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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bellville Heritage Cowgirls

Bellville Heritage Cowgirls
In the small Texas town of Bellville, traditions and heritage are kept alive through the dedication of the Bellville Heritage Cowgirls. They consist of women of all ages who came together with a purpose of horseback riding that turned an Equestrian Drill Team  into a National Championship.

Bellville, Texas located an hour drive northwest of Houston began its history with the original Spanish land grants overseen by Stephen F. Austin known as the "Old 300" which lured the immigration of settlers into the Texas-Mexican territory.  The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls has lured riders from its surrounding area to participate in horseback riding, horsemanship and equestrian drill that supports many rodeos and western events annually.

"The Equestrian Drill Team began as a means for local cowgirls to have a purpose to ride their horses" states  team director Jada Lancaster Wiley.  "We named ourselves the Bellville Heritage Cowgirls to help bring recognition to our Heritage Gathering Festival held the first weekend each May here in Bellville where we practice at our local arena. The Festival once kicked off with a Parade driving Longhorns down the main street but the city no longer wanted to head up this endeavor any longer, although we do bring the glitter of our cowgirls and horses," she continued.

The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls frequently perform opening ceremonies and drill at more than twelve Rodeo's each year from PRCA, CPRA, UPRA and Ranch Rodeos including their hometown county fair and the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo. The team travels across Texas to perform without compensation. "We do this because we love to ride and perform," states Jada. They also attend many Parades showing their patriotic flare of the Red, White and Blue as they carry the National Ensign, American Flag through city streets promoting the heritage of  western culture. 

Mary Hill Hebbel
Since the Bellville Heritage Cowgirls are not compensated for performances, they rely on fund raising to help pay fees and cost to compete. The main fund raiser comes from their annual trail ride. This year is their 7th Annual Benefit Trail-ride & Dance that will be held at the "WELCOME HALL" in Industry, Texas on February 5, 2011. The trail ride $30.00 Donation Per Person and children 12 & under $20.00   All Wagons ride free (Mule Skinner only) and require Negative Coggins. Check-in begins on Friday at 5:00PM providing Taco Stew Super while it last. Saturday, the ride moves out at 9:30AM with catered lunch and super. Riders can bring their own coolers, and no open bar. They will hold a raffle drawing with silent auction followed by dancing 7:30 p.m. - Music by Les Evans. 

"The costs can be tremendous for an equestrian drill team.  You first have to figure out if the individual riders are going to carry the costs or the team itself.  In our case, the team has one fund raiser each year in February to help raise money for tack, clothing, competition costs, insurance, etc.  We have accumulated over the years, matching tack, shirts, chaps, blankets, flags, etc.  Each year we try and add something to our costumes.  You can imagine the costs involved in trying to outfit a team of 20 riders whether it be shirts, tack or chaps.  It is very costly," replied Jada.  

The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls assigned one person to be responsible of the organizations equipment and passes it out prior to performances. While riders are responsible for their own horse, transportation, hats, saddle, leg wraps and jeans, the club   provides matching chaps, shirts, saddle blankets, reins, tie down and flags. After performances, those club items are returned for storage. 

"There are lots of teams with sponsors and each team handles their sponsorship differently.  Some carry their sponsors flags during their routine or place signs on their trailers. Some may simply announce their names over the loud speakers during their drill routine.  However, some rodeos do not like for you to announce outside sponsors as they have their own and they may be competing  companies." 

"The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls have had donations from sponsors in the past and have announced them with their appreciation. Although the team strictly carries drill flags during their performance and do not display any banners with their drill. As a general rule, we are a self supported team, but we have had help along the way from some very generous businesses in Bellville," explains Jada.

What began as a means to get out an enjoy riding horses blossomed finding more riders who had the desire to improve their horsemanship and skills. Others wanted to learn the basic drills finding the team  membership growing over 22 riders in a few short years. Most of the membership being over 40 years old although the team does have half a dozen members under 25 years old and is open to all ages.  When conducting Drill, the team uses only 16 riders rotating others as necessary to perform a quality drill. "There is currently some riders that are not quite ready to perform the drill and therefore fill in for others when they can not make it to a practice or they will just perform in parades and other public appearances.  We also have one person who broke her leg and she is unable to ride at the current time. So the extra people fill in as needed," Jada further explains.

