It’s time to make plans for the Horsemen of Arkansas trail challenge scheduled June 28th and 29th, 2014. The challenge is a great way to build rider confidence and work with your horse. The Horsemen of Arkansas are some really nice folks and will make you feel right at home. The competition is friendly and fun with the whole group ready to help you and your horse do your very best. If you haven’t tried a competitive challenge, you ought to give this one a go. For more information or to register go to www.horsemenofarkansas.org.
Horsemen of Arkansas are hosting a trail challenge course June 28 and 29, 2014 in Bismark, Arkansas. The event is an AHCA sanctioned challenge with points towards qualification for the National Finals. There is a 50% payback/awards so you can take the winnings back home. The venue for the challenge is the Bar Fifty Ranch. Judging will be by Nina Adkins Kowalski from Michigan. The challenge is open to everyone regardless of the age or experience. The challenge is divided into suitable divisions so contestants compete against equally matched competitors. The divisions include Wrangler, Novice, Open, Amateur, English, Legends, and Green Horse. Coggins required and health papers if out-of-state. For more information contact Meg Wills 501-940-2259 or Corrie Key 479-567-6454.
My name is Dannah Westbrook and I am the 14-year-old daughter of Clay and Stacy Westbrook. I live in Mount Enterprise, Texas where I have been riding since I was 7 years old. My momma and daddy took me to a weeklong Christian riding camp in Van, Texas called Sky Ranch. Momma had ridden all her life so she knew that if I got saddle sores and still wanted to ride that my heart was truly in it. I continued to only dream of my very own horse. I rode that whole week and the director told momma that I never wanted off the horse. So when momma came to watch me ride the last day we went and picked up my first horse.
I began in the horse world competing in ranch rodeos and speed events. In 2010 I became curious about other aspects of riding and more horsemanship. I met Wendy Stephens and I rode with her 2010-2012 where I gained my foundation for horsemanship and competition. I was also introduced to Janice Early in 2010 and she has allowed me to ride numerous amazing ponies that she raised at Lazy J Welsh Pony ranch.
I have been blessed enough to ride under numerous world known clinicians. I have enjoyed and learned from Wendy Stephens -27- Training Center Vivian, La, Mike Bridges a California vaquero style horseman, Jack Brainerd the master of the flying lead change Whitesboro, Texas, and Eitan Beth-Halacamy training in cowboy dressage. These trainers have helped me become the rider I am today. I have won national, state and regional championships, and set arena records on numerous horses and ponies because of these clinicians, lots of saddle soars and dedication. In 2013 God blessed me with the AHCA national youth championship on Lazy J Star Witness “my Super Star.”
I have been acknowledged in 11 publications and believe that my heart starts and stops with a horse. My four-legged friends have gotten me through many uphill challenges in my short life. I will never be able to repay the horses/ponies for the dedication they give me in the arena or at work in the fields.
I have competed in many competitions speed events, equestrian drill team, goat tying, english, showmanship, western pleasure, jumping, dressage, trail, cowboy racing, and AHCA. My favorite of these would have to be AHCA. With this competition comes cow work, shooting guns, bows and arrows, bridges, water crossing, technical elements of horsemanship, jumping, roping, or anything that you could encounter working a big ranch. This sport is truly a family sport. It is very entertaining and children can learn to ride correctly.
In 2014 my plan is to compete in amateur on Lazy J Star Witness a 5 yr. old Welsh pony owned by Janice Early of Lazy J Welsh Pony Ranch in Linden, Texas, Dual Contender “Colt” a 3 yr old AQHA and Blue Cedar Lady “Cedar” a 2006 AQHA both owned by Robert and Cody Taylor of Lazy RC Farms Appleby, Texas, and I may compete some on my 2010 Welsh pony Lazy J The G-Man.
I would like to thank some very special people in my life for getting me to this point Janice Early, Wendy Stephens, Robert, Cody and Lane Taylor, Carol Caldwell, Joni Brown with JoMar Farms, and especially my momma and daddy. I would not have made it this far in the horse world without all of their support.
In the future I hope that I can help people learn to ride with correct horsemanship and accomplish their goals with their horse/pony just as I am learning to do. I love to help kids and see their faces as they are getting to ride that horse/pony for the first time. My prayer for each and every person is that they all get to love a horse or pony as I have.
Meg 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.
A tractor tire can be used in a variety of ways to challenge your horsemanship. The trail challenges approved by AHCA have used tractor tires in a number of events. Sometimes the tires are filled with dirt and stacked so you ride over them like stairs. Other times the tire is just left on the ground empty. The judge may require the horses front feet to be placed in the center or just his hind feet. The tractor tire obstacle can involve asking the horse to pivot without removing the two feet placed inside the tire.
