The cancellation of this year's George Washington Parade in Alexandria was a big disappointment to many, but particularly to the girls who comprise Lulu's Ladies, an all-girl equestrian team. It was to be their first appearance in a parade, but now they'll have to wait until next year.
Lulu Wheeler, the trainer of the group, said "They were excited about it."
The riders had even purchased new saddle pads, riding gloves, leg wraps and hardhat covers, all in stars and stripes. Wheeler said that Sue Clairmonte, owner of Clifton Saddlery, was able to get everything for them in four days. However, it turned out to be in vain, for this year at least. The group will hold onto their special equipment as they are already scheduled for next year's parade.
It's not that being in public would be new to the girls. They currently show twice a month in the Hunter Division, traveling as far as Lexington, Virginia. Here they navigate their horses around a special course with eight jumps.
"They are judged on their performance and the one with the nicest ride around the ring wins," said Wheeler. Riders accumulate points during each show trying to achieve the category of high-point horse. Last year, they had eight high-point awards, which Wheeler said was quite an accomplishment.
Caitlin Brown was one of the high-point winners. She said that she earned this award at Kelly's Ford Equestrian Center. Fellow rider Shannon Otto received the same award from Foxchase Center. Not only are Brown and Otto good friends, but their horses are as well. Top Brass and DMD Don Juan usually share a trailer going to and from the shows.
"My dad drives the trailer to the shows, my mom drives us to practices," said Brown, who spends at least five days a week at the Mason Neck Stables. This is where the girls, most of whom own their horses, keep them and also where they train.
BROWN HAS BEEN riding horses since she was eight and was leasing Don Juan from a stable in Manassas before she purchased him. He's a pure-bred Polish Arabian and she loves having her own horse.
"I've loved horses since I was little," she said. "I have some American Indian in me, so I think it's in my blood."
Brown likes riding so much that she has already decided that she wants to go to college with an equine studies program.
"I want to be a professional trainer and then open my own show barn," she said.
Although Brown has only been with the group since last July, she is very committed to Lulu's Ladies.
"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have Lulu's Ladies. Lulu's the funniest lady in the world," said Brown. "She's such a great coach and a good influence. We are the happiest team."
BESIDES OTTO AND BROWN, the group consists of eight other girls: Lindsay Wyne, owner of Who Needs the Whiskey? Fran Vogel, owner of Riley; Dana Vance, owner of Miracle; Rosie Kelly, owner of Kid; Selina Bouffard, owner of Just Add Water; and Ashley Waters, owner of News Editor. Also Rachel Johnson rides Akademy Award and Katie Fitzgerald is the owner of Timmy.
"It's a wonderful group of girls," said Wheeler. "They are very dedicated to their horses."
Wheeler has been riding horses since she was seven years old. She said that she owes everything to her best friend, Shelby Harris, who put Lulu on her first horse. Harris' recent death has been a great loss to Wheeler.
Dana Vance started riding with Wheeler last year, and said, "I am the newest person on the team and really love it. Lulu is so nice to everyone, a very good trainer and has taught me a lot. She is really, really funny and tells great stories. Everyone on the team has been so nice and friendly to me."