MOSES LAKE — The cheers and screams echoed from the stands almost simultaneously to when the announcer introduced Kady Didtel and her horse Bentley as they entered the arena Friday afternoon at the Pacific Northwest Invitational at Ardell Pavilion at the Grant County Fairgrounds.
The American Quarter Horse’s ears perked as he caught a whiff of the arena. His ancestor’s main duty as a ranch horse was working cattle, but today Bentley and Kady were competing in the reigning competition at championship between states that bring together the best young horsemen and women in Oregon and Washington for a season finale.
The Wenatchee horse and rider representing Team Washington entered slowly to the center of the arena where they squared off, facing the panel of judges sitting up against the rail. The key to good scoring is to work as a team, to repeat the countless hours of preparation they had put in in the pen behind the house. Repetition to the point of redundancy had them on the same page as they began their routine.
“I think that smaller horses work better because they’re more athletic,” said Kady, who is a member of the Wenatchee High School equestrian team. “Bentley and I have been working together for three years. The biggest challenge is to make sure we’re both on the same page. Sometimes he has a mind of his own, so we have an on-and-off relationship.”
Kind of like some of the guys she’s dated, but Bentley held his own as he followed her direction going into a counter-clockwise spin in the center of the arena to open the routine. He’s just 15 hands high, yet compact, and well-muscled, well-suited to the intricate and speedy maneuvers required for reining and the other western riding events.
Kady and Bentley came out the spin and started into a steady lope around the arena, counter clockwise, passing in front of the stands and the judges sitting below on the arena floor.
The 17-year-old rider, who will be a senior next fall, and her sometimes headstrong horse found a rhythm in their cadence around the arena, following the suggestion of one of the signs in one of the concessions stands, “Eyes up, heels down.”
Didtel likes the other western riding events like cutting, working cow horse, Western Pleasure and drill team, but today’s competition was designed to work horse and rider in an event similar to cutting, which works with actual cattle.
Kady and Bentley wrapped up their routine to the same hoots and hollers they received when the entered the arena. Like everything that involves the participation of judges, their work was left on the scorer’s table. All they could do is run it like they practiced and let it all sort out in the end.
Kady and Bentley, in the spirit of American Frontier, are taking Western riding one more step into the 21st century.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.