Meg Wills Thoughts on AHCA and the National Finals

February 25, 2014

Horseman of Arkansas Trail ChallengeMeg Wills, horse-trainer, trail challenge competitor and recognized judge provides her comments and thoughts about the American Horsemen Challenge obstacle course competitions and the National Finals. See below.

AHCA; what is it you ask? I have heard and read many such questions since it’s founding in December of 2011. The way I describe it to new people is like this: imagine using a horse on a real working ranch and the things you might encounter such as: ditches, hills, bridges, water, brush, cows, gates, etc. You may have to pull brush off a fence, jump a log, carry an injured calf back to the barn, shoot a snake, rope or cut off a calf, cross a creek, or lead a horse home. It may be raining, hot, cold, with varied terrain. Then imagine all of the competitive events that are part of the equine world: barrel racing, pole bending, hunter over fences, roping, working cow horse, cutting, reining, dressage, trail riding, trail class, mounted shooting, any pleasure division, and the list can go on. AHCA takes aspects from as many as 13 different disciplines and will combine them into a course of up to 13 obstacles, depending on the division. This is truly a great way to challenge each horse and rider team. The courses are designed to help the horses and riders succeed, not fail. By doing this, it allows growth as riders, trainers and well-rounded horses. Another unique aspect of the American Horsemen Challenge Association is that it is open to any breed of horse, pony, mule or donkey including those that gait.

The mission of the AHCA is to promote horsemanship and sportsmanship at its highest level, while providing an arena of camaraderie within a competitive obstacle course setting. Its purpose is to instill public awareness and respect for the horse while members strive to improve their horsemanship skills. All competitions will be conducted with the highest level of integrity.

Another question I have heard is along the lines of I have never done anything like this or my horse and/or I are inexperienced. My answer to that is there is a division for all riders and horses, no matter what level you happen to be. The Wrangler division is for riders 12 and under, while the Youth division goes up to 18. There is an English division as well as Novice, Amateur, Legends (those over 55), and the Open division. I encourage new riders to talk with the hosts & other exhibitors as well as look at the courses when trying to decide in what division(s) to compete. I have yet to meet any member who is not willing to help any and all of the competitors. We will even call out the pattern for you, if you need help remembering it. All affiliates holding AHCA sanctioned events are required to pay back 50% of the entry fees in money or prizes in the case of the Wrangler & Novice divisions.

What are the judges looking for? First of all, they want to see a nice team completing obstacles to the best of that particular teams ability. In other words, they would like to see good horsemanship: smooth transitions, correct leads, bending properly and round circles. Slower with proper technique is better than faster and sloppy. Horsemanship and Safety are of the utmost importance. Ultimately, speed with proper technique is the final goal. Keep in mind this takes practice, patience, and time. Most horses and riders will not start here, but all of them can end up here.

What if I ride a gaited horse? All of the AHCA judges are required to pass a written test with a 90%. This test has several questions pertaining to gaited horses as well as English horses. They strive to have judges that are well rounded in a variety of equine disciplines and breeds.

Another aspect that is unique to AHCA and I feel is a huge draw to exhibitors, spectators, and judges is the riders’ ability to show off their horses’ talents in addition to completing the designated obstacles. For example, a rider may want to add flying lead changes on the way to another obstacle or throw in a sliding stop with a sidepass or rollback. Perhaps they are riding a great jumper and they find a way to show off this talent in addition to the required obstacles, provided they clear it with the judge first. Yes there is an English Division as well.

After having the opportunity to ride at the AHCA National Finals this year, I thought I would write my reflections on my experience during the finals. First, I will mention that my thoughts come from not only a competitor’s view, but that of a judge and trainer of several different breeds and a variety of disciplines.

During Saturday afternoon while the AHCA crew was busy setting the course for the final go, I remember watching some of the obstacles being set and remember thinking “I have no idea what Squeeky will think of this”. Some of the obstacles that fell into ‘this’ were as follows: guineas, a turkey, mechanical cow, a bridge with pop up flags/ribbons, and cavelletti type boxes (on top of a multi colored tarp) containing balls leading to a bridge with balls on the rails. I heard several comment on the reasons & safety of some of these obstacles and while I had no idea what my mare was going to think or do (and my first trip was in an English saddle…gulp); I did however, have complete faith in Jeff Lebbin as a horsemen and the course designer to have obstacles that were new, challenging, and most importantly safe.

