The Road To Tulsa

It was the old Gene Pitney song, ‘24 Hours From Tulsa’ that kept going through Karin Zawadowsky’s head as she drove through five states. The adventure seemed like a country song in the making itself. How on earth did her retirement plans for leisurely trail riding end up as an 1800 km, 21-hour trailer ride with her horse to Tulsa, Oklahoma?
Six years ago, Karin retired from a 30-year career as a district manager with Human Resources Development Canada. Her plan was pretty simple: “to have a nice life.” That included some trail riding with friends, maybe a few western riding lessons, her and her horse just drifting along.
I met Karin through the Wellington Grand Trail Riders – a local group of trail riding enthusiasts that meet on a weekly basis throughout the summer. Talk on the trail turned to thoughts of dressage and I was able to convince Karin that she could enjoy the discipline while feeling safe in western tack.
Karin spent a few months in the summer of 2012 learning which dressage letter was which. The letter markers AFBMCHEK make little sense but they mark spots in the ring to pattern a dressage test.  (All Fat Brown Mares Can Hardly Ever Kick) Then we lined up a dressage judge to score her on two basic level tests.
“It wasn’t a total disaster,” said Karin.
Really, it wasn’t a disaster at all. The pair did well and Karin was hooked. Her Quarter Horse, 15-year old ‘Two Steppin’ Hot Rodder’, known to his friends as ‘Dakota’, seemed to be hooked too. She calls Dakota an “ordinary” horse that only started dressage at age 13. He would likely have been quite happy to shuffle along on the trail but Karin found that he actually responded well to his new job. He was muscling up nicely and he had his ears up.
In the summer of 2012, Elaine Ward stepped in as Karin’s new coach. Elaine has been the driving force behind bringing Western Dressage to Canada, tirelessly giving demonstrations and clinics and coaching while spending endless hours setting up a new association, the Western Style Dressage Association of Canada (WSDAC). The two ladies hit it off and Karin is now the national secretary.
Her first outing in her new sport in 2012 was a demonstration ride at the Canada’s Outdoor Equine Expo. Karin and Dakota joined Elaine and another rider, Tim Fortune, to show some western dressage moves to a curious audience.
From there the plan evolved to thoughts of competing at a few western dressage shows in 2013.
Those two shows were hosted by Dressage Niagara, which meant that Karin and Dakota would have to drive along the QEW to get to St Catharines and Welland. Karin was pushing to the edge of her comfort zone just with trailering.
But from there, somehow, with Elaine’s encouragement, they ended up at World Western Dressage Championship in Oklahoma.
Karin hadn’t slept in 36 hours. “I was so tired. It was pouring rain and we were early so things were disorganized.” They got the horses in their stalls and the trailer unpacked and went back to the hotel for a reception that evening where Karin and Elaine and friend Carol Mooney connected with members of the Western Dressage Association of America executive. “It was very exciting,” she said. “There wasn’t time to get nervous.”
The show itself was held in a huge coliseum under a distracting jumbotron video monitor. “I had set a fairly modest goal for Tulsa of completing my tests and staying on course and hopefully not embarrassing myself and Elaine too much. Most of all I decided it was an opportunity of a lifetime and that I should enjoy it and have some fun.”
Karin and Dakota earned a fourth and a second place on the first day. The next day placing fifth and second in two higher-level classes.
Karin’s already making plans to show again in Tulsa in 2014 and to get her ‘A’ license. “There certainly has been an evolution in terms of my comfort level for trailering,” said Karin. After driving Elaine’s 50-foot gooseneck rig on the way home from Oklahoma, “I think I’ve overcome my fears,” said Karin.
At 62, Karin now rides Dakota four or five times a week at Dutch Gold Stable in Ballinafad and has weekly lessons with Elaine, as well as taking fitness classes three times a week to strengthen her core muscles. She’s had to compensate for scoliosis that has left her with one shoulder that drops unevenly while in the saddle.
“I guess I should feel proud about challenging myself,” said a humble Karin. “Look what you can do when you put your mind to it!”
(787 words)
©2013 K. Dallimore. All Rights Reserved.