The sport of equestrian drill helps to perfect the horses leads, balance and reining beginning from the walk, etc.  You learn to walk, trot & lope straight lines, perfect circles, etc.  Until a person has rode in drill one can never know how detailed things must be to get the timing and coordination down.  There are many hours of practice to get a 6 minute drill to ran smoothly. 

Mark Stolarski BHC
Mark Stolarski is the music choreographer and announcer for the BHC Cowgirls. He is one of two males on the team. Mark, an active horse and rodeo enthusiast has over 25 years involvement with horses.  Addition performed mounted drill with the Austin County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse and being Assistant Officer-in-Charge of the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton Mounted Color Guard.  Mark credits much of his skill in matching the music to the drill to his time in the Sealy High School marching band and the national championship with the U.S. Naval Academy Drum & Bugle Corps.

He listening to the beat of the hooves while monitoring his stopwatch matching the music to the drill.  Using a mix of old and new, he strives to have the audience “feel” the drill through the music.  During practices, the comment you’ll hear from the former Marine is, “I need some consistent times!”  During performances, he is up in the press box, calling the audience’s attention to different parts of the drill while giving a brief history of the team and its accomplishments. 

Spacing and alignment take the most time to perfect.  If one person is on one side of the arena,  there is usually a mirror imagine with another person on the opposite side of the arena that needs to be in the same place on the other end.  A rider is required to view their area remaining uniform in appearance and maintain control of their horse. It is much more than just loping a horse around the arena.

"As a drill rider we place our horses in spots where a horse may not feel comfortable, such as the flank of another horse or riding head to head towards another horse. Through practice and training, horses and riders become comfortable and confident. The horses learn to trust their riders as well.  It really is a great sport," Jada stated.

Terry Wiktorik
Terry Wiktorik is co-captain and coach. Before joining the ranks of the BHC , he served as the Drill Captain of the Austin County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse.   When asked, "what's the best part about coaching the team" Terry replied "Being able to holler at 16 girls (wife included) without them talking back."   

Jada compliments drill teams throughout the nation, crediting the superb performances conducted by the many different national teams. "Oregon Drill Team Association, Washington Ladies Riding Club Association and California State Horseman Association are all great teams. Texas has seen a huge growth in drill teams in the last decade with the introduction of SUPER RIDE  by the United States Equestrian Drill Association. There are new associations forming in Texas to open venues for learning and competing." 

The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls entered national competition in 2005 placing at the United States Equestrian Drill Competition 1st Place Novice Division

2006 United States Equestrian Drill Competition earned 1st National Division, 2nd Rodeo Division and 2nd Theme Division-Willie Nelson. 

2007 United States Equestrian Drill Competition earning the 1st National Division, 2nd Rodeo Division, 3rd Theme Division-Ready to Run and 4th Adult Mixed Division

2008 United States Equestrian Drill Competition 1st Place Adult Division, 2nd Place Rodeo Drill  Division, 3rd Place Ride of Champions, 4th Place National Division

2009 Chris Cox Waco Tour Stop   

2010 United States Equestrian Drill Competition  1st Place Rodeo Division, 1st Place Adult Mixed Division, 4th Place National Division

The Bellville Heritage Cowgirls are gearing up for their highly needed fund raiser that will help support them this June during the Super Ride IX  US Equestrian Drill Competition Texas Rose Horse Park, Tyler, Texas. They will also perform during the March Houston Stock Show and Rodeo. For information about the trail ride contact Bellville Heritage Cowgirls www.bellvilleheritagecowgirls.com  or watch them perform during the 2010 Austin County Fair Rodeo video below:
Photo top: Bellville Heritage Cowgirl Team Members: Deborah Black, Cory Crissman, Jada Lancaster Wiley, Wanda Peschel Wiktorik, Chastity Ann Rinn, Alyssa Hinchman, Sara Sowa, Laurie Fisher, Chastity Ann Rinn, Lorin Robertson, Jeannie Kvanvig Robertson, Cyndi Gomez, Dawn Carlisle, Mary Hill-Hebbel, Lori Heck, Sabrina Kayley Schiller, Caitlin -NickLauren Summar, and Beth Radcliff,

Mary Hill Hebbel  -  Bellville Heritage Cowgirls

Team Captain Jada Lancaster Wiley -  Bellville Heritage Cowgirls



 




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