I finally got my opportunity to ride the final course in the English division on Saturday and the Open course on Sunday. Ahead of the ride, I planned how to get by the guineas and figured I would turn her head away and use my leg to push her laterally around, if it became necessary. When I got in next to them, she really didn’t care too much. The turkey was not a problem for her (or very many horses, that I watched). I felt the mechanical cow was a great obstacle to show off doubling or show that rollbacks were really being done. I even watched one horse and rider do a great job of using the cow as a cutting horse would. One of the most talked about obstacles had to have been the bridge with the pop up ribbons. I pointed my mare and asked her to cross. After a brief hesitation, she went right on across. When the ribbons popped up on the side, I want to clarify that they did not come anywhere close to touching the horse nor were they close to her face. She startled slightly and she was watching a little more for a couple of obstacles. Later, I was talking with a mom of a youth rider and she told her daughter, “If Squeeky can do it anyone can”. For those not familiar with this mare, she has a tendency to be rather reactive. They removed the balls from the cavelletti boxes (they were only going to be on the side of the bridge, but were completely removed), but the multi colored tarp was a challenge for several horses. There was a slant bridge that most horses did without too much problem. My comment to the other English riders when I finished that course was “That was a fun course. You’re going to love it.”

Having touched on my perspective as a rider on a relatively inexperienced, reactive obstacle horse, I now want to touch on the purpose of the obstacles during any AHCA challenge & some of the obstacles in the final round specifically. First, I was siting in the bleachers after I rode the English course and before I rode the Open course, when a lady from Idaho began talking to me. She and her husband were there to watch a competitor and visit a part of the country new to them. She said that she could see a purpose to all of the obstacles and how they simulated something a horse and rider could actually encounter or need to do in a ranch situation, as they owned a working one. However, the only obstacle she couldn’t “figure out was the pedestal, unless it was to just make the horse pay attention and listen”. I agreed and said often times the horses like to get in a hurry and rush doing something and this obstacle asks them to stop and wait on the rider. Some of the newer obstacles simulated walking on the side of a hill, working around various animals, going down a trail or across a field and stepping on or hitting a branch that swings up at either your horse or the horse behind you. All of this has happened to a horse and me at one time during the many miles I have ridden out in this great country of ours. I feel one of the great things about AHCA is the variety of circumstances we use in each one of our courses. I do want to mention that if there is an obstacle you feel that you and/or your horse are not ready for, you will not be disqualified for going around it.

I can imagine that the judging of these courses was both fun and rewarding. We all pull for each other and the judges are pulling for every team as well. It allowed them to see us in a variety of circumstances and not just did our horse ‘do it’, but how did we as riders handle their reaction. I imagine they could see trust as well as training, teamwork and well thought out rides. Having judged at our National Final level in the past, I know that those rides are thrilling to watch.

For more information: or 810-730-0682or on Facebook. Or for information on your local affiliate or events: or Meg Wills 501-940-2259.

Rogers Co. Mounted Patrol Unit; Big Plans For 2014

February 22, 2014

The Rogers Co. Mounted Patrol, whose focus is primarily search and rescue operations, has big plans for 2014. Rogers Co. Sheriff, Scott Walton and Deputy, Coy Jennings, are about to announce the plans for 2014 for the mounted patrol. One objective that can be disclosed is the goal to increase the number of volunteers qualified to participate. Both Walton and Jennings feel strongly that active community participation with the Sheriff’s department brings all types of benefits to the community, helping make Rogers County a better place to live.

Wisely, Sheriff Walton and Deputy Jennings recognize mounted search and rescue (“MSAR”) is an efficient way to find lost and missing people. By using community volunteers, the Sheriff’s department can leverage its resources in emergency situations by involving the local citizens. After all, more ground can be quickly covered by horseback than any other means, especially when you consider both horse and rider have the ability to hear and smell. Unlike searches by plane, patrol units can listen for cries for help and offer assistance. Mounted patrol can also investigate brushy and areas hard to see from the air.

The plans are underway and just as soon as we are authorized, the events will be posted. If you would like to assist in the mounted patrol, you can contact Coy Jennings at the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department 918-923-4477.


Gentle Dove Farm Announces A Versatile Horse Obstacle Clinic

February 18, 2014

Joann Long notified us Gentle Dove Farm has scheduled an obstacle clinic to be held Saturday, July 19, 2014, with an emphasis on mounted police training techniques. Designed to teach and instill confidence in both horse and rider, Ms. Long is a certified instructor who believes strongly in the benefits the training provides. Police mounts obviously require calm natures, discipline, and sound physical and mental health. For more information, contact Joann at 585-738-7477.

