Steamboat Springs It may not grab the headlines like the skiing community, be seen on the roads like the cycling community or even dominate Friday night summers like the rodeo community. The equestrian in Routt County thrives, however, and that was a takeaway message Saturday at the Cayuse Classic, a daylong celebration of all things horse at Sidney Peak Ranch near Steamboat Springs.
There, the art of equestrian was celebrated with big rides, big jumps and big smiles.
“It went really well today,” said Athena Karlin, a trainer who works with many of Saturday’s competitors.
That it’s a community was evident from the get-go. Horse lovers combined the friends and families of the riders to surrounded the jumping course at Sidney Peak as the afternoon pressed. It was all about the horses. What else can be said about a place where nearly all seem able to identify a particular competitor more quickly by a description of her mount than by a description of her clothing?
The day’s activities included riding competitions of all disciplines, Western and English. Things can get heated, riders admitted, but Saturday was about fun.
“Our goal is no tears,” trainer Christina Gumbiner said. “We didn’t have any.”
That’s mostly true. More than a few perfect prances around the ring wet cheeks.
Serious competition or not, there were plenty of winners throughout the day.
Donna Dunckleberger was the champion of the adult English pleasure division, Kathy Buffham in the adult Western pleasure, Karen Forbes in junior Western pleasure and Cosette McLaughlin in junior English pleasure. Lore Marvin was tops in adult high hunter, Arielle Gold in junior high hunter and Marvin in the jumper champion.
“I’ve been riding since I was a kid,” Marvin said. “It’s fun and it tests you. ... Jumping, it’s so free. It’s like flying.”
On Saturday, it was obvious plenty share in Marvin’s love — enough that some organizers hope to increase the sport’s exposure in Steamboat Springs by the addition of a team at Steamboat Springs High School.
That could be a boon for the girls and the sport, she said.
“I rode for Colorado State when I was in school. I rode for myself, always, growing up, but when there was the added team aspect, it made it really different,” Karlin said. “It takes what could be a very self-absorbed sport and makes it about everybody.”
In Saturday’s field, she had plenty of eager potential riders.
Payton Wendler, 14, is a fitting representative of Steamboat, combining a love for the moguls course in freestyle skiing with a love for Cinco, her horse of seven years and the beast that ferried her around Saturday’s course.
She hollered out her joy in the middle of one round, a rare case of on-the-course enthusiasm on a day when even a girl tossed from her saddle got back up, got back on and cleared the barrier without much of a peep.
“I was just really proud of him,” said Wendler, who just graduated junior high. “He’s the best horse ever. He’s just so sweet. He knows how to jump big, and he’s such a fun horse.”
The event was junior hunter over fences, in which riders are challenged to memorize a course, clear the jumps and moderate speed while trying to make it look easy and effortless.
“I love jumping, and I love hanging out with the horses,” she said.
Brittany Brown, 13 and entering eighth grade, said she hadn’t considered a high school team yet, though she made it clear she’d be willing to consider anything that included her horse, Willie. She’s been riding just three years and has been paired with the big, strong Willie for just a few months.
Saturday was their first competition.
She said the bond was quick to form.
“I love the horses and the bond that you get,” she said. “Willie’s a jumper. When he performs like he did today, I see the bond. He was amazing. He goes fast, and you just have to trust him.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com