A Beautiful Ride

Horsewoman Debra Smith earns her 5,000-hour riding award.

Blessed. That’s how 5,000-hour award winner, Debra Smith, of La Cresta, California, feels about her life with horses.

Debra and her husband, Tom, had always toyed around with the idea of buying horse property. When the Orange County barn where they had boarded for 12 years was sold to developers, their idea suddenly became a priority.

After Debra attended a barbeque in La Cresta, what she calls “a wonderful horse community in Southern California,” she decided to saddle up and check the trails. The ride sold her, and Debra knew La Cresta was the place she had always been looking for.

Throughout an 11-year pursuit of the ultimate Horseback Riding Program prize, Debra logged hours on two different horses. Shez In Vogue,or “Blondie,” an 18 year-old Palomino mare, was purchased by Debra as a yearling. Upper Dimensionalor “Dillon” was born in her arms, and is now 7.

The Horseback Riding Program rewards AQHA and AQHYA members for riding their horses. With recognition levels ranging from 25 to 5,000 hours, the program gives riders a truly unique opportunity to earn awards outside of traditional competition.

Debra earned the Horseback Riding Program 5,000-hour award this summer and is now the proud owner of a specially designed Montana Silversmiths 5,000-hour silver belt buckle.

Making this award that much sweeter is the fact that Debra broke and trained both horses herself. In fact, thanks to lots of preparation using Parelli training methods, the first time she sat on Dillon, he was bareback wearing just a halter and a lead rope.

Though Debra has always ridden, she did not get her first horse, an unregistered bay gelding named O’Henry, until she was in her 30s. Now, she owns three. In addition to Blondie and Dillon, Debra’s farm is home to 4 year-old Paint breeding stock gelding, Stetson.

Debra isn’t kidding when she says she sleeps and breathes horses.

Many of her riding hours were logged riding both Blondie and Dillon in trail trial competitions put on by the California State Horseman’s Association. Her involvement with trail trials began years ago. Debra says she has been doing it for a long time off and on since Blondie was 4 years old.

The competitions are essentially judged trail rides with obstacles that Debra says can “get really creative.” This year, she is hoping to attend the required competitions to qualify for the state championship.

The skill and desensitization gained from the trials certainly helped prepare Blondie and Dillon for their appearances in the La Cresta Fourth of July parade. Though Debra says it’s “quite an ordeal,” her home-raised mounts take the annual event in stride.

Debra has also been involved with the Santa Rosa Plateau Riding Club since she moved to the area 10 years ago. She has served as a board member and has hosted rides for more than 50 riders from her house in the heart of the trail system.

Your hours can be logged on the trail, at the show, in the practice arena, or just your backyard. Plus, you can earn prizes with a horse of any breed in the All Breeds program. Sign up for AQHA's Horseback Riding Program and start working toward your first award.

In addition to organized rides, Debra and her husband saddle up Blondie and Dillon every weekend for a “family day” ride.

With about 300 hours already logged toward her next 5,000-hour award, Debra says all this riding has “really been a joy.”

Fun Fact: Blondie and Dillon's favorite treats are oranges and kumquats.