Not Your Average Pony Ride: Adrenaline in the Equestrian World

Abby Kurtz

A Roman Rider from the Westernaires exits the arena in style at a show in Estes Park, Colo. (Photo courtesy of Haleigh Shipley)
A Roman Rider from the Westernaires exits the arena in style at a show in Estes Park, Colo. (Photo courtesy of Haleigh Shipley)

You can feel the anticipation beneath you, as your horse prances impatiently.  The crowd’s eyes staring expectantly at the gate seem to look directly at you.  Your costume glimmers with each flash of the spotlight and the music dances in your ears.  Each moment intensifying in the pit of your stomach as the time inches closer and closer.  All the work, all the practice leading up to this moment.  The moment when all the sweat, dirt, and early mornings are worth it.  Lined up at the gate, you vaguely hear the announcer over the pounding in your ears as you hold your horse back in a moment of suspension.  And then the gate opens, the crowd cheers and your horse surges forward with excitement.  This is it.  Your time to shine.  When everything else fades away and its showtime.

Not all horseback rides consist of a stroll down a meandering trail or  being led around in a circle at a local carnival, sometimes the equestrian sport requires a combination of precision, timing, speed and teamwork in order to be a success.  A very unique organization has taken these qualities and perfected them to create a collection of equestrian teams, known as the Westernaires.  The Westernaires is a non-profit horseback riding organization which specializes in precision mounted drill at speed.


“The combination of split second timing and horsemanship is what makes Westernaires one of a kind. There’s just something about riding a horse at full speed alongside forty other riders that gives you an adrenaline rush that nothing else can compare to.” said Shelly McDaniel, an equine science major at CSU and Westernaire alumni.

The Westernaires participate in numerous shows across the nation showcasing fast-flying teams of up to 70 riders, all running in complex patterns and maneuvers to create a kaleidoscope of horse and rider. Riders join the organization at age nine and then continue through their first year in college, giving “horse people” a new and exciting outlet for their hobby.

“It was the most exhilarating feeling to run into the arena and to be working together as a team.  Although I’ve shown in a few other disciplines, I’ve never been able to feel that much excitement when going into the arena as I did with Westernaires,” said Meghin Kiernan also an equine science major and alumni of Westernaires.

As if 60 plus horses running directly at each other wasn’t enough, Westernaires also has a series of specialty teams.  These specialty teams highlight daring and death defying acts including trick riding, bareback jumping, and even standing on the back of two horses and running over fire torches. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

Betsy Powers, a current member of Westernaires and neuroscience major at CSU said, “There was one time that I was in the arena and realized that what I was doing could kill me, just if one girl were to go the wrong way.  It scared me, but at the same time I knew that what I was doing was something I loved because I was willing to risk my life for it.”

Westernaires is currently preparing to showcase these amazing skills at their annual show, Horsecapades, in October, as well as at the National Western Stock Show this January.  Both events will display the exceptional skill and horsemanship of the Westernaires program. To find out more visit

Article produced by College Avenue Magazine.