January 29, 2010 — The California Cowgirls were chosen from dozens of drill teams throughout the world to participate in WEG this fall, and they will be performing all 16 days, Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.
Along with her sisters, Teresa and Mary, Sara enjoyed growing up on what is today’s Main Street. The Mendoza sisters petted every horse in Elk Grove, and they decorated their bikes as horses for Western Festival parades. “We wished we could ride real horses with the country kids,” explained Sara. “Living in town had its advantages though. I grew up on the corner of Main Street and Elk Grove Florin Road, the only intersection in Elk Grove. Watching fire trucks fly by and having a front row seat for the Homecoming Parade were among the advantages of living there.”
Sara claims her Elk Grove heritage from her mother, Barbara (Polhemus) Mendoza, who was born in Elk Grove, and her parents were also born in the Elk Grove area. Hazel (Nichols) Polhemus was born in Sheldon on the Nichols Family Ranch which is now Brookside Equestrian Center. Elbert “Bert” Polhemus was born in the home that is now the McConnell Winery on Highway 99. Bert worked as a butcher all his life, and their family home is on Walnut Street.
The Mendoza family home was originally Joseph Kerr’s house of the 1870s. The home and surrounding walnut orchard were purchased in 1944 by Sara’s grandfather, J. G. Mendoza. Sara tells us that her father, Arthur Mendoza, was 16 years old when the family moved from San Francisco to Elk Grove. He worked for the post office delivering mail to Franklin and Point Pleasant, and he was the first person of Mexican/American descent to earn his Law Degree from McGeorge Law School.
“Life was simpler then,” Sara explained. “Sometimes it was boring, but it was simpler. Summer broke the routine of school with swimming and hanging out at the Elk Grove Pool.” Our Cowgirl Captain, who lives in Sacramento, maintains her connections in Elk Grove with family and friends. Christine Mendoza, wife of Sara’s brother Robert, owns and operates the Montessori Country Academy on Second Street.
How did all this lead to the Cowgirls? Sara explains: “While raising three children, I found my passion for horses again with my horse-crazy daughter. The rest, as they say, is history. My husband, Syd, and I own property in Wilton which is where I ride and keep my horses. We hope to be living there permanently very soon. It is also the home of the California Cowgirls.”
MEET SANDRA FREY HAMPTON
Sandra also grew up in Elk Grove, and this is the story of her path to the California Cowgirls.
“Old Elk Grove had only one stop sign and one Elk Grove High School. I remember driving through town with my father’s sister and she commented on having graduated from Elk Grove High School. That is now a family joke because my response was: I didn’t know the high school was that old! Of course, we were talking about the building that is now Joseph Kerr Middle School.”
Sandra credits her father for getting her into horses. “He had a reputation for being able to work with difficult horses, and it must have rubbed off on me,” she tells us. “At the time he died he had leased two horses for us to ride. I was 9 years old at the time.”
When Sandra was sixteen she took her 4-H winnings and babysitting money and bought her first horse. “She was a little crazy,” she remembers, “but we were a great pair. We rode out in what is now the Cosumnes River Preserve. Going there on a foggy November day was quite a thrill. You’d cut through the fog, and the lake would come alive with hundreds of ducks and geese. And the carp were huge!
“We must have been in four Western Festivals in the early 1960s. I would ride my horse to the old auction yard (Carl Amundson’s first theater) on Friday after school because I did not have a horse trailer. My mother would take me to Elk Grove early the next morning for the parade, and then I would ride my horse home. This was a seven mile ride by the way.”
Sandra credits Yvonne Buscher Bonacci for inviting her to become part of the California Cowgirls in 1994. She remembers watching a practice and asking herself, “What are they doing?” Then Sara let her use her horse Fancy for a couple of events, “I had the bug,” she says.
The first drill horse for Sandra was Reba, then BamBam, and then Buttercup. Sandra now rides BamBam, and her daughter, Jessica rides Buttercup.
“Jessica joined the team this year,” says Sandra. “She would come with me to practices and fill in for a sick team member over the years, but she never had the time to commit to the team until this year. She graduated from college last year, and when she filled in for missing riders this spring she found she finally had time to be a California Cowgirl. It has been a wonderful year and now we are working toward the World Games in Kentucky.”
Sandra’s mother and aunt, Lucile Christensen and Lorraine Croup, are considered the Cowgirl “groupies,” and the group includes them when they travel. They will be going to Kentucky, and if you know Lucile and Lorraine, you know that they are very, very proud of the Cowgirls.
The members of the California Cowgirls Equestrian Drill Team are: Linda Benhase, Debbie Lott, Linda Kiefer, Sandy Frey-Hampton, Mary Mendoza, Aleda Vaughn, Jessica Hampton, Kathy Fairbanks, Bekki Lauflin, June Harrison, Emily Jacobson, Brittany Parsons, Autumn Teach, Amanda Moore, Dennise Sanders, Nicol Kunka, Lauri Winji, and Ashley Edon.
The fund-raisers for the Cowgirls are March 20—21 at the Horse Wellness Clinic, at Rancho Murieta and on June 11-12, at the Western States Horse Expo at CalExpo. NBC will televise much of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, so look for the famous Cowgirls in the opening ceremonies. “We’re going to Kentucky” is sure to be an expensive endeavor, and the Cowgirls could make good use of community help. Be sure to visit their Web site at www.californiacowgirls.com.