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Equus America Offers Extreme Saddle Seat Equitation Competition

HOUSTON, Texas - World renowned horseman John Lyons and his Equus America tour made a stop in Houston, Texas on February 6-9, 2003. The purpose of this tour according to the Equus America website was to “bring together the world’s finest riders, trainers and horses and put them together in a competition, a clinic and a classroom.” Lyons has effectively trained and solved problems with every breed of horse and every riding discipline.

World and National Champions of the Saddle Seat Equitation ranks were invited to participate in the premier of Equus America. Dakota Willimon, Renee and Deveau Zubrod and Blair Barrett made up the Saddle Seat Equitation team with Bonnie Zubrod and Cindy Zubrod Boel serving as coaches for the talented team. The girls were asked to make up their own patterns for the work out section of the competition. The Equus Extreme Saddle Seat Equitation Competition took place on Saturday February 8, 2003.

Being from the Houston area, Blair was able to compete on her own horse. Dakota, Renee and Deveau competed on “borrowed” horses generously on loan from Janet Crampton at Bluebonnet Farm and Barbara Simpson of Stone Cottage Farm. “The girls did wonderful on the horses even though they had never seen them before. The competition was a lot like world cup in that respect and the girls took it all in stride," said Cindy Willimon, who attended the event with her daughter Dakota.

Along with the Saddle Seat competition the crowd in attendance had the opportunity to watch many other breeds compete for over $120,000 in prize money and the unique opportunity to appear on a Wheaties box. Eight disciplines of horsemanship were featured with four National or World Champions competing in each of the divisions. All competitors must have been invited to be able to compete.

Lauren McMichael a fellow Saddle Seat Equitation rider and resident of Houston made the trip to the Reliant Arena to support her friends in their competition. “Equus America was exactly like Equitana; there were never ending aisles of vendors selling everything from feed buckets to stall mats to western wear and tack. Booths set up by various breed associations were handing out brochures on Arabs and Paso Finos, and there was even a petting zoo for little kids,” McMichael said of the event.

Besides competing the Saddle Seat Equitation Team and their coaches acted as spokespersons for the American Saddlebred. A national radio talk show host interviewed the team members. Jim Campbell, a reining horse trainer, interviewed the team for his Horsemen’s Radio Weekly show in which he compared the Saddlebred to the reining horse and pointed out the similarities between the two.

In addition to being spokespeople, the team was able to attend many performances of other breeds and also some seminars and forums. “This was a learning experience for all of us,” said Cindy Willimon. “The girls really did learn a lot from all the exhibits and performances. All of the clinicians and presentations were really interesting and educational. All the girls really enjoyed watching and learning about other seats and breeds.”

The Saddle Seat competition ran like a championship class at a show; they first did rail work together, and then each separately executed a workout which, in this case, was a pocket workout they wrote themselves. Judge Paul Cates thought that was the fairest test, since several of the horses were not full time equitation mounts. The patterns the girls designed for themselves were extremely challenging and all four contained a section without stirrups.

Before any of the competition started there was an introduction ceremony in which each rider from both the free style reining and saddleseat class rode in and was introduced to the audience. As the announcer read aloud each girl’s list of world and national titles, the audience seemed to be quite impressed.

The freestyle reining class was held before the saddle seat equitation class. The freestyle reining class consisted of horse and rider performing a pattern to music that they had chosen. “My personal favorite was a man wearing a yellow rain jacket and holding an umbrella, who rode to ‘Singing in the Rain’. And his horse was not wearing a bridle!” Said Lauren McMichael.

After the winners of the reining class were announced it was time for the saddle seat riders to take to the ring. With rail work being performed first, each rider gave it her best, and after the lineup was walked by Judge Cates, who generously donated his time and did not show at the local TASHA Horse Show on Saturday night, the girls left the ring and came back in individually to perform their workouts. After the last workout all riders were brought back into the ring for the awards ceremony.

There was plenty of applause from the audience as the announcer read out the awards in reverse order. Deveau came in fourth, Renee finished third, leaving Dakota and Blair in the ring. There was a drum-roll before second place was given to Dakota. The crowd went wild after it was announced that the winner, Blair Barrett, was a resident of Houston.

After the competition the audience members were allowed to follow the horses and riders back to the stabling area to ask questions and get a closer look at the American Saddlebred. All in all the audience seemed to take notice of the exceptional beauty and charisma of the breed. "The audience seemed to take to the Saddlebred very well and asked us a lot of questions," said coach, Cindy Zubrod Boel, "I think this event was a very good idea and I hope it has a future. This was a great way to bring the Saddlebred to a 'Non-Saddlebred' area of the country and to promote the breed."

Another Equus America event will be held April 24-27, 2003 in Kansas City, Mo.

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