When you see Alex Bauwens’ Instagram page, you get the real deal. No filters, no Photoshop, just photos and videos showcasing her daily riding adventures. Sometimes it’ll be a video of her doing a trick shot off the back of a horse with her bow and arrow, other times she’ll have her drone in the sky to follow her as she treks through the untouched desert terrain, and occasionally you’ll see photos of her most recent artwork as a professional painter.
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It doesn’t matter where she is or what she’s doing, Bauwens always finds a way to enjoy life from the back of a horse.
For as long as Bauwens can remember, she’s been horse crazy. Growing up in Northbrook, Illinois, her love for horses started at 3 when her mom, Julie, got a horse: an appendix Quarter Horse named Diamond Dancer.
“I was the kid that insisted on wearing their riding clothes to school,” Bauwens jokes. “Since then, my whole life has involved being around horses.”
From the first time she had a chance to sit on Diamond Dancer, horses were all Bauwens could think about. And to prove to her family that she had what it took to be dedicated to the sport, Bauwens began spending as much time at the barn as she could, pulling weeds and mucking out stalls. From there, she began taking jumping lessons and immediately fell in love with it. However, shortly into her riding career, her mom was in a riding accident that left her in the hospital.
“I still remember the accident like it was yesterday,” Bauwens shares. “For some reason I decided to drop what I was doing and run to the arena to watch my mom show. Right as I got there, I had this weird feeling, and when I looked up, I saw her coming around the corner and head toward an in-and-out fence. Her horse dropped a toe and stumbled to his knees, throwing my mom into the second fence, back first. He then jumped the second fence, nicking my mom’s face in the process. She had to be taken out of the arena by ambulance.”
After a full recovery, her family decided to trade the English saddle for a Western one and was introduced to the world of AQHA all-around events by trainer Diane Eppers.
The beginning of her all-around career started when Bauwens had the opportunity to ride AQHA high-point champion and All American Quarter Horse Congress champion, Sleepy Cloverdale—a horse many riders could only dream of riding. By the ride’s end, her family was hooked, and shortly afterward, Bauwens got her first horse, Just A Kiss Of Class.
“‘Ladybug’ was only 3 when we got her and she only did the Western pleasure,” Bauwens says. “She taught me a lot because I had to learn how to do the all-around with her.”
Their ability to work as a team showed, and Bauwens and her horse went on to place at some of the top events in the country, including a third-place at the Congress. But her favorite win came from an event Bauwens and her mare typically didn’t enter in.
“I remember being at a horse show and seeing the trophies they had on display—they were beautiful sculptures. I found out they were for a halter class, and I decided I was going to show my little horse against all these real halter horses,” she says with a laugh. “When I told everyone I was going to enter that class, they looked at me like I was crazy. I ended up winning grand champion mare and took home eight trophies.”
Introduction to Reining
After seeing some success in all-around events, Bauwens got a taste for reining thanks to her grandfather, who had been involved in the sport for a few years.
“My grandpa was at Jose Vazquez’s house and they had Smart Like Juice out of his stall,” she shares. “I remember my grandpa asking me if I wanted to spin him, and that was the first time I ever rode a reiner.”
It’s a feeling that sticks with you forever—the first time you spin a reining horse—and after that ride, Bauwens knew she wanted to compete in reining. Soon after, she found out that her grandpa was going to sell his horse, and decided to buy his horse and say goodbye to the all-around. Not long after buying her first reiner, she was introduced to reining trainers Dan and Wendy Huss.
“I would see Dan and Wendy at the horse shows, and remember one of their customers, Ian Barnard,” she explains. “He was such a good rider and always looked like he was having fun. I knew I wanted to train with them after seeing the way they helped their non pros.”
Bauwens credits the Huss group with helping her become the rider she is today—allowing her to break out of her comfort zone and start working with horses that vary in experience and trying out different disciplines, like mounted archery.
“Dan and Wendy don’t try to fit a horse to their program. They always taught me to adjust my program to fit the needs of the horse,” Bauwens says. “The horse always comes first with them. And that’s very important to me. It’s one of the many reasons I look up to them.”
Many competitions stood out to Bauwens during her reining career, but the one she’s most proud involved riding at the FEI North American Junior/Young Riders Championship and representing the United States. Her team took home gold, but that wasn’t the part that meant the most to Bauwens.
