2019 Contestants

Click on the names below to read more on these riders.  Come out and support these riders… it will be fun!

  1. Tanja Kraus
    Tanja comes all the way from Australia to ride in this event.
  2. Ali Kermeen
    River and I are back this year, and very excited to be part of it all again.
  3. Dave Ellis
    Dave participated in the first Top Hand ever. They are returning for 2019 Riding For the Brand!
  4. Phil Monaghan
    A top five contestant in the Amateur Top Hand in 2016. Phil will be with us again in 2019.
  5. Rudy Lara
    Rudy also participated in the first Top Hand ever. He is returning and bringing his best for 2019.
  6. Amy Prechter
    Amy will be traveling from Montana to participate in Riding For the Brand.
  7. Jenna Rankin
    enna was raised with a love for horses on her heart and a drive to compete in her blood.  She will be riding in the 2019 Riding For the Brand.
  8. JoAnn Gillespie aka #6
    #6 and her beloved black Morgan Shad rode in Top Hands and will  be riding in the 2019 Riding For the Brand.

Tanja Kraus

Tanja was our 2018 Top Hand Winner
Tanja’s passion is using kind horsemanship philosophies to develop a partnership horse for the rider. Her philosophy develops the horse and rider as a team – to be in tune, flexible, supple, athletic, and confident.

Tanja has successfully competed in dressage, western events, and showing. In more recent years (since 2015) Tanja has traveled to the USA from Australia to compete in the Cowboy Dressage world finals and top hand events. For 2 months of the year Tanja starts horses under saddle.

Her patient, knowledgeable and reflective teaching skills have helped riders achieve success in the competition arena, or simply regain their confidence in their horses and themselves.

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Ali  Kermeen

I had a really good time in 2018 competing in the Top Hand competition at CDW Finals.  I didn’t have my own horse, but was fortunate enough to take my favorite training horse, River.  I’d been working with him a little bit over the previous three years and was very happy with how he’d been coming along.  We came in 7th, but the biggest reward was getting to know the other top hand competitors.  I’m really excited to see some of them back at finals this year.

I also took my 4 year old daughter with me to finals last year, and she was delighted to be a part of it all.  She even did a lead line class on River, who dutifully obliged her.  After the show, River’s owner saw some of the beautiful images Maria Marriot took of the lead line class and she decided that River was part of my family, not hers.  She gave me a wonderful gift by signing him over to me!

River and I are back this year, and very excited to be part of it all again.

Dave Ellis

Dave Ellis is a rancher and clinician who has been involved with horses since grammar school. He got his first horse at age 10 in 1954.  By 1957 at age 13 he found himself helping the neighbors with problem horses, and was soon teaching kids from town how to ride.

In 1982 while starting colts and “fixing” problem horses he became aware of Tom Dorrance, Buck Branaman, and Ray Hunt and a new thing called Natural Horsemanship from an article in Western Horseman magazine written by Dr. Robert Miller called “The future of Training”.  That article referenced Pat Parelli and in 1985  he met Pat Parelli at Bishop Mule Days. Certain that Pat was “holding out” on trade secrets, he was dared by Pat to come to a clinic to see for himself the worth of Natural Horsemanship.  Everything just fell into place after that.

Dave currently conducts clinics for Pat Parelli while managing a small ranch in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of California with his wife, Jody.

David Ellis
LS Ranch
Porterville, CA

Phil Monaghan

Phil Monaghan

Phil Monaghan is a CDWPA level 2 clinician from Australia. Phil has a special interest in Vaquero style horsemanship.

Phil has had an interest in horsemanship for over 35 years. He has ridden and studied with many renowned clinicians throughout his life.

Phil’s style has been described as a cross between horsemanship and classical dressage.

Phil has competed at the cowboy dressage championships for the past 4 years including the top hand competition with horses supplied by city limits ranch.  Traveling each year from Australia with his partner Tanja.

Phil is also a accomplished martial artist having competed, trained and taught in The USA, South Korea, New Zealand and of course in his homeland Australia where he runs a full time school with over 200 students. Some highlights of Phil’s career include Medals at the Hanmadang championships in South Korea in 2012 and 2013. Many state and National championships in Australia as well as World Cup victories and a World Championship in the year 2000 at the world Kido Championships.

