Dancing With My Cowpony

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Photo by Caitlin Demura

Quarter Horses are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for April! This breed originated in America, and is known for its athleticism and its ability to excel in everything from horse racing, to western sports, to ranch work, to the dressage arena.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Quarter Horses have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories of what makes this breed so special to them.  Here, an adult amateur from Region 9 shares about her Quarter Horse, who has found success in not only the dressage arena, but also as a reining horse, cow horse, trail horse, and ambassador for his breed. 

By Andrea Caudill

He is the equine version of a swiss army knife: Right in your pocket, reliable, and ready in just about any situation.

My American Quarter Horse, Haidaseeker Playboy, has competed to the Grand Prix level in USEF/USDF competition, has earned more than $6,000 in National Reining Horse and National Reined Cow Horse Association competition, is a seven-time Western Dressage Association of America world champion, has traveled more than 200 miles in North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) competition, and has taught more than 20,000 youth about horses while doing educational demonstrations. He is the epitome of his breed.

Matt showing off his reining skills. Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

Known to his friends and fans as “Matt the Cowpony,” he was foaled in 2000, and I bought him as a 3-year-old. He is a 15 hand, traditionally-built Quarter Horse bred for cutting – his grandsires are the famous Freckles Playboy and Haidas Little Pep. While everyone knows how versatile the Quarter Horse breed is, no one could’ve imagined what this horse has been willing to give.

We started competing in National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) competitions and, after a few years, picked up cow work as well and began competing in the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA). He has been year-end champion in our local association many times , and twice gone to the NRCHA’s Celebration of Champions (their world show).

Just for fun, we enjoyed attending NATRC competitive rides, which ask the horse and rider to cover about 20-25 miles of trail per day, over a weekend, and camp at their trailer overnight. Matt is also trick trained and has joined me in performing at educational seminars for fourth grade students in our area for more than a decade, smiling, nodding, and waving to the tens of thousands of youth who know and love him, and have learned more about horses with his help.

When Western Dressage was created, it was a natural fit for us to move into – over the years, he has collected seven world championships, all at the highest level offered.  

Matt on the trails

While doing all these other things, I entered dressage through friends, and wanting to try something different just for fun. A friend first let me borrow, and eventually purchase, her old backup dressage saddle. I entered my first dressage show through the USDF opportunity class, trying out a Training Level class using equipment borrowed from about six different people. The comments were so positive and I had so much fun that I started practicing and competing more earnestly. Each year we climbed – Training, First, Second, Third – soon achieving our USDF Bronze Medal.

My instructor assured me we could go further, so we pushed on, and within a few more years, I was donning a shadbelly, and soon we had our USDF Silver Medal. Competing at Intermediate I, he has scored up to 67%.

In practice, we started to learn to piaffe, passage, and do one-tempis. We have started to compete at Grand Prix, and while amateur nerves in my debut season kept us just outside of a qualifying score at shows, Matt has still taught me what a Grand Prix horse feels like at home.

It is an unlikely recipe for success – an amateur who has never ridden dressage before trying to train her horse to perform upper level movements, while also learning them – but Matt never said no, even though neither of us knew what was going on. He has many times earned year-end honors at various levels in the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards. The most accurate judge’s comment ever written on my dressage tests was “Horse seems to have heart of gold.” Yes, ma’am, he certainly does.

I don’t know of many horses who can grab a qualifying score at Intermediate I, spend the night tied to a horse trailer while we camped, and then trot 20 miles down a trail the next day, but Matt has done it. I don’t know many horses that have qualified for both the NRCHA Celebration of Champions and US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® in the same year, but Matt has done it. I don’t know many horses that will stand quietly, surrounded by dozens of little kids chattering and petting him, cut and work a cow and also gather himself for an above-average piaffe on command, but Matt does it.

I own American Quarter Horses because what I love the most is the art of the horse in every form, and versatility is important to me. There is magic in all the things our horses will partner with us on, and I am grateful for all they teach me. As the experts say, you can judge conformation from the outside, but you can’t judge heart and try, and those intangibles will get you farther than you might think.

I am thankful for all my instructors that have patiently attempted the colossal task of trying to teach an amateur and her stock horse to dance, to all the people who have searched me out at the horse shows to pet Matt and tell me about the Quarter Horses they love, and most of all I am thankful for my cowpony for teaching me what it is like to dance.

As YourDressage celebrates this breed all month, check out more wonderful Quarter Horses in our photo gallery.

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