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Camden, Sumter women part of elite Century Club riding group

Posted: June 5, 2014 5:05 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

On June 1, Cathy Humphries of Sumter and her 29-year-old Arabian horse Mizahrr (Tex) joined a very elite group -- the Century Club. She is the 169th person in the entire US and only the second in South Carolina to become a member, joining Harriet Kiehl of Camden.

The Century Club (founded in 1996 by the Dressage Foundation) recognizes dressage riders and horses whose combined age totals 100 years or more. Horse and rider perform a dressage test of any level, at a dressage show or event, and are scored by a dressage judge or professional. Dressage competition is defined by the International Equestrian Federation as "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform a series of [challenging] predetermined movements."

"The Century Club ride has evolved into a serious endeavor that encourages and rewards our older senior [dressage] riders. … And while we stress the serious nature of riding a test, we want all senior riders for the Century Club to have fun! …this club has no dues, no meetings and no agenda, except to enjoy the occasion…. This is a wonderful group, not only experienced in horsemanship, but in various and unique life experiences." (Dressage Foundation, http://www.dressagefoundation.org)

As a Century Club member, Humphries is somewhat unusual: she did not begin riding until she was 50, and she began dressage only very recently in her riding life. A native of New Mexico, she took lessons there and bought her first horse, Tex. She moved to SC about 15 years ago, boarding her horse in Lee County while she built a house and barn in Sumter County. She rode regularly with a number of local riders from Bishopville, Camden and Sumter. She took more lessons and became involved in endurance riding. She had set as a goal to ride a limited distance endurance ride before she was 60. She actually completed two before her birthday.

Later, she took riding lessons and some dressage instruction from Marsha Hewitt and continued to trail ride as well. Since she and Tex had the combined number of years necessary, she determined to become a member of the Century Club. At this point, she had had very little instruction in dressage.

Humphries found an instructor who was almost a neighbor. Emily Snapp Shealy, whose horses are stabled on Biddle Road, has been successful in dressage as rider and teacher. Only a few months ago, Shealy began working with Humphries and Tex on the movements and the patterns of the dressage test they would take. According to Humphries, "Emily was willing to take us on and give us a crash course in dressage."

On Saturday, Humphries and Tex went to Pine Tree Farms in Camden to attempt their first dressage tests. This was only the second time the pair had ever showed together -- never before in dressage. It was a beautiful June day and Pine Tree’s outstanding facilities were busy: horses warming up, performing, or going over jump courses; trailers arriving with more horses and riders; riders and their helpers putting the final touches on their show outfits or their horses’ grooming; spectators roaming around admiring horses and getting refreshments from the 4-H tent.

Humphries and Tex were both understandably nervous, but Shealy set about having the pair warm up. She said, "Don’t worry. You’ll be great. Of course, you’re nervous, but just take a deep breath, focus on Tex and what you’ve learned. I’ll be right there reading out the test directions."

After a warm up session, horse and rider took their first test. Immediately after it was over, the announcer explained the Century Club and what Humphries and Tex had achieved. They were awarded a large, handsome black and yellow ribbon. Emily was so proud of her student that she could hardly contain herself. Soon there came the second test, and before the day was over, we learned that Humphries and Tex had won second place in their first test and third place in their second test. There were two more ribbons to hang on Tex’s bridle. In addition, after the score sheets and papers verifying the information are sent to the Dressage Foundation, Humphries and Tex will receive a beautiful plaque with their names, the year of the ride, and their team number. Remarkable achievement for horse, rider and teacher!

(Story and photos by Don Mathis)

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