Rudy Lara

Rudy Lara

I was born on January 22nd 1970 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico. As a child I grew up in an urban area with a normal city life. The closest I got to a horse was seeing them pull heavy handmade wagons collecting metal or selling different articles. I also would watch the old Spanish western movies and then, grabbing my mom’s broom, I would go outside with my friends and reenact them. Needless to say, I would get in trouble when my mom looked for it. My favorite thing to do was to visit my great grandmother’s farm. That’s where I knew that one day I would own a horse. At the farm, we knew that every animal there served a purpose; they either provided food or were for work. One day, I was playing on the family’s tractor and my dad pointed out some old mules that were there. He told me some stories about his youth and how when he was fifteen years old he plowed the field with mules. We then moved to California near the Los Angeles area. Life was very different, and every time I went back to my great grandma’s house in Mexico I would go borrow a horse from my uncle and I could not be happier.

I joined the military in 1989 and volunteered for deployment to Saudi Arabia prior to Desert Storm with the 1st Marine Division. My first job was corpsman with special units. I decided to become Marine Corps regs and was attached to a sniper platoon until I was honorably discharged in 1996, not knowing I had issues from serving. I was not the same kid that joined and was changed forever. I think God was watching over me and sent me this little sorrel quarter horse mare, that by her marking on her forehead, I named Seven. This was when my love for horses really began. When I felt bad inside, I would go and groom Seven. This helped me calm down and was the best therapy for my PTSD. During this time I joined a local charro team. There, I learned how to fall and fall I did with regularity, looking for that adrenaline rush that I was used to and needed. I became a bronc rider and performed the pasador de la muerte, the leap of death, which consists of jumping from a tame horse to a wild horse at a full gallop. I also did some steer tailing and a little bit of roping. I was the sports commissioner for the U.S. Charro Federation from 2004 to 2008. My job consisted of providing the safety for livestock and competitors while also making sure the event organizers were treating the livestock in a humane way.

An important part of my life came when I met master horseman Dennis Reis in 2008 at one of his tour stops. I liked his way of playing with the horses through communication and body language; this is where a lot of my whys & wherefores were answered. I realized I had being doing things not quite so right. I decided to become a member of Dennis’ program and began working on his program. Dennis has a program consisting of 4 courses, and each course has 4 levels. Ten months later, with no help from other instructors, but with a lot of support from my family and two very important persons in my life, I tested to get my endorsements. To my surprise and even Dennis’ surprise; I was able to get all twelve endorsements in the first three of the four courses. He told me at the time that I was only the second person to earn 12 endorsements at one tour stop. At that point, I was qualified to become an instructor. I attended a second tour stop where I earned two more endorsements from course four and a belt buckle with two diamonds. I have earned 14 out of 16 possible endorsements. About three months down the road, I was sponsored to attend the instructor course by the Reis family at their ranch in northern California.

Before all of this, I enjoyed teaching my horses not knowing that they were the ones teaching me. Looking back now, I was unfair to them for the lack of education on my part. That’s why every single day, through my work, I try to educate horse owners so they can be fair and have a great relationship with their equine partner. I continue to use some of the techniques learned from Dennis Reis while at the same time implementing my own techniques to help horses overcome their fears, in turn helping their humans to overcome their fears as well. My goal for all horse owners is to become a leader and a partner with their horse.

Amy Prechter

Amy has had a passion for horses all her life and considers herself extremely fortunate to have found a way to make them a part of her everyday life. She grew up in Grass Valley, CA on a small horse ranch owned by her family. Growing up, she spent every spare moment she had in the saddle, often competing in youth divisions for Pony Club and Morgan horse sanctioned breed shows. Throughout her youth, she competed in a variety of disciplines, including hunter seat equitation, pleasure events, western pleasure, pleasure driving, halter and showmanship, dressage and western dressage events When not riding, Amy spent countless hours at not only her barn, but the barns of other local trainers assisting with horse maintenance and care. She spent many hours observing and studying these trainers and their horses. Additionally, Amy sought out lessons and clinics offered by a variety of notable horse trainers/instructors, including Eitan Beth-Halachmy (founder of Cowboy Dressage), Claus Bergener, Susan VanGalder, Sharon Camarillo, Speed Williams and Clay O’Brien Cooper. In high school, Amy continued to compete with Morgans at regional, national and world championship levels of competition. She also took up an interest in barrel racing/high school rodeo events and worked under Susan VanGalder of Kissing S Equine.

