Steamboat riding clinic finds a common ground
Horsemanship clinic bridges Western and English riding styles
July 10, 2011
Steamboat Springs — A horse clinic at a ranch along the Elk River on Sunday brought together two horse trainers who describe themselves as polar opposites.
Andy Kurtz was born and raised on a ranch north of Steamboat Springs and primarily rides horses in the Western tradition, while his teaching partner, Regina Wendler, learned the English tradition of riding while she competed at horse shows in New York when she was 9 years old.
Despite the differences in their styles, headgear — Kurtz wore a cowboy hat and Wendler wore a helmet — and saddles, both trainers spent Sunday afternoon in a muddy arena teaching 10 pupils how to strengthen their relationships with their steeds while drawing from the same lesson plan and stressing the simple notion that horses that jump in competitions and ones that herd cattle have the same basic instincts.
"No matter what style we draw from, we're trying to help people become more comfortable on their horse," Wendler said.
The teachers meet every year to share skills they've developed from their unique riding experiences and traditions with local horseback riders during what they call their common ground clinic.
"There's an idea that if you have a different saddle on a horse, you need to ride it differently," said Wendler, who began leading horseback riding clinics in Steamboat in 1998. "But a horse doesn't know what type of saddle is on its back. The common foundation for both styles of riding is the same. Horses need to respond and listen, and you need to be clear when giving them commands."
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Kurtz and Wendler spent Sunday afternoon watching each rider guide his or her horse through a series of turns and gates that tested control of the steeds. Quarter horses, gaited Tennessee walkers and several other breeds navigated through sets of orange cones as they galloped through a sand and dirt mix that had become slushy after a mid-afternoon rainstorm.
Kurtz, a former rodeo star, said the day was about teaching the people about the horses and the horses about the people. Halfway through his third annual clinic in Steamboat, he said his lifelong experience with horses has helped him work with a variety of students whose skills on a saddle vary greatly.
"You draw heavily from your personal experience when you teach," he said. "In a single day, you could be working with 12 different horses with different problems and with different personalities."
Watching from outside the arena, Kurtz's mother said she knew exactly how to monitor each rider's progress.
"To start with, I watch their seat and their balance," Mary Kurtz said. "Then I watch the pacing of their horse and whether it's responding to their commands."
She said that watching the horses and their riders trot through the arena situated on her family's ranch was a welcome sight.
"We love having it used like this and seeing our kids do what they love to do," she said.
After huddling with the clinic's other students in a 10-by-14-foot log cabin to wait for a downpour to end, rider Pat Roberts quickly tacked up for the second half of the day's training sessions.
"It used to be that if you rode Western you made fun on English riders and the other way around," Roberts said. "But this clinic breaks down those barriers and finds the common threads between both styles."
Shon Colquitt, a ranch hand at the Kurtz Ranch, participated in the clinic and said it provided him new information for his old habit.
"I grew up riding and being around horses but was never taught how to ride them correctly," he said. "It was nice to be able to hear what I was doing right and wrong."
The clinics at the Kurtz Ranch continue from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday with a cow working clinic.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com