Lakeside Cowboy Challenge

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It’s 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, a day when the temperatures are predicted to soar over 100 degrees, a day to keep the pets inside, and Lakeside is still sleeping, except for a handful of determined early risers. Minding their own business under their straw cowboy hats, they pull horse trailers and trucks on Moreno Avenue and unload tents, bales of hay, cooking supplies, tables and such. The Cowboy Challenge event is going to start soon and the gates are open for the competitors at 7:30 a.m.

It’s 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, a day when the temperatures are predicted to soar over 100 degrees, a day to keep the pets inside, and Lakeside is still sleeping, except for a handful of determined early risers. Minding their own business under their straw cowboy hats, they pull horse trailers and trucks on Moreno Avenue and unload tents, bales of hay, cooking supplies, tables and such. The Cowboy Challenge event is going to start soon and the gates are open for the competitors at 7:30 a.m. sharp, when the smell of “cowboy beans” and deep-pitted pork and beef must be waking everybody and their nana up in East County and beyond. Add to that menu some coleslaw and pickle relish and you have the perfect recipe for a BBQ picnic scheduled along with a raffle drawing during the break between the riding classes.

“Do you see the bunch of trees up on that hill? That’s where I grew up. I used to play right here, in this dirt, riding my horses, ” said Julie Murphy, the vice president of the Lakeside Equestrian Foundation, pointing out the dusty, wide open space on Moreno.

She’s been up for three days with her husband to prepare the field and cook for a couple hundred participants at the first edition of the Cowboy Challenge. Murphy is a beloved community volunteer in Lakeside, well known for her trail advocacy and her work to stop the sand mining project in the El Monte Valley.

“I started competing as a kid, then showed Morgan, English and Western horses, got into barrel racing and rode professionally for 25 years in team penning, sorting, roping and packing, and outdoor camping. In that order,” she said.

She unwillingly gives away the secret ingredient for the “cowboy beans.” It’s the picante sauce, everybody! On top of Pinto beans, onion, bacon and jalapeno. Can you say, Yee-haw? Planned as a fundraising event to help build the equestrian park on the same property, this first edition exceeded everyone’s expectations. Murphy and her team of more than 30 local volunteers are thrilled with the turnout for the competition and the BBQ picnic.

“I think we had over 70 competitors, but the day is not over yet. I planned for 80 meals and sold 102, with one sandwich left,” said Murphy, offering the last one to Marty Barnard, sponsor and board member, owner of the East County Feed and Supply in Lakeside.

Barnard confesses, “My husband, George, was very passionate about this project and after he passed away, the Lakeside Equestrian Foundation invited me on the board and I’ve been helping ever since.” The day before the event, Barnard donated $650 to the GoFundMe account, raising the total to $28,008 out of the $150,000 required to get the project off the ground. Still plenty of donors needed and fundraising events to organize, but this is a strong team galloping ahead undeterred.

The Cowboy Challenge attracted horse riders from all over the county competing for prizes in four classes: Youth (18 years old and under), Amateur (any age, beginners), Novice (any age, experienced) and Open (any age, professionals). The Open class is the only one offering monetary prizes. First place winners were Emily Sample with 84 pts., Don Veen with 93.5 pts., Amanda Marcus with 97 pts., and Kathy Wells Bast with 99.5 pts. They all received a celebratory belt buckle beautifully stamped with the competition logo. Second place winners received a headstall and third place a rope halter.

Traci Smith, third place in Novice, is posing with Bandit’s Bullet, “the fastest horse ever.” Smith is a Lakesider through and through, dressed like one in her cowgirl outfit, her blond hair matching the horse’s mane and both competing with the sun that’s burning the dirt right now on Moreno Valley. Her dad got her into riding horses when she was a child and now she has over 12 years of experience competing. Smith once had up to seven horses and is down to three currently, but you never know when Bandit’s Bullet would need a new buddy to take turns trotting the Cuyamacas with Smith, who volunteers with the Mountain Patrol. Smith has eight grandchildren and succeeded to get four girls into riding and not yet giving up on the boys who would rather vroom-vroom on their quads. “I lived in Lakeside for the past 26 years and the best thing about this town is the smell of horses. If I could bottle up this smell, “she said, softly sniffing Bullet’s mane, “and make a perfume out of it…Horses make everything in the world better.” Near by, two little girls are jumping over some hay bales (and falling), while pretending to nay and nicker like horses.

Here comes Amanda Day, the 15 years old who won the 3rd place in the Youth competition, consumed by her passion for horses, which started when she was 7 years old. The parents are guarding her proudly, reminiscing about the times she was 11 years old and had her first competition. “Horses could be unpredictable, especially when you don’t know the horse you’re riding and that’s the most difficult thing for me.” Luckily, she knows Pepsi, the winning horse she rode to victory and borrowed from her friends. Day trains with Linda Schaffer at Shelah Ranch in Lakeside.

The event is taking place on the same property designated for the future equestrian park expected to break ground by the end of 2018. Approved and financed by the county with $850,000, the park will host equine and social events, serving the communities throughout Southern California. Aside from that, $150,000 is pledged to cover the cost of maintenance for the first five years and as Barnard reminds everybody, “We depend on the community to help with the fundraising efforts. The Equestrian Park will benefit the local businesses as well, not just the horse people. The city has grown, but only as a city and there is not much land left to enjoy country living and traditions. We need to preserve our legacy.”

Leaving a meaningful legacy seems to be the motto for most everybody involved in this project, as Murphy adds that she worked very hard for the past five years thinking of her granddaughter who is now learning to ride horses. The initial proposal was for a soccer field, but the community protested and Murphy asked County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, “But what about an equestrian park?” And an equestrian park it is. 

The first edition of the Lakeside Cowboy Challenge was produced by Chad Waldhauser Horsemanship, sponsored by East County Feed & Supply, realtor Sandy Angione and Professional Perfect El Cajon.  Karen Ensall and Bobby Kurtz Remnant successfully handled the raffle drawing, with C.J. Truesdale and Monica King-Martin as food line helpers.

The Lakeside Equestrian Foundation has a Facebook, a GoFundMe page and also a website listing future events. The next one will be the Benefit Dressage Clinic with Elizabeth Johnson at Pepper Tree Farms in Poway on November 18.  

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