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Kristie Cotton – Local Spotlight

“There is no better proof of the riders method and program than that his horse becomes more beautiful in the course of training.”  Charles De Kunffy

If you have been around our mountain horse community a while, you have heard of Kristie Cotton.  Kristie grew up in the Evergreen and Conifer areas, spending her days exploring the mountains by horseback.  “When you are young and in the woods on a horse, you learn very quickly how important the understanding of taking care of each other is in any situation.”  Kristie’s love for the horse turned into her lifetime career and quest to learn and improve the lives horses and their people through training and understanding.

As a young kid, Kristie quickly realized she wanted to be a horse trainer.  She started taking lessons when she was 9 from a woman who lived on Shadow Mountain.   In the beginning, she was not allowed to have the reins or a saddle until she had an *independent seat, learning the importance of strength and balance in riding.  To feed her quest for knowledge of all things horse, Kristie found work at local barns in trade for learning everything she could.  She rode horses for neighbors who were afraid to, plus there were several horse breeding farms in our area at the time which gave her work teaching the colts to tie, lead and pick up their feet.

Years later, Kristie continues to train horses, and their people in our community.  Most of her time is spent working on private ranches keeping the horses trained and safe on trails for the owners and their guests.  Kristie states, “if the horse is confident in its training, then it can be ridden anywhere.  Trail riding becomes a partnership of trust and willingness.”  She also starts young horses with a strong, lifetime foundation, as well as specializes in behavioral issues and has re-educated horses with unpredictable behaviors such as spooking, bucking, and rearing.

Kristie uses classical Dressage principles when training for any discipline.  She explains, “Dressage is not a ‘style’ of riding, it is a French word meaning ‘training’.  When practiced correctly, the specific exercises create an athletic development of the body, attaining a connected focus between horse and rider.  Training is not about submission, it is knowledge of communicating quiet dialogue to the horse.  Every horse is different, each one needs to be approached with their own creative tactic.”

A course called the Science of Motion, has greatly influenced Kristie’s training and improved her ability to analyze and evaluate equine performance.  She has successfully incorporated biomechanics, the science of body movement, into her training methods.  She believes that this knowledge and understanding of the horse’s physique is extremely important if we are to achieve harmony with them.  For Kristie, this information allows her to look deeper into the root cause of behavior as well as lameness issues.  She finds that if there are behavioral issues, your horse may be attempting to communicate a pain related problem.  Kristie believes, “We cannot force them to do what we think they should be doing.  Training with force creates discord, when our priority should be exercising human virtue.”

With horses that are having issues, Kristie starts by ruling out health issues with the veterinarian as well as evaluating abnormal muscle development and poor fitting tack.  She explains, “Horses have a very strong defensive mechanism of protecting themselves from pain.  They can either shut their minds off as humans do to ‘tolerate’ or they will fight.  Riding can either achieve a therapeutic result for horses or a damaging one.”

Kristie is a true advocate for the horse and the important role that they can hold in the lives of people.

“I believe it is important to keep horses a part of this community.  Kids need healthy hobbies and formal Horsemanship lessons.  Horses are healing, they teach empathy and a deeper connection to nature. To ride and love a horse is immensely rewarding.”

Kristie continues to enjoy her life’s work through training, teaching and writing.  Be sure to check out her informative Facebook page and excellent educational blogs at:  facebook.com/Integritytraining.trueunity/

Kristie was just nominated as the publications chair for Working Equitation United States.  Working Equitation combines the focus of Dressage with the creative use of training obstacles helping to keep training interesting for horses and riders of any discipline or breed of horse.  See weunited.us for more information.

*An independent seat is when a rider is able to connect continuously to the horse’s movement and remain in balance without the use or support of rein contact.  The rider also has independent control of their leg position and aiding without disrupting the seat.   Heather McWilliams © 2019

Working Equitation in the Foothills

Hear the word “equitation” and many horse enthusiasts think of a class judged on the rider’s form and effectiveness.  In reality, the definition of equitation is just the art and practice of horsemanship and horse riding. From there one could say, Working Equitation (WE) is the art and practice of horsemanship as it applies to the tasks that horses help people perform on the ranch.  While WE is an international sport originally pioneered by Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, it is hitting its stride in the United States.  The first international competition was held in 1996 and then in 2004, the World Association for Working Equitation (WAWE) was established to govern the sport.  WAWE rules are used for all international competitions, but each individual country has its own rules for domestic competitions.

