day. This year, the big prize and trophy saddle went to Cherie Cross. After riding right along side of her all week, I can’t think of a more deserving rider. What a beautiful example of soft feel and kindness!
And just like that we are all wrapped up for the year. Rumor has it that CDW has some exciting things in the works already for 2019. As this discipline and family grow each and every year we are so gratified to see that the original vision of a horse community based on kindness and soft feel continues to be strong and protected not only by the Partners guiding this dream but by each of the participants as well. We truly are a family of like-minded horsemen and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.