In November of last year, this column featured a story on the relatively new discipline of Western Dressage. Two readers wrote in to take a free Western Dressage lesson sponsored by Andrew at MtnHomes4Horses.com with local instructor, Kelly Hendricks. Last year, Kelly completed the Train The Trainer TM program through the Western Dressage Association of America, giving her the tools to help teach others the foundation behind Western Dressage.
Denise was one of those readers and grew up riding all over the mountains of Conifer with her Grandfather. At nine, Denise started riding with the Westernaires. Her parents bought her Grandfathers horse property in Conifer when she was twelve, allowing her to get her first horse Sasha, a yearling Arabian filly. She became Denise’s 4-H mount and trail horse. Denise and Sasha formed a lasting bond as they explored the same mountains that her and her grandfather had once ridden together.
As Denise progressed in Westernaires, she continued to ride their string horses, which gave her an opportunity to ride a variety of horses in many ways during those ten years. For the last five years with Westernaires, she rode in the National Western Stock Show as well as traveling throughout the United States performing. At several shows, Denise was the featured sidesaddle rider and she also performed with the Varsity drill team.
Denise’s daughter Jaden, now in medical school, started in Westernaires at twelve. She too rose through the organization to become a Precisionette, elite Varsity rider and performer at the National Western Stock Show. They found two amazing horses for Jaden to perform on, Slider and Rio. While Jaden rode, Denise coached all levels of Westernaires from Tenderfoot to Precisionette. She was thrilled to be connected to horses again after being away from them while she raised her two kids. Westernaires also gave her and Jaden an opportunity to form a tight bond through their mutual love for horses.
Denise’s life then changed drastically when her husband of twenty-five years filed for divorce and moved to California. As a single mom, with her son at home, she decided to move back to her hometown of Evergreen to rebuild her life. Determined to keep horses in her life, she was able to hold on to Slider, who was now aging and needed a companion. That is when she found Drifter, a Hancock-Driftwood bred three-year-old gelding with a calm, laid back personality.
Drifter entered the picture right around the time the Western Dressage article came out in the Colorado Serenity. After reading the article, Denise went to a Western Dressage demonstration at the National Western Stock Show in January and decided to email about the free lesson. Western Dressage seemed to be the perfect way to get a young horse like Drifter engaged, using his body correctly and learning what would be expected of him.
Describing their first lesson with Kelly, Denise states, “Kelly was the perfect trainer for me! I had done lots of riding in my life, but never something like this. She was quite skilled in this area and a very patient and competent instructor. I had only ridden Drifter a handful of times before going to a lesson with her. In fact, I had never even loped him at that point. She encouraged me to lope him at our first lesson and gave me hints about cues and where to turn him and stop him. He reacted perfectly! I was hooked on this new training!”
With sporadic riding over the winter, Denise and Drifter took lessons when they could and as the weather warmed up and the days became longer, they had more time to work on their assigned skills.
This past October 5th, Denise and Drifter attended the Colorado Corral Western Dressage clinic at the Evergreen Rodeo Grounds with Kelly. Here are her thoughts about her experience at the clinic and at the Ride-A-Test the next day:
What I wasn’t prepared for was the transitions and knowing where those were within the dressage arena. I understood how to do that in a drill team setting – but the dressage arena and markings were a foreign language to me! I went home from the clinic and re-wrote the dressage test instructions to make sense to me in my drill team thinking brain. I walked it through in my pasture and felt fairly confident the day of the test that I had it memorized. But boy was I nervous!
I had been riding my whole life and had performed in front of huge audiences – this was just one judge. But I wanted to do well – for myself, for Drifter and for Kelly. She had told me the day before at the clinic that any score over 60% was something to be proud of. It didn’t sound all that good to me – but if she said it was good – I believed her! The ground was still so wet from the flooding the week before. But Drifter handled it all like a pro. He moved into the transitions when I cued him and stopped when I asked him to. At the end, the judge came out into the ring to give me some tips. At that point I told her Drifter was only 4. She was shocked and surprised at his demeanor and his willingness.
She gave me some cues on getting him more collected and rounded – things I am still working with him on now. I went home feeling good that I didn’t make any huge mistakes and pleased with Drifter’s performance, never imagining that I would receive a score of 64% and 3rd place overall! What an accomplishment for someone who had never even heard of Western Dressage until 9 months ago and just started training her young horse. I was very pleased!
I will continue to work on Western Dressage with Drifter. I feel it is such a good foundation for all horses – regardless of the discipline you intend to move them into. I still plan to move him into reining when he is ready, but continue with his dressage training throughout his lifetime.
Denise and Slider ride with the Evergreen Rodeo Drill Team. Additionally, Denise works as a coach and consultant for other drill teams around Colorado and Wyoming. Heather McWilliams © 2013.