One of the largest AQHA Horse Shows takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona in late January. Events include reining, western pleasure, reined cow horse, English riding events