Precision on the side
This article appeared in the Horseplay section of The Daily Sentinel on Sunday, July 4.
Next weekend, July 10–11, dozens of riders and their horses will be at the Mesa County Fairgrounds for the 23rd annual Frontier Belles Horse Show. Saturday will be hunter, jumper and English equitation classes while Sunday will be Western pleasure, trail and performance classes.
Many of the Belles will be there — keeping the show moving, helping to set up and take down equipment. Some may even be competing. But don’t expect to see them in their period costumes, riding sidesaddle, as you will see them when the Frontier Belles perform.
The annual horse show is strictly a fundraiser for the Frontier Belles — its primary fundraiser of the year — said Connie Klauzer, the group’s treasurer. It is not a time when the group performs.
But make no mistake about it, the Frontier Belles are performers. The group is a precision equestrian drill team. But drills are conducted with the members riding sidesaddle and wearing colorful replicas of historical dresses. The next scheduled performance for the Belles is in Steamboat Springs at the end of July, Klauzer said.
Various sidesaddle designs have been around since Greek times, but a forerunner of the modern version is believed to have developed in 16th century Europe. The current design of the sidesaddle, with two pommels — one for the right leg to rest in and a “leaping horn” to support the left leg, which uses a stirrup, developed early in the 19th century. All were designed primarily for women, who wore long dresses, and when it wasn’t considered lady-like to sit astride a horse in a conventional saddle.
The Frontier Belles were formed more than half a century ago, in 1958, and have performed at big shows such as the Denver Stock Show and Cheyenne Frontier Days, as well as smaller events and parades throughout the Rocky Mountains.
Connie Klauzer has been a member for much of the group’s history. She joined in 1967.
The sidesaddle, she said, looks hard to ride in. “But it’s really not that difficult. The sidesaddle is made to hold you in.” Klauzer and other members of the Frontier Belles have taken their horses over jumps while riding sidesaddle during some performances.
Members of the group come primarily from the Grand Valley, but some have come from Collbran, Parachute, Silt and other communities around the region.
The Frontier Belles “are always looking for new members,” Klauzer said. Women who are interested in joining need their own horse, well-trained and controllable, because “We do our drills at a lope,” she said. They also need to be ready to practice every Monday evening at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Posse arena on 25 Road.
Newcomers usually start out riding in Western saddles until they become familiar with the drills and comfortable in a sidesaddle. They don’t need their own sidesaddle. The club has sidesaddles it leases to members, Klauzer said. Dues are $40 a year.
Those interested in joining should call Klauzer at 243-0591, or visit the Posse arena on Monday evening to watch the drill and talk with members.