“There were so many obstacles that I had to overcome to go to Kentucky, and to actually get there and work with a team to represent my country was an amazing experience,” Bauwens says. “Taking home gold was the icing on the cake, but this was a really good cake. Just being there was amazing, getting to see the different disciplines, meeting new riders, standing on the podium.”
Trainer Wendy Huss also remembers this moment fondly. “Rick Christen, another customer of ours, allowed Alex to take Heza Bigtime Bingo to Lexington, Kentucky,” Wendy says. “She works hard and soaks up every word when practicing, so it was such a special moment to see her take home the gold medal.”
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A Cross-Country Move
At the age of 10, Alex came home from a family vacation in Arizona feeling homesick for a state she never lived in. The feeling seemed to stick around every time Bauwens left the desert, leaving her with the choice of staying in Illinois or heading 1,700 miles west.
“I had recently completed an art apprenticeship and decided I needed to do something for myself,” she explains. “So I got a dog, packed my bags, and relocated to Arizona.”
Dan and Wendy Huss had also recently made the move from Illinois to Scottsdale, Arizona, giving Bauwens even more reason to take a chance and move away from home.
Horseless and living in a new state, Bauwens had to get creative with how she could get her horse fix. She still had the opportunity to ride at the Husses any time she wanted to, but she was ready to branch out and test her skills in a new riding discipline.
“I was really interested in mounted shooting,” she explains. “But one day when my mom and I were driving home from the Husses, we came across a truck that had a sign advertising mounted archery lessons. I jotted down the contact info and called the next day and scheduled a lesson.”
On top of venturing into the world of mounted archery, trail riding was another outlet Bauwens wanted to explore—even after a mishap left her lost in the desert.
After a practice session with the Husses, she decided to take one of the show horses out on a quick ride, thinking she would be gone for 20 minutes or so. Pre-iPhone and new to the area, Bauwens realized she was lost an hour into her ride.
“I remembered someone saying if you ever get lost, your horse will find his way back,” she shares. “I put my hand down and let him go where he wanted. He went around a corner and into a weird ditch and found the trail! That was such an exciting feeling. It reminded me of the rush I used to get when I showed.”
[READ ABOUT: HAULING HORSES CROSS-COUNTRY]
A painter by trade, Bauwens originally started using Instagram to help showcase her work. But it was after she started posting photos of her having fun on the back of a horse that she started to get a following.
“I never really expected anything to happen when I started posting photos and videos on Instagram—it was really just a way for me to keep up with friends and share some of the exciting things I was up to with them,” she says. “It just started to grow organically. One girl got in touch with me after seeing my photos and asked if I wanted to do a photo shoot, and I did it. Then I kept connecting with like-minded people, and it just spiraled from there.”
Posting on Instagram is how Bauwens has connected with some of her closest friends, including Tina Bork.
“Alex was helping a friend sell her Gypsy Vanner on Instagram, and I was looking to buy one,” Bork explains. “By the time I messaged her, the horse had already sold. But we got to talking and she mentioned that she would keep an eye out for one that’s for sale. We found out that we’re both located in Scottsdale and decided to get together. I thought we were going to meet for coffee for maybe 20 minutes, but I ended up at her barn for two and a half hours. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Since that day, the two have gone on to do just about anything they possibly can do on the back of a horse, including teaching new tricks, weekly “games” of horse soccer, and even saddling up overseas and riding with a former Olympic rider during a recent trip to Japan. They always make sure to document their adventures on social media to let fellow riders know what they’re up to.
“We just love having fun on the back of a horse,” Bork says. “We like to keep our horses entertained. If they look frustrated or distracted, we’ll take a walk around the neighborhood or do something fun like kick a large, horse-friendly soccer ball around. We just want everyone to have a good time.”
Now Bauwens has close to 100,000 followers on the platform—many of those followers are young riders who admire what she does with her horses.
“Alex is so genuine. She’s such an inspirational rider to many of the young girls that are on social media,” explains Bork. “She’s a friend to everyone and she’s willing to share whatever expertise she has. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. But at the same time, she’s also open to learning from everyone. She’s just a great person to be around and a great role model for young riders.”
Social media has proved to be a challenge for many young girls, who strive to be as perfect as the picture they scroll past on Instagram. But Bauwens takes joy in knowing that she’s helping other young riders in and out of the saddle by showing them it’s not about being perfect, it’s about having fun and doing the things you love.