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For the fifth consecutive year, Frances Carbonnel of Castle Rock reigns as champion in the Western dressage world.
During the last week of September, Carbonnel participated in a musical freestyle competition, where she bade her horse to passage, piaffe and pirouette. In other words, her horse can dance professionally on command.
The 2017 Western Dressage World Championship Show in Guthrie, Oklahoma, held about 800 rides, but an 18-year-old Andalusian stallion named Esteban B and his 68-year-old rider stole the show as Carbonnel took home two world championships.
With the help of Jubilee Banjo, who she calls her “mutt: an Andalusian mixed with Heinz 57,” she also earned four reserve championships.
Carbonnel grew up in Wyoming, and moved to the area in 1980. Her parents promised her first horse at 13, but after begging and pleading, Lady was hers two years ahead of schedule.
“When my folks got me that horse, they cut off all of her mane so I’d have nothing to hold onto,” she said. “They said, ‘When you learn to ride we’ll buy you a saddle.’ ”
Despite having no mane to grab onto, no saddle, and needing to scour 500 acres each time she wanted to practice, young Carbonnel learned to be an excellent rider.
The Western Dressage Association of America started six years ago, and asked Carbonnel, now a recipient of a gold medal at the Grand Prix level from the United States Dressage Federation, to be a founding member to help strike a balance between dressage and Western riding.
“My stallion Fino and I worked many years for that, patiently training and competing up through all the levels, so it is the most expensive piece of jewelry I own,” she said.
Carbonnel said she prefers Western because it’s a little softer, and she found English to be extremely stressful for herself and her horse. She now does three to five shows each year, as well as exhibitions like Boulder County Fair’s Ballet on Horseback, a staple in her routine since her friend started it 17 years ago.
“At all of the shows, I ride,” she said. “But more importantly my students ride, and that carries on my legacy.”
She has countless students, some of whom she calls ‘sweetie’ and has been meeting for lessons for the last 20 years.
One of her fondest memories around the barn happened about five years ago when she had a knee replacement, and realized how supportive her students were.
“They really helped me literally get back on my feet and into the saddle again, and my horses seemed to understand and be especially gentle too,” she said.
A month later, she was riding and teaching again.
During a recent lesson, Carbonnel called out to her student, “Sit down in your saddle. That’s what you bought it for.”
Later during a lull, she talked with the student about her hip coming slightly forward, and how the horse fishtailed in response.
“Your horse is your best instructor. I’m just the one who tells you what she’s thinking,” she said.
Aside from teaching students, she also teaches trainers. For the last six years, she’s traveled across the country, working with about 450 trainers with the Train the Trainers program.
She is now totally devoted to her horses and her work as a trainer.
“I am married to my vocation now,” Carbonnel joked. “I am afraid my horses are my kids.”
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