Bright, determined—and utterly fearless—this band of highly skilled young riders istaking audiences by storm while learning valuable life lessons along the way.
Article by Alana Harrison
Arrayed in a brilliant white tunic eclipsed by pops of color emanating from the exquisite beadwork framing her neckline, Aubry Hillman strikes a formidable figure atop her big bay mare as she emerges from a sea of khaki-clad riders. The fringe on her alabaster tunicdances rhythmically in the wind, keeping tempo with her mare’s perfectly cadenced strideas they canter—bareback and bridleless—toward the 4-foot jump.
As the mare takes flight, a sudden silence resounds—amplified by the lack of rhythmic hoofbeats—and in a single, effortless motion, Aubry closes her hip angle and seamlessly follows her horse’s movement as if they were a sole being. Sans saddle, stirrups or reins, Aubry relies on the strength of her legs, her impeccable balance and the seemingly clairvoyant way in which she and her horse communicate to navigate their flight. Then, as the mare cuts a perfect arc through the air, Aubry extends her arms outwards and with the snowy fringe dripping from her sleeves, she is—for a moment—transformed into a graceful bird soaring with her horse.
This beautiful display of supreme horsemanship and the unique relationship between horse and rider is part of the EhCapa Bareback Rider’s 63-year-old performance in which 30 to 40 talented and brave youth riders, ranging in age from 8 to 19, perform a precisely choreographed drill at lightening speed, bareback and bridleless in harmony with their horses.
After riding with EhCapa for almost 10 years, Aubry was crowned the group’s 2019 Queen and serves as the group’s chief ambassador and mentor. Growing up ridingbareback, the 18-year-old wasn’t intimidated about performing without a saddle when she joined the group as a 9-year-old.
“Jumping bareback is one of the most freeing experiences you can imagine,” Aubry said. “When your horse takes off, it’s literally just you, the air and your horse.”
EhCapa riders have been electrifying audiences throughout the country at horse shows, equine expos, parades and rodeos—including the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association circuit—for more than six decades by demonstrating their exceptional horsemanship skills, athletic prowess and dedication to excellence. Steeped in tradition, EhCapa’s performance has remained relatively unchanged since its inception.
The group was formed in 1956 by Wayne Stear, a former member of the Ada County Sheriff’s Posse, as an inexpensive way for girls and boys to enjoy their horses and experience the camaraderie of riding with one another. Based in Nampa, Idaho, about 20 miles west of Boise, the EhCapa program emphasizes teamwork, patience and mentoring others. And even more impressive than performing precisely timed drills bareback and bridleless, EhCapa members, some as young as 8, often train their own horses.
Aubry says riding with EhCapa has not only helped her become a diverse, confident rider, it’s also taught her about communication and leadership.
“I’ve learned valuable lessons about patience and the importance of following through with basic responsibilities,” Aubry said. “I learned when to lead and when to follow, how to manage projects in small groups and how to lead up to 40 members of the group.”
Brandi Krajnik has served as EhCapa’s head instructor for almost two decades and says the group’s spirit, mission and history make the role more than just a job for her. As a horse-crazy 11-year-old, Brandi joined EhCapa in 1985 and says riding with the group was a life-changing experience.
“I was extremely shy as a kid but because I loved horses so much, I got involved with EhCapa. Riding with the group helped me gain confidence and inspired me to step out of my comfort zone,” Brandi said. “I strive to help my students in the same way. It’s very rewarding to see the kids grow, especially the shy ones who start to blossom.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.