Amy moved to Bozeman, MT in the summer of 2009 to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Montana State University. She loved the university and community so much that she stayed and finished a second bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Education. Then, she moved right into a Master’s of Science in Agriculture Education and completed a college teaching certificate. After graduating in 2014, Amy purchased her current facility and began building her lifelong dream of her very own equestrian operation. Her operation provides riding instruction for youth and adults of all ages and disciplines. Each summer she hosts over 10 weeks of summer horsemanship camp and clinic programs for youth of all ages and levels of riding. Throughout the years Amy has assisted with local community events and organizations, she currently is the leader of the local Gallatin Gallopers 4H Horseless Horse Club. She has also maintained her certification as an Equine Specialist in the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. Amy is currently pursuing a PHD in Interdisciplinary Education through Montana State University, where she is also the head coach for MSU’S Equestrian Western Riding Team. As an Ambassador of Cowboy Dressage for Montana, Amy is excited to return to the 2019 Cowboy Dressage World Finals and Gathering, and is thrilled to have the opportunity to compete in the 2019 Riding for the Brand Competition.

Jenna Rankin

Jenna was raised with a love for horses on her heart and a drive to compete in her blood. On a feisty Pinto Pony named Candy, she jogged into her first western pleasure class at the young age of 4. A few short years later, she joined her mother and grandmother on the Arabian circuit. In 1998, after the passing of her beloved Arabian gelding “Toppy”, she found herself in the middle of a Morgan Show barn.

That same year she was given the barns lesson horse to ride on the Morgan Circuit. She competed in western and hunter pleasure, equitation and medal classes. By the end of her junior career had received 2 silver medals, and reserve national and world titles in her division.

Prior to college, and several summers between her studies at Western Oregon University, she work for and showed with her mentor Eitan Beth-Halachmy. It was at his ranch, Light hands Clinics, and the show ring that she learned Eitan’s philosophies, mechanics of a horses movement, suppleness, and of course..soft feel. It was within these years that she learned what it meant to be a true horseman.

With the knowledge and skills she had acquired, Jenna began her career as a professional on both the Morgan and Arabian Circuits. Her career consisted of several world and national titles.

In 2009, her and her family endured a horrific tragedy, and despite her grief she took to the ring for the last time for the Morgan Grand Nationals and World Championships. She found herself with two 3 year old geldings that she had trained. One of which a son of Santa Fe Renegade, and both ready to compete in the world champion western pleasure junior horse. With Jenna riding one, and her mother on the other, they competed and won both World Champion and Reserve World Junior Horse Champion.

Since 2009, Jenna had been periodically riding, training, and giving lessons to very special individuals and their horses.  There has always been the desire to compete, however when she gets into the saddle, it is out of pure love and enjoyment of the horse and the bond between horse and rider. Riding and training gives Jenna a peace and serenity that is needed in her life. Today, she enjoys a balance between a love for western riding, and her love for people.

She has spent the last 6 years as a substance abuse counselor, naloxone trainer, and helping fund raise and coordinate for two specific non-profits who share her fight for those who struggle with addiction.  Jenna has found that working with others is truly where her passion lies. In her efforts to help addicts and alcoholics get the resources they need to better their lives, she always finds herself returning to the seat of a western saddle.

So here she is, exactly 10 years after the ride and win of her life. Set out to the arena again, with Eitan’s philosophy ingrained in her soul, and a love and appreciation for the horse that only life’s trials and experiences could have gifted her. She and her friend, a Morgan gelding whose mom calls “Smarty” are ready to ride for The Brand.


JoAnn Gillespie aka #6

JoAnn and her Morgan Shad fell in love with Cowboy Dressage after trying it at the Motherlode Morgan Show in 2012.  Shad and JoAnn found it a great fit for their partnership and have been in the Cowboy Dressage Court ever since. From hosting Cowboy Dressage Clinics at their home Rawking Horse Ranch to competing at the shows this team is constantly working to find balance and harmony.  Over the years they struggled but steadily worked their way from Judges Most Improved to Res Am Champs, to High Point Am Champs, to Vaquero AM High Point Champ at Worlds 2015 to inspiring the 6 Point Dress Code penalty.  #6 and her beloved black Morgan Shad rode in Top Hands will now be riding in the 2019 Riding For the Brand.