Horses and riders show off their skills

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
ROCKWELL ó The things Stephanie Young and her horse, Logan, did together Saturday they couldn’t have done 2 1/2 years ago.
Back then, when Young adopted Logan from a government rescue program in Wyoming, she couldn’t get near the wild mustang. She couldn’t even touch him.
But Saturday, horse and rider nimbly navigated a rough cut (obstacle) course in which they jumped over timber, waded through high water, slid down embankments, dragged a log, galloped down a straightaway, skirted around barrels, crossed over a makeshift bridge, spun in circles and loaded into a trailer.
Logan, about 5 years old, has always been curious and willing to take on new things as a trail horse. So Young wasn’t too surprised at his ability to handle his first rough cut.
“He was good, just kind of looking at stuff,” Young said after Logan made a practice run through the course. “He’ll always do it. He’ll cross anything I ask him to do.”
As you might expect, Logan is a fast horse, too. Young, who lives in Asheboro, calls him “the Pony Express” and says he looks like the emblem on Ford Mustang cars when he’s running flat out and his belly is close to the ground.
“We’ll be racing later,” Young promised.
A good crowd of spectators, riders and horses showed up Saturday for the second annual “Cowboy Stampede Horse Race and Rodeo” at the Circle K Arena off Gold Hill Road, which is actually in Cabarrus County but has a Rockwell (Rowan County) postal address.
At sundown, the events went inside to the arena for a rodeo that included bull riding, mutton bustin’, chute doggin’, calf riding and a calf scramble.
But during the day, spectators were invited outside to a hill overlooking flat pasture next to a swollen creek.
There, the horses took on the rough cut course and participated in the “Cowboy Horse Race,” which was more or less a drag race for horses.
For many in the competition, rough cut riding was new for both rider and horse.
“Better than I expected, and we actually made it through without me falling off,” Kelley Saleeby of Pleasant Garden said, critiquing her horse Sunny’s first ever rough-cut experience.
Sunny stalled for a while in the deep creek water ó he likes to see the bottom, Saleeby explained ó and he paused before crossing a narrow bridge for the first time.
“It’s a really good little challenge,” Emily Cusic of Oakboro said after she and one of her horses, Sheyne, completed the course. Sheyne also hesitated at the water but eventually waded through. Six months ago, she probably never would have finished, Cusic said.
Cusic rode horses as a kid but quit and didn’t take up riding again until three years ago. She began taking lessons and expected only to ride once a week on Friday afternoons.
“I wasn’t going to get all that involved,” she said.
Within six months, she had bought Sheyne, was working summer riding camps and soon added a horse named Breeze to her own stable. Cusic eventually left her corporate job to run a business looking after horses and dogs for people who are on vacation.
“I feel like I’m 14 when I ride,” Cusic said of the joys it brings. No matter how stressed or tired she is, “everything melts away” once a new ride begins, she said.
Smiling, Janet McGuigan said her 16-year-old daughter, Reesie, has been riding since before she was born. Her daughter is “a hard-core cowgirl,” the mother said.
“This is my horse, which she has stolen from me,” Janet complained as Reesie walked up with Applelucy, a 7-year-old Arabian appaloosa. Reesie is an experienced rider in several different disciplines, including show jumping.
The high school junior has four horses at home, and she took Applelucy through her paces gingerly Saturday, worried that the wet course will become more “chewy” as the day progressed.
“She’s worth more than $250,” said Reesie, who won last month’s rough cut competition in Midland and placed second at the Circle K event a year ago, even though she used an English saddle.
Jeff Smith, a pastor and founder of many cowboy churches, helped to organize Saturday’s events at Circle K, owned by Darrell Kluttz. Smith took the riders and horses on a tour of the course and explained all the scoring and possible deductions.
Vickie Martin of Mount Pleasant served as one of the rough cut judges Saturday.
“You’re going to see the different types of personalities in these horses,” she said, explaining how most of the competitors were trail horses doing an obstacle course for the first time. Some of the horses were being asked to do some things out of character for them.
“They even have to get used to this wind,” Martin said. “The rider really has to take control.”
The horses’ hearing is so keen that the gusty winds can steal their concentration from the obstacles in front of them, she said.
It just fits with what Cusic learned after becoming a rider again. Every day on a horse is different from the one before, she said.
None of the riders Saturday would disagree.