Steamboat Springs Colorado may be part of the Wild West, but when it comes to riding horses, Western style is alone. The Alpine Horse and Rider Club is one example of the passion for English riding that many people living in and around Routt County have.
The club was founded in 1983, and since that time, its membership has grown from 35 to about 150 riders. Most members live in Routt County or other areas of Northwest Colorado, but a handful come from as far away as Laramie, Wyo., to participate in the club's meetings, clinics and shows.
Before the club was formed, area riders had to travel to Denver and other cities to participate in shows and riding programs. Now these programs are just minutes away.
"There were these types of clubs all over, but Steamboat didn't really have one itself," said Donna Meitus, the club's treasurer and one of its founders. "I think what has happened (with the club) is the whole level of the horse involvement in the community has been raised."
Meitus also said she hopes interest in the club will continue to grow.
"I'd like to see anybody in Routt County who's interested in this kind of riding to become involved," she said. "It's a good group."
There are a variety of differences between English and Western riding: They are used for different tasks, such as hunting fox or roping cattle; they involve different equipment, such as saddles with or without a horn; and they require horses to learn different skills, such as dressage or barrel racing.
But other than that, riders say the styles are similar.
"Riding is riding," said Georgiana Stetter, who is part of the club's show committee.
Club president Rebecca Ludlow agreed.
"It doesn't matter what kind of saddle you have on it really doesn't," Ludlow said. "The bottom line is having a balanced seat."
English riders often enter competitions in areas such as dressage, in which a horse performs with fancy footwork; hunter, in which horses must clear a series of jumps; and cross country, in which a horse gallops through a cross country course with obstacles.
One of the club's focuses is its summer horse show series in the Steamboat area.
This summer, six shows are scheduled. Most of these shows will take place in barns that club members volunteer or rent out for the day.
The first dressage show of the season is scheduled to take place today at Ludlow's MountainView Ranch, off Twentymile Road.
The club is open to all ages. Ludlow said a lot of families join and participate in shows and other activities together.
Makala Sheridan, 9, has ridden in the Steamboat shows for the past two years. She and her pony Jiggs have won a handful of shows, but Makala said she doesn't just compete to win.
"I like doing competition and trying my hardest," she said. "I've won bunches of Steamboat shows but (losing) is not disappointing because I know that other people need to win, too."
She said that through the shows, she and Jiggs learn how to work better as a team. One of the best parts of going to shows, Makala said, is that she can hang out with her friends and meet some new ones.
"I've met two friends, and then I have friends that go to the shows with me," she said. "It's lots of fun and you get to do lots of fun things."
Each year, the club tallies up points that each rider has earned through the competitions and gives awards to some of the most successful riders. Last year, Makala and Jiggs were the champions of the short stirrup division.
Also important to the club are its meetings and clinics. During the winter, club members meet once a week to discuss club business and then listen to a guest speaker.
The club also sponsors one- to three-day clinics featuring experts in horse care and riding.
These shows and clinics would not be possible without the club, Meitus said.
"The aim is to educate the English riders in this area," Meitus said. "Because of the distance from Denver and because of the availability and cost of some of the education programs, to have a whole group behind it makes it more do-able and more affordable."
In previous years, the club has offered clinics on ways to improve the horse-rider relationship, on techniques to compete well in horse shows and even on homeopathic remedies for keeping horses healthy.
The club has brought in many internationally known experts on horse riding, such as Susan Harris, who has written several popular horse books, including "Horse Gaits," "Balance and Movement" and the U.S. Pony Club manuals of horsemanship.
"There's more to a horse than just jumping on the horse and riding it and putting it back in the pasture," Ludlow said. "We want to educate people about horsemanship in terms of being a better partner for them."
One of the club's goals for this year is to encourage more local residents to come out and enjoy the horse shows. Ludlow said it's a great way to spend a sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
"There have been quite a few people coming," she said. "Mostly grandparents and parents watching their kids, but we'd like to have more."
Stetter said she expects that this year the club would grow even more.
"This year it's got a little bit more vitality, it's got a little more 'umpf,'" Stetter said. "We're trying to get people aware that this is who we are and that you don't have to go to Denver to see a horse show."