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Local cowboy dressage team shines at Nationals

Sparkles takes top honors

by Stan Cola

The Crested Butte Horse Park Cowboy Dressage team headed to California for the Cowboy Dressage World (CDW) National Championships and Gathering October 10-15. The horse and rider team of Els Cynda Sparkles and Heath Hansens from Crested Butte competed against the best in discipline for the next five days.

CDW National Finals is two competitions wrapped into one Cowboy Dressage marathon event. The first is the CDW National Finals; the second is the Top Hand competition.

In the National Finals the competitors complete test patterns and are judged on accuracy of the pattern, balance of the horse, teamwork with horse and rider and “soft feel” between the horse and rider. During the four days of the National Finals, Heath and Sparkles placed in the top four in 12 of 13 rides.

“It was a matter of who made the fewest mistakes during their test,” explains Hansens. “Sparkles and I, along with the other top four teams in our classes, kept trading places in the upper level tests.”

The Top Hand Competition was a whole different animal. Participants in the Top Hand all did a published qualifying test, Challenge Walk Jog Lope #2. The Challenge Court has several ground poles that create obstacles in the 20-meter by 40-meter court. Challenge Walk Jog Lope #2 is Cowboy Dressage’s most difficult challenge court test, with loping changes of lead through ground poles. Top Hand participants were also given a “mystery test” that had never been ridden, or published, at the Friday night competitors meeting.

In the Top Hand, all entrants ride the Challenge Walk Jog Lope #2 on Saturday night. The top five qualifiers then move on to the second round of the Top Hand. In the second round of the competition, finalists must ride the “mystery test” before three judges on the competitor’s’ own horse. Then the competitors draw lots and have to ride one of their fellow competitor’s horses. Competitors are not allowed to mount their “catch ride” horse until two minutes before their test. Riders only have 2:45 minutes from mounting the horse until attempting a very difficult test, with final places determined by the combined scores of the two rides.

Hansens and Sparkles qualified for the finals on Sunday. After having a great run with only one small bauble on Saturday, they studied hard for Sunday.

They had a great first ride on the “mystery test,” then Hansens drew a fellow competitor’s horse. Adding to the challenge, Hansens drew the only “Vaquero horse” in the competition. The Vaqueros were the Mexican cowboys in California before 1848.

“Riding Vaquero is the complete opposite of the way I ride,” says Hansens. “My heart sank when I pulled Regalo’s name out of the hat. I’m amazed he didn’t buck me off, I did such a bad job on him.”

Luckily Heath’s first ride on Sparkles was enough to hold onto a third-place finish for the Top Hand.

Meanwhile, Sparkles’ “catch rider,” Tanja Kraus from Australia, won the Top Hand Competition in the combination of scores between her ride on her horse and her ride on Sparkles. Sparkles won the 2018 CDW Top Hand Champion Horse from her combined scores between Heath’s first ride and Tanja’s “catch ride,” taking home her own trophy.

“I feel that overall we had a great show,” says Hansens. “Most of the scores in the tests we rode were really close, so I feel like we are in the running for next year. I am very happy with taking third in the Top Hand. Riding Regalo was a great challenge. I am ecstatic at Sparkles taking Top Hand Champion Horse. It was just a great experience and since it was only my fifth show in my life it couldn’t have been better.”

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