Women around the country develop a special sisterhood riding their Paints on drill teams.
By Megan Brincks
Photography by Kirstie Marie Photography
“The day you line up for a performance and don’t have butterflies in your stomach is the day you should quit.”
A member of the Catalena Cowgirls, based in Bryan, Texas, Michaela Catalena still feels a surge of electric excitement as each performance by the renowned drill team looms ahead. The thrill of the performance, horses and riders galloping, weaving, whirling around one another in an intricate dance, keeps the horsewoman saddling up year after year.
For Tammy Dobek, it’s more akin to jumping out of an airplane. Tammy launched the Star Chasers, a drill team based in Mariana, Florida, back in 2000; nearly 20 years later, she says every performance is still wildly exhilarating.
“When you step in front of the crowd—whether it’s 10 people or 3,000—it feels like your first performance,” Tammy said. “It never stops being fun.”
Drill teams vary widely in size and goals, but bringing a group of horses together to performintricate routines—some emotional, others thrilling, playful or reverent—provides women with the opportunity to express themselves on horseback.
The women comprising drill teams move as one in the arena, but they come from diverse backgrounds of professions, riding experience and geographical locations. Their shared interests in horses and performing draws them together and weaves a connection that’s deeper than just riding buddies.
The California Cowgirls, a team of women ranging in age from 23 to 73, travels together at least once a month for their seven–month season, and their bonds go well beyond the arena.
“We’re like a sisterhood,” said team captain Melanie Welcher of Wilton, California. “We joke that the older ladies on our team are like our moms, so we have our team moms keeping us all in line. Then we have the group of middle-aged women who are like big sisters and the younger group—they’re our crazy college kids.”
The team practices weekly, but the sisterhood regularly meets outside of the arena, supporting their teammates and community through fundraises, service and camaraderie.
“We support each other through weddings, babies, graduations and everything in between,” Melanie said. “When we travel [to competitions], we travel together. We do potlucks, go on trail rides or just hang out. Or we’ll go to the lake to fish, camp and go on the boat. Our teammates are like our second family.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.