The American Horsemen Challenge
are taking place in Hutchinson, Kansas this weekend. The contestants are from all over the country as far west as California, from Michigan, Texas, Florida, and lots of other places. The trail challenges for the National Finals are conducted inside a covered arenas to ensure a dry competition in the event of rain. There are 13 obstacles that have to be completed in 8 minutes.
The contestants receive points for their speed, but time is a small component of the challenge with greater focus on horsemanship. The obstacles are placed in the arena, but the order of the course is left unknown to the contestants until shortly before each class begins. The order changes every class and makes it more difficult to stay on course. A rider who misses an obstacle will lose points. However, any attempt to return to an overlooked obstacle results in disqualification.
Riders are required to ride their mounts with an eye towards safety for the horse and rider. The failure to observe safety can cost points or also result in disqualification. Excessive spurring, hitting, or inappropriate tack such as harsh bits are not allowed. The rider must be able to put the horse through the obstacles with calm control. The course has water crossing with floating balls, two teeter totters, wooden bridges that make 90 degree turns with sloped decks, and a variety of other challenges.
One class had to cross the first teeter totter, go directly to the wooden bridge, then go to the next teeter totter that dropped onto a tarp on the ground. Upon exiting the tarp, the horse entered a water pit with noodles midway across. Upon leaving the water, the horse had to walk through blowing streamers hanging from above. The first teeter totter was enough to cause some horses to refuse to finish this challenging final obstacle.
Although the competion is fierce among the competing horse/rider teams, it is friendly with the competitors willing to lend equipment or their time to fellow competitors. The rounds will end Sunday and the tension is building to see who will take home the prizes, ribbons, and saddles.