SOUTH CHINA — Stacy Glidden Westfall, who was raised in Palermo and South China, got her first horse, Misty, when she was just 6 years old.

Today, at 37, Westfall is a nationally respected trainer of horses and their owners.

Westfall, who now lives in Ohio, will be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame at a luncheon on Oct. 25, along with three other women who are 2012 inductees, at the Will Rogers Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

“It was surprising to have it happen so soon,” Westfall said. “They said it might take 15 or 20 years, and it all happened so fast. They kept asking for more material on me, more video, and it all happened in a year. It’s an honor. It’s shocking; it doesn’t seem real.”

The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame is part of the National Cowgirl Museum, which honors women, past and present, whose courage, resilience and independence have helped shape the American West.

The three other Hall of Fame inductees this year are Mildred Farris, a leader in the sport of rodeo; Sunny Hale, the highest-ranked woman polo player in the U.S.; and Barbara Schulte, an author, trainer and clinician with horses in Texas.

Westfall’s mother, Sherri Glidden, is manager of the China Dine-Ah on U.S. Route 202 in South China. Glidden said Westfall competed in the Riverside Horse Show in Augusta and the Silver Spur Horse Show in Sidney when she was a girl. She did barrel racing, in which the rider tries to make the horse cut in opposite directions around three 55-gallon barrels set out in a triangular course in the fastest time without knocking any of the barrels over.

Westfall attended Erskine Academy, graduating in 1993. She had been competing with Misty and another horse named Bay in horse shows and barrel-racing competition as a girl. One day her mathematics teacher asked all his students to declare what they were going to do after high school.

Westfall said she wanted to do something with horses, but added, “You can’t go to college for that.”

Her teacher sent her to the guidance office, where she discovered that there were indeed colleges where one could study horsemanship.

The two leading colleges offering degrees in equestrian studies were Texas A & M and the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio.

Westfall chose the University of Findlay, because it was smaller and closer to home. She graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in equestrian studies and a concentration in equine business management.

It was in college she met another horse lover, Jesse Westfall. After they graduated, they got married and moved to Mount Gilead in central Ohio to start a horse training facility called Westfall Horsemanship. “Mostly what we do is teach other people to train their horses,” Westfall said.

Westfall moved from barrel racing, where she had been a champion, to freestyle reining competition, which she compares to freestyle ice skating.

“Reining competition shows the athletic ability of the horse that would be needed if it were herding cattle. I’m famous for my sliding stops and spins,” Westfall said.

Westfall also attracted notice by competing in reining, first without a bridle and reins and then without bridle and bareback. “It had never been done before,” she said. In 2003, she won the National Freestyle Reining Competition without a bridle on her horse.

She said there is pressure for freestyle reining to become an Olympic equestrian event. It is done in costume and to music, and has been called “Western dressage.” This year at the London Olympics, it was a demonstration event.

In 2006, Westfall’s father, Biff Glidden, died. A ride she performed in his memory created a sensation at the All American Quarter Horse Freestyle Competition. She won that competition with a high score of 239 and without using a bridle or a saddle.

It was the highest score ever recorded, even by riders with a saddle and bridle.

Ellen DeGeneres invited Westfall onto her TV show and her ride went on YouTube, where it was viewed more than 1 million times.

Also in 2006, Westfall was the first female to compete in the Road to the Horse competition; and she won it, beating all her male competitors.

This tests who can best “start” an untrained horse. She had a 3-year-old horse that had never been ridden and, “in three hours, I took the horse and had it drag a log, let me ride it and swing a rope overhead, walk over logs, walk, trot and lope, and ride over obstacles.”

Westfall has an uncanny ability to use body language to communicate with her horses.

“I’ve gone into places with horses that have never been trained and people say, ‘You’re a horse whisperer,'” like the character played by Robert Redford in the movie of the same name.

Westfall says it’s not so much verbal communication with the horse but physical communication such as pressure from her legs on the horse’s flanks that is most important.

“It’s a little like knowing a spouse or a friend really well and walking into a room and knowing their demeanor right away,” she said. Watching the movements of a horse’s ears and nostrils is important to knowing how the horse is feeling, she said.

She has written a book that came out earlier this year, “Smart Start,” that explains what she does in reining competition and also gives techniques for horse training.

Glidden said Westfall recently took up mounted shooting in which she shoots at balloons while on horseback.

The Westfalls have three sons: Caleb, 14; Joshua, 12; and Nathan, 10. They are home schooling the boys, which makes it easy for the whole family to travel together.

Last fall they spent a month in Australia running horse training clinics.

They also have worked with horses and their owners all over this country.

“I really, really enjoy teaching people,” Westfall said. “I can remember when I had trouble getting my horse into the trailer. Now I know how to fix that.”

“I am doing what I love,” she said. “The one thing I didn’t expect was the impact I’ve had on young girls. You really can follow your dreams. It’s been neat to be living that.”

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