Working Equitation was formed to celebrate and showcase the horse and rider partnership with a foundation in classical horsemanship and the use of the horse in ranch work.  The sport seeks to support and allow countries to stay true to their own historical types of horsemanship, as well as working traditions and their traditional tack and attire.  Of course in the United States, that is a very diverse group with a melting pot of traditions and styles.  At local competitions you will see all shapes of saddles and styles of dress.

In the United States, Working Equitation competitions offer five performance levels to accommodate horses and riders at various stages of training: Introductory, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Masters. The Masters level is the international standard of the sport.

In each level there are four trials or tests that are put together at a competition.  First, the Dressage trial consists of a test where collective marks are given for movements considering the horse’s impulsion, submission, and quality of gaits, as well as for the rider’s position and effective use of aids.  As with classical Dressage, each level builds upon the last and prepares the horses training for the next level.

The second trial is Ease of Handling, which applies the skills performed in the Dressage test to an obstacle course.  Each obstacle is given a score of 0-10 paying attention to the quality, ease, symmetry and geometry of the obstacles and transitions in between in light of what is looked for in the Dressage phase.

Third is the Speed trial which is often the horse and rider’s favorite, as well the spectators.  This phase takes a part of the same obstacle course as in the Ease of Handling phase, but time becomes the key component with time penalties being added for errors.

Finally, the Cow trial tests the ability of horse and rider pairs to work cattle individually and with a group of 3-4 horse and rider teams.  The objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut, and herd a pre-selected cow from the herd and then as a team herd the selected cow into a designated pen.  Due to the logistics of having cattle at an event, not all competitions have the Cow trial.

At the end of the competition, horse and rider pairs receive scores based on their placing in each of the trials, and then the scores are tallied to determine the overall placings.

Allison and Rosa

Over the past few years there have been a growing number of WE enthusiasts in the foothills.  Indian Hills resident Christina Turissini has been the force behind organizing lessons, clinics and play days for WE.

The foothills group started when Christina won a free group lesson from Allison Mazurkiewicz at a High Country WE event which resulted in bringing Allison to our area. Allison is excited to see this group flourish with regular clinics and advance in the sport. The Foothills group has a wide variety of horses and riders which makes her clinics educational for all, whether riding or watching.  Allison’s aim is to be an ambassador for the sport and spread the fun that is WE.  Allison competes up to the Intermediate level, holds an “r” judge card with the Confederation of WE (as well as holding a board position), is a member of WE United and is a founding member of High Country WE (created in 2014), who puts on several shows in Colorado every year.

Allison states, “Working Equitation requires you and your horse to work together as a team in a soft, fluid manner. As an instructor and trainer, I find the obstacle course an effective way to teach horses and riders how to focus and gain confidence in skills that might be new to them. The obstacles bring home the lesson of flat work training into everyday riding as a tool to improve your horse for any job you have them do.”

She goes on to mention, “students that have fear or confidence issues learn to focus on a task thereby reducing anxiety levels. The rider and the horse learn to perform something new and come together as a more confident team and are often more relaxed by the end of the lesson.”

Claire and Bitta

Local Claire Gosnell and her horse Bitta, an 11 year old Tennessee Walking Horse have been training and competing in WE since 2013.  Claire has found WE to be a great way to strengthen the horse and rider bond, as well as their communication in a powerful way.

Claire explains, “we enjoy all four phases of the sport. Dressage has helped develop collection, working from the hindquarters, soft feel, communication and precision. Working the obstacles is just flat out fun. Whether it’s working a gate, side-passing a pole or spearing a ring from a bull’s nose with a garrocha pole with precision or at speed, it has made us both a better horse and rider pair.  My favorite though is the cattle phase – the ultimate objective of WE.”

Whatever you do with your horse, WE has something you can use.  Jumping, Dressage, trail or western, WE touches on a part of your training.  Horses and riders can see the reasoning behind the flat work and doing obstacles adds an interest to schooling in the arena, plus WE creates a well-rounded horse and a confident rider.  2018 © Heather McWilliams

For WE information in the US, go to www.weunited.us and www.confederationwe.us.  Make sure to like the Foothills CO Working Equitation Facebook page (High Country Working Equitation too) for the latest on upcoming clinics and play days.  Contact foothills group founder, Christina Turissini at [email protected] and Allison Mazurkiewicz, Tall Grass Horsemanship at [email protected]  Mt. Falcon Equestrian is bringing in WE trainer Steve Kutie for clinics as well, see kutieperformancehorses.com/about and email Nicole at [email protected]