North American Trail Ride Conference In Oklahoma City

February 15, 2014

The National Convention for the North American Trail Ride Conference (“NATRC”) will be held in Oklahoma City this year, February 20 – 23, 2014. The Friday and Saturday sessions are filled with recognized speakers in the equine industry ready to discuss issues important to trail riders. The key-note speaker, Nancy Loving, DVM will discuss topics including colic, evaluating the equine athlete, and how to deal with equine emergencies. Both members and non-members are welcome. You can register at the NATRC website. For more details, contact

Western Dressage Isn’t For Dummies

February 12, 2014

Western dressage is a complicated, mentally challenging discipline. It’s not for dummies! It has only been recently that I learned just how difficult it is to grasp. I was told you use two hands on the reins in western dressage or you lose points. To my backward way of ‘thinkin’, if you can do exactly the same thing with one hand on the reins, it means you’re even better. Like when I was small and the older kids rode their bicycles with one hand while I used two hands. Wrong! Not in western dressage, two hands are required.

Confused, I started sending e-mails and asking western dressage experts why two hands are better than one hand. The first answer I got was safety. It is for the safety and welfare of the rider and fellow participants. For a dumb red-neck from Oklahoma, this was a little hard to follow. If my horse does everything your horse does, where’s the safety? Is it because holding the reins with two hands will help keep me from falling off? Wouldn’t it be better just to grab hold of the saddle horn?????

The next reply was because that’s what the rules say. Slow on the uptake, I asked, who made the rule? This is not a proper question to ask. Once “He Who Shall Not Be Named” has SPOKEN, all will follow the rules. All violators will be PENALIZED!  I tried to point out that in battle, warriors probably carried weapons (swords and stuff), but was informed the correctness of the point would not be debated. The judges had been “trained” in the “old ways”.

At least, these individuals were courteous enough to respond. The silence of others seemed to say, “mere mortals” who would ask such questions could never be capable of understanding the depth and wisdom behind the “rule”.

The experts made it clear that “dressage” is a life-long journey that never ends. You never actually get there. You continue and never stop learning. Well, I may have just started the trip, but for the life of me can’t figure out how those guys swung a sword while holding a rein in each hand.  Hey, can any of you “western dressage experts” out there explain to a dumb country boy why two hands on the reins are better than one?

Polly Hobbled – Good Horses Stand Hobbled

February 8, 2014

DSCF0065The benefits of hobble training escapes attention these days. It’s sad because hobble training:

1.  Teaches patience.

2.  Teaches a horse to remain calm while their feet are caught in something the horse didn’t expect.

3.  Gives the rider the option of overnight restraint without a fence.

4. Let’s you do ranch chores when your horse doesn’t ground tie. (Okay, maybe this isn’t a very good reason when there’s fence work to be done!)

Kids Make A Great Test

February 5, 2014

As we keep saying, there are lots of “experts” out there when it comes to horse training.  If you aren’t a horse trainer, it can be a little hard to distinguish a real expert from a vocal, big talking amateur. If you aren’t familiar with horses, then how can you know?

Here’s a really simple, easy way to see whether a “horse trainer” knows their stuff. Take a good look at their children. Kids don’t lie. Well-behaved kids are the product of love, respect, and discipline. Not present-day society’s gooey love, but genuine concern over the welfare of a child by a parent who demands respect and obedience.

Does the expert have the kind of children that none of us care to be around? You know the ones! If so, we’ll bet all the big talk is just hot air. We have never seen a reputable horseman whose children (and dogs) didn’t mind. A genuine horseman understands respect is essential and demands it. This shouldn’t suggest they are mean-spirited, but they also don’t put up with nonsense. You may not be able to accurately evaluate and judge horses, but all of us recognize poorly behaving children.

You don’t have to know anything about horses to distinguish a real life, honest to goodness horse trainer from a “blow hard”!

Horse Trainers Teach and Train Horses

February 2, 2014

We keep reading blogs and articles written by “horse trainers” who are clueless about how to train a horse. Recently, we saw a post by a young woman who writes a blog and offers “training advice”. She even requests people to contact her with issues with their horse so she can help solve them (won’t embarrass her by linking to the post).

She relates a story about being pregnant and calling a farrier out to trim her mare’s feet. The mare wouldn’t pick up her feet for the farrier and “didn’t like him”. Bottom line, the woman trims the mare’s feet while someone else holds a feed bucket.  News Alert: Holding a bucket full of feed so you can trim your horse’s feet is a work around solution, not training.

Training is teaching, instructing, correcting, and giving discipline. It is not finding “work around solutions” to the problem. Average everyday riders often find suitable ways to “work around” their specific problem. Nothing wrong with a self-help answer to get the job done, but it just shouldn’t be confused with “training”. The key difference between training and simply getting the job done is “training” teaches the horse a task or activity. Other solutions like using a feed bucket to trim your horses feet are just a crutch. The horse doesn’t learn anything except how to eat!