The Canadian Cowgirls: A Small Town Team with Big Time Dreams
Meet the precision riding drill team who thrill crowds, and learn what it takes to become a member.
By: Debbie Johnson |
The Canadian Cowgirls are a precision riding drill team known for their ability to engage audiences while performing intricate patterns set to music. Led by captain Terry Jenkins, they have been making headlines with increasing frequency.
The idea of starting a mounted drill team began to take shape while Terry was at an Ontario Equestrian Federation meeting 10 years ago. There, she offered up her “team” to perform at the newly established Can-Am All Breeds Equine Emporium in London, Ontario. While there wasn’t actually a team at the time, there was a vision. “I had a dream of a drill team, right down to the costumes,” she explained. Through hard work and determination this savvy horsewoman, along with a few founding members and the support of her family, has made her vision a reality.
Pageantry and Patriotism
When a Canadian Cowgirls performance begins, the horses and riders exude a sense of calm poise, each proudly displaying a Canadian flag. The maple leaf is prominently featured on their dress shirts and chaps, as well as on their horses’ flanks. The first strains of music reach the crowd and the team begins their choreographed performance to a selection of songs from uniquely Canadian artists, from Aboriginal musicians in the North, to Celtic performers in the East. The riders appear to float around the arena, flags streaming above them, as the horses complete the precision manoeuvres, seamlessly moving from one pattern to the next on cue.
The Canadian Cowgirls have made an art out of demonstrating their expertise as horsewomen, and a love for what they do is evident in every facet of their performance. Their enthusiasm is contagious as they interact with the audience, drawing them into the experience.
Behind the pageantry though, is a lot of hard work. Terry attributes the success of the Canadian Cowgirls to discipline, a strict code of conduct and the military precision with which the team operates. Despite busy schedules, these dedicated athletes tirelessly work to hone their skills. They drive from across the region to attend weekly practices held at their home base, TJ Stables in Chatham, ON.
Part of their routine includes a walk-through before they mount up for any practice or performance. The riders walk the patterns on foot in order to internalize their roles and work out the glitches. “You tend to learn quickly from your mistakes when you are the one paying for them with physical effort rather than the horse,” said Terry.
Appearances and Accolades
The Canadian Cowgirls have entertained audiences at numerous high-profile events across North America, including the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair, where they have performed three times. Most recently, they were honoured to take part in the 124th Rose Parade, held New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California; the only Canadian team ever to be invited. The cowgirls raised $96,000 to fund the trip through the sale of flowers, which were worn on the horses during the parade, as well as the generous support of sponsors. The horses and riders made their way to the Golden State and completed their promenade down the two-hour parade route as one of 21 equestrian units participating in what is referred to as the “The Granddaddy of Them All” when it comes to parades.
Over the past decade, the Canadian Cowgirls have received numerous awards and acknowledgments including: Best Horse Entry in the Calgary Stampede Parade (2006); Best Mounted Unit in the Kentucky Derby Pegasus Parade (2004, 2005); and Best Equestrian Entry in the Indy 500 Parade (2006). Further, they performed and stood Honour Guard for Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla at the 2009 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair; were guests on The Mercer Report in 2010; and received the 2006 Ontario Sports Award.
Caring and Giving
In addition to the nearly 100 appearances they make each year, from nursing homes to county fairs, festivals and rodeos, the Canadian Cowgirls volunteer many hours to the Acceptional Riders Therapeutic Riding Program, which runs out of TJ Stables. In all that they have attained since their inception, the highlight of the work they do is sharing something they love with others, especially when they are able to contribute to a program designed to recognize and celebrate the strength, courage and ability of individuals with special needs.
These compassionate ambassadors look for opportunities to experience what it means to be Canadian and provide fellow Canadians with a reason to be proud of their flag. One of their most memorable experiences was a 2009 visit to the Greenwood Air Force base in Nova Scotia, where they performed for the families of deployed servicemen and women. They came to understand that real sacrifices are not only made by the troops, but also by the families who are left behind to carry on in the face of uncertainty.
When asked, “What is the most important thing to know about the Canadian Cowgirls?” without hesitation, Terry responded, “You don’t have to be the best rider to be a Canadian Cowgirl; you have to be the best teammate. We ride for the love of family, country and the horse.” One has only to meet these exceptional women to gain an understanding of how thoroughly they demonstrate their beliefs.
For more information about the Canadian Cowgirls, member profiles and a schedule of events, visit www.canadiancowgirls.com. In addition to these performances, in October, the cowgirls will trade their maple leafs for full period costume as part of a re-enactment of the 1812 Battle of the Thames, and perform an historical dance on horseback.
BECOMING A COWGIRL
The Canadian Cowgirls started with eight members, five of whom are still part of the team, and have increased their number to 22. Members range in age and experience, and perform on their own horses a – variety of breeds including Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Arabians and Paints.
Becoming a Canadian Cowgirl is a rigorous process for horse and rider. To start, applicants must own a horse, or have consistent access to one, and have transportation to practices. Horses must be at least four years of age, able to complete basic tasks required of any riding discipline and display a willing attitude. Riders must be at least 16 years old, have a skill level beyond novice, be a team player, and take direction well. Following a 10-week stint of training with the junior drill team, application can be made to join the travelling team, and if accepted an invitation to join is issued.
Full details on becoming one of the Canadian Cowgirls, including fees, can be found at www.canadiancowgirls.com. Additionally, TJ Stables hosts a Canadian Cowgirls Drill Camp (this year, the first week of August) for prospective team members. Visit tjstables.ca/drillcamp for more information.