Regina Wendler's love of horses shows in teaching

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— Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Regina Wendler knew she loved horses well before her 10th birthday.

Her love for horses was sparked when she was growing up in New York, and that love still remains strong today.

When Wendler was 9, she tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her father to lease a pony for the summer. At the time, her dad thought it would be cheaper to put his two girls into riding lessons but in hindsight it might have been a better financial decision to lease.

That's because both Regina, and her younger sister, excelled in the classes. Soon dad was shuttling his daughters all over the region and the country to different riding competitions.

"I've ridden since I was 9 years old and I hunter jumped about 50 weeks a year," Wendler said.

Wendler's talent was in the hunter jumping classes which pit horse and rider against a preset course with a number of difference obstacles that must be hurdled.

During her years of competitive riding, Wendler amassed a long list of accomplishments. Looking back, she can tell stories about riding at major events at Madison Square Garden and at the U.S. Equestrian Trials, where she earned both silver and bronze medals.

But by the time she turned 21, Wendler was looking for a break from the pressure that surrounds competitive riding and the politics.

She decided to turn her love of horses to training the animals instead of competing. Her plan was to return to hunter jumping in a few years, but a riding accident changed her plans.

While breaking a horse, she was tossed to the ground and suffered a severely broken leg. Two surgeries and several doctors later, she was advised to stop riding horses altogether and was told show jumping was out of the question.

The doctors also told her it would take a full nine months to recover from the injury. Because she suddenly had some extra time on her hands, Wendler decided to visit a friend in Steamboat Springs.

"I came for a week and ended up staying for a month," Wendler said.

Soon after the visit she made the choice to relocate to the Rocky Mountains and Steamboat. At first, Wendler stayed away from horses altogether and spent her time at a number of different jobs, including working at the Steamboat Ski Area and at the Kids Kabin Child Care Center.

Wendler first started teaching riding to students after working out a deal to teach a young student named Ellie Slocum.

Wendler admits she really didn't want to teach, but this opportunity would give her a chance to get back on a horse. As part of the deal, she would be able to ride one of the Slocums' horses while teaching Ellie.

In the summer of 1992, Wendler's drive to get back into riding led her to the local Pony Club, where she was introduced to students such as Ali Small. She is still heavily involved with the club, which teaches young riders the basics, safety and other aspects of riding.

Wendler avoided jumping while teaching, but she discovered another way to express her competitive needs in the world of dressage.

Her life in Steamboat also began to expand outside of the realm of the riding arena. In 1996, she married Ron Wendler, and by 1997, she had given birth to the couple's first child, Payton. The family grew again in 2000 with the birth of the couple's second child, Landon.

Wendler said she wants her children to love horses and riding as much as she does but will not push them in that direction. She said the family owns a pony so the children can learn to ride. But the children will have to make their own decisions on whether to compete.

Today, Wendler teaches about 25 local riders at a variety of different levels, including a very promising pupil in Katie Mills.

"She has worked with Katie for a number of years," said Katie's father, Chet. "She is very positive, supportive and stern when she needs to be. But she is simply a super, super young woman."

Wendler recently purchased a top-level show horse named Snow Essence and is hoping to move up the ladder in the world of dressage.

Wendler and Snow Essence began competing at the fourth level, have since moved up to pre-St. George level and should be in Intermediatory I this year. The pair recently won a silver medal from the U.S. Dressage Association by collecting the needed points at a Rocky Mountain Dressage Society event at Prairie Farms in Parker.

Snow Essence won the Grand Prix Level (the highest level in dressage) in 1999. Wendler doesn't think she will be able to get the older horse back to that level before "Esse" passes her competitive prime.

"It takes a rider and horse at least one year to learn and clear a single level," Wendler said. "Esse knows how to win at that top level, but I just don't know how to push all the right buttons yet."

So while Snow Essence continues to teach Wendler every day, Wendler is hoping to pass her knowledge of the equestrian world onto a new generation of riders.

In the past few years, she has also taken a different approach to horseback riding after being exposed to yoga and a centered technique of riding.

"There are so many life lessons in riding," Wendler said. "I want to teach my students that it's not just about winning. I want them to be compassionate to their animals. I don't want them to sacrifice themselves or their horses just to move up a class."

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