Stacey Bentley… our Rhinestone Cowgirl

BELIEVE IT or not, here on the Hinterland we have Australia’s top rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ cowgirl.

Photo: courtesy of Bright Stars Modelling.

Photo: courtesy of Bright Stars Modelling.

Well, they’re not the words that 15 year-old Stacey Bentley would use, nevertheless, she is the best young Paint Horse rider in the country, and this striking young woman will soon leave for Fort Worth, Texas to prove her own worth as one of the best riders of the Paint Horse in the world. Stacey spoke to Hinterland Times editor, Michael Berry about this rarely known, but growing sport.

“Competition is like a western type of show with the emphasis on what they call Western Pleasure”, says Stacey. “You wear what the cowboys wear – leather stock curved saddles with shiny silver ornaments. The aim is that the
horse goes around in a relaxed manner with you being as relaxed as you can too, but having full control. The horse goes around on a long rein; they have to look willing. There’s a bit of an art to it.

Photo: courtesy of Agile Photographics.

Photo: courtesy of Agile Photographics.

“You ride around the outside of the arena, the judge will stand in the middle and they will call out to walk or to jog or lope which is a form of cantering but slower. They judge on how well trained the horse is, how well you ride yourself with position and leg aids.”

Paint Horse riding has become the second biggest show horse event in the US. The special quarter horse and thoroughbred  breed has striking white patches ‘painted’ over its body and the genuine  Paint Horse rider looks like a cut-out from Wild Bill Hikock’s Wild West Show.

When you see her all dressed up Stacey Bentley wears her wide cowgirl hat, silver belt buckle, wide chaps with frills down the leg, wrangler jeans, high boots and rhinestone covered shirt. A good paint horse rider must also learn equitation – a form of etiquette in the saddle. You have to look prim and
proper, relaxed but not sloppy.

Stacey is raising money for her airfares and expenses to Fort Worth in June when she will be in a team of four under eighteen year-olds.

Photo: courtesy of Francene Neuendorf.

Photo: courtesy of Francene Neuendorf.

“When we get there we literally draw a horse out of a hat”, says Stacey. You only have about 40 minutes with the horse before your event. So, you’ve got to be able to ride any horse, adapt and do your best. You might get a horse
that has been trained completely differently to what you’re used to, so there’s a bit of luck and some strategy to it to be the best rider that you can be.

“They also have a team relay on foot where you run from station to station having to piece together a bridle, then to another and say, put together a map of the world. Then there’s knowledge of the horse competition, a teams
parade with a set theme. Then they add up all the results. Last year Australia got fourth.”

Stacey was born into a horse-riding family. Their Kunda horse stud in Peachester has its own ring and stables and Stacey trains and rides her own paint horse called Odette. Stacey’s grandmother and mother have both been
champion riders and their trophies from decades past literally line the entire lounge / dining room of the grandparents’ home.

“My mum rides, trains and breaks paint horses, so I was kind of born into it”, says Stacey matter of factly. I started competing when I was 12. I have been to the state and national championships every year since then. In the last two years I have got high point junior youth (14 and under). At the state show I got high point junior for two years and high point youth overall (18 and under).”

Is there a secret to Stacey’s winning form? “Well, you see some people riding around who have such plain, scrunched up expressions. I enjoy myself and the bond that I have between me and my horse, Odette.”

“Presentation is the key”, adds Stacey. “I make sure all my tack and clothes are clean and I am fit well. And I pay attention to things like hair, make-up, clothes, etc. If you come into the arena on a dirty horse, with a bad outfit you will not place; the judge won’t even give you a second look.”

Stacey, who is a Year 11 student at Beerwah State High, is also doing a retail traineeship. She rides 4-5 days a week and when she leaves school she has ambitions of going back to America to work as a ranch farmhand.

Win or lose in Fort Worth Texas, one thing is sure. Stacey has her hands firmly on the reins of her future.

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