Several horses at this particular challenge placed their feet on the tire to avoid putting their feet inside. As with any obstacle, you are allowed three attempts before the judge blows the whistle and you have to move to the next one.
The tractor tire looks easy and generally isn’t a big deal. The aspect that makes it competitive is the variety of uses and requirements that the horse take specific actions. If your horse isn’t used to accepting directions, he probably won’t do well.
One of the obstacles at the trail challenge was the box platform shown in the photo. The horse and rider teams in the Open Division were asked to stand on the platform as depicted here. The Amateur and less experienced contestants were expected to have the horse put both front feet on the platform for 5 seconds.
This is a photograph showing Chex learning to play soccer at the trail challenge held by the Horsemen of Arkansas. He had a ball (pun intended). Actually the first time he approached the ball, he didn’t like it. Having never been to a trail challenge, he really didn’t think the soccer ball was interesting enough to want to touch it.
This particular obstacle required the rider to approach the ball and push it with the horse in a circle around some of the other obstacles on the ground. The wind was blowing and gusting quite a bit so the ball didn’t always roll straight. Depending on the direction, it would blow back against the horse.
We really like this little AQHA gelding because he learns really fast. By the time he had been over the course twice, he was willing to push the soccer ball. He just needed once or twice to understand what was expected. The rules don’t allow any horse on the obstacle course before the competition begins so the objects are new to the horse. The riders on the other hand are allowed to walk the course prior to the start and look over the course.
PJ is shown at his first trail challenge in this photograph. The obstacle challenge was held at Horse Heaven Ranch and hosted by Horsemen of Arkansas. One obstacle required riders to pick the pole and ride to the small circle on the ground. The rider then had to take his horse in a circle around the the pole. Once finished the rider returned the pole to the fence where he got it. One of the reasons we like the trail challenges is there always some obstacles that are simpler than others. PJ is still a relatively young horse and the obstacle allowed him to succeed and gain some confidence.
The trail obstacle challenge hosted by the Horsemen of Arkansas at the Horse Heaven Ranch in Talihina, Oklahoma over the weekend was a great time. We will post some photographs later in the week and give some more details. The event went really well and the Horse Heaven Ranch was a wonderful location. The folks that run the place are friendly and keep the place up really well.
The obstacle course was set up with several levels of competition for all ages and all skill levels so everyone could compete in competition suitable for their experience and ability. The judges worked hard and helped make the event a success.
The super resourceful people with the Horsemen of Arkansas went to a lot of effort to bring the challenge into Oklahoma. It is so much fun to take your horse and see what you can do with him. Sometimes you are surprised by what the horse is willing to do. You can also find yourself wondering why he won’t do something that he just did wonderfully last weekend.
At the end of the day, the people who attend and participate make all the difference. We like the competition, but just can’t say enough about the friendly and helpful nature of the contestants. Over and over we observed competitors lending a hand to fellow contestants, loaning equipment, and working together in every aspect so the best horse and rider team could win. The whole atmosphere is centered around everyone being able to do their very best with the collective help from the group.
The Horse Heaven Ranch made a beautiful venue with the national forest in the background. There were lots of trails to explore in the off time. We managed to get there early enough Friday to spend the early evening taking a trail ride through the pine trees. We’re telling you that if you have never done one of these AHCA challenges, you’re missing out on lots of fun!
The trail challenge at the Horse Heaven Ranch is bound to be a lot of fun and a great place. As previously reported, the Horsemen of Arkansas are holding a trail challenge sanctioned by the American Horsemen Challenge Association September 14 &15, 2013. We called Horse Heaven Ranch to make reservations and want you to know they are super nice and helpful. Elfie, who assisted us with reservations, stays on top of things and wants to make sure everything is just the way you want it. We were slow in getting to back to her. She doggedly followed up to make sure things were set up for us. If you haven’t made your reservations, you need to get in touch with Elfie at 254-289-2242 or email@example.com. Don’t forget you also need to register on the web page for the Horsemen of Arkansas.
A trail challenge has been set up in Talihina, Oklahoma in September, 2013. The challenge is an AHCA sanctioned event put on by Horsemen of Arkansas. It will be held at Horse Heaven Ranch. You must be a member of AHCA in order to compete. There is a 50% pay back award structure. For more information and details, call Meg Wills 501-940-2259 or Corry Key 479-567-6454 or go to the website http://www.horsemenofarkansas.org. If this competition is anything like the last one we attended, you will have a great time. The Horsemen of Arkansas have a bunch of wonderful members that make you feel right at home and welcome from the start. They offer all sorts of advice on the obstacles and the best way to compete. Since Oklahoma doesn’t have a local chapter, this is the perfect opportunity for you to take your horse and see how well you can do. We highly recommend it and hope to see you there!