For Andrea Caudill, the road to better horsemanship so far has wound through four disciplines. Caudill, who grew up in Rochester, Minn., started riding in an English saddle at age seven. By age 14, after she got her first horse and joined 4-H, she had switched to Western tack and later competed in reining. Since moving to Amarillo, Texas, where she works as an editor for the American Quarter Horse Association’s AQHA Media, Caudill has shown to a high level in both dressage and Western dressage while also competing in the Western sport of reined cow horse, a three-phase competition that tests horse and rider in both reining patterns and cattle work.
Caudill’s partner for dressage, Western dressage, and reined cow horse is an 18-year-old Quarter Horse gelding named Haidaseeker Playboy. She purchased him in 2003, when he was three, and has trained him herself at her own backyard barn. Together they have risen through the levels in both dressage and Western dressage. Caudill, who has earned her United States Dressage Federation bronze and silver medals, has shown “Matt” to Intermediare 1 in dressage and Level 4 in Western dressage, in which they’ve earned six world championships at the Western Dressage Association of America world show.
“When I moved to Texas, I started getting into all the cattle events, because there are more cattle available down here than there are in Minnesota,” said Caudill, 38. “I got into dressage about the same time [as reined cow horse] seven or eight years ago, and I did it as a lark. My friend sold me a $200 dressage saddle, and I kind of got into it that way. It was fun, and I did pretty well, so I started showing. I’ve just kept after it.”
When Western dressage developed as a discipline, Caudill tried that, too, and found a lot to like, even though the two disicplines can be quite different.
“The Level 4 tests have pivots, a turn on the hindquarters," Caudill said of Western dressage. Those of us who ride dressage know that planting a hind foot is a big no-no, but when you’re working a cow, you’ve got to plant a hind foot and get turned around. The Level 4 tests also have a working canter pirouette, so it’s kind of a combination of both Western and dressage.”
In an area that’s dominated by Western equestrian disciplines, Caudill has thought outside the box when it comes to getting dressage coaching.
“I don’t have a Western dressage coach, but I do have a dressage coach: Kristi Wysocki,” she explained. “We do not have much dressage around here, so I do live video lessons over the computer. I have a Bluetooth in my ear, I have someone operating the camera for me, and I use Skype. That’s how we’ve always done it. It’s not super-ideal, but it’s better than nothing!
“Matt and I are trying to learn how to do piaffe, passage, and one-tempis literally in our backyard,” she added, noting that she’s never ridden any other dressage horse than Matt. “I’m trying to learn it and teach him, and I don’t have any idea what I’m doing!
“I am blessed with this horse, that’s all I can say. I give him all the credit.”
The challenge of learning and competing in several different disciplines has been well worth it, Caudill says, both for her horsemanship and for her horse.
“I think it helps their minds to do something different,” she said. “It’s just like people learning new things and expanding our worlds; it makes us better and more well-rounded. And when you have different athletic maneuvers, you don’t practice just one thing as much, so you don’t hammer them on certain things. I think that helps make them more healthy, physically and mentally, to have that variety.
“I like a training challenge, and my horse was willing to do it,” she continued. “I enjoy learning something different and trying to be able to master it. Matt has been a gift—he’s so willing and has such a big heart that he’s able to do all these things. He’s always said yes, so I’ve just kept adding things. I think, ‘Okay, if we can do this, can we do that?’ And that’s how we’ve gotten here over the past 15 years.”
Matt switches easily between disciplines, Caudill says, but that’s not to say there haven’t been occasional misunderstandings.
“At the WDAA world championship show, the test asked me to canter down center line for the first time in Western dressage,” Caudill recalled. “Matt’s used to that in dressage, but he understands the difference in tack. And in Western tack, when we’re doing reined cow horse, when you turn up the center line, you run down and stop. So at the world show, when we turned and went up the center line, he was absolutely positive that he should run down and stop! We had some confusion there, but for the most part he understands the difference and can switch back and forth without any problem.”
This year, Caudill’s goal is to get closer to earning her USDF gold medal and to continue learning and improving in both dressage and Western dressage.
“I just want to be a better horseman,” she said. “I’m an amateur, so I want to have fun, and I want to learn as much as I can. I struggle and do the best I can, but it’s a gift to be able to learn this stuff and get better at it. I try to improve year by year.”
And she encourages other amateur equestrians to explore dressage and Western dressage, too.
“These sports are both so welcoming,” Caudill said. “It’s very intimidating for an outsider to come in and attempt this, especially if you’re like me and you have a very limited budget and a horse that’s not the kind that’s promoted. But you’ll find people more welcoming than you might think. They want you to come, they want to help you, and they want to see you have fun and succeed.”
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