With the Elizabeth Stampede less than a month away, pounding hammers and buzzing sanders are not the only sounds echoing inside the arena at Casey Jones Park.
Each Friday, the beat of hooves, hoots of delight, and the steady, amplified voice of Cindy Adams fill the grounds as she guides 20 girls and horses from the Blazing Saddles Drill Team through their performance.
“They're a great bunch of kids,” said Adams, drill master for the team. “They take care of their own horses at all these shows and rodeos.”
Adams helped found the Blazing Saddles Drill Team in 2006.
Since its creation, the drill team has performed at, among other events, the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo, Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade and Rodeo, and Cowboy Up in Kiowa.
In addition to regular performances at the Elbert County Fair, the team has become the exclusive drill team for the Elizabeth Stampede — which is June 3-5 — and for the second year in a row, will be performing at the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park July 6-11.
The team is open to both boys and girls, though there are currently no boys on the team.
“Right now we have 24 (performers),” Adams said. “They range in age from 11 to 25. I've had them ride as young as 6, but right now the youngest one we have is 11.”
The team holds weekly practices, twice per week ahead of important performances, but the commitment involves much more than shows and weekly practices. Most practices last two hours, not including tacking up the horses, warming up and cooling down.
Adams expects her performers to keep their horses in shape by riding every day.
“At least, they need to ride them every other day when they are not performing,” she said. “The performance itself is high speed and it lasts about seven minutes. So you're asking your horse to run full speed for seven minutes, which takes a lot.”
She describes the shows as high-speed, precision maneuvers on horseback to music. There are 20 riders carrying flags in the arena during a given performance, with horses and riders crisscrossing each other or riding around the arena at a gallop.
Veteran performer Sierra Taylor has been performing with Blazing Saddles for eight years and enjoys performing the fast lap, the outside of two lines of riders circling an arena in opposite directions.
Taylor began taking riding lessons at the age of 4 and was given her first horse when she was 6.
“The Stampede is by far the most fun event,” she said. “It's a hometown event, and we get to ride in front of everyone, our families.”
Riders take turns leading performances or performing different maneuvers relative to their skill level and are not locked into set positions for every performance.
“If a girl has something they want to do, we support it,” Taylor said. “We're a team; all together.”
Adams is able to get a rider capable of basic horsemanship and control of her horse into performances quickly.
“We pretty much teach them how to do it. Some of them perform sooner than others depending on their skill level at riding, but most of them are performing within a month or so,” Adams said.
Each participant is responsible for a $100 annual membership fee, which covers the million-dollar liability insurance required for performances in parades and rodeos, and Adams says that the team would not be possible without the support of local businesses who keep the team in equipment.
“Because of our wonderful sponsors, we've been able to buy different shirts for all the kids for all the performances. We've bought saddle pads and bought new sets of chaps. The team provides all of the costumes that they wear.” Adams said. “We've only been able to do that because of all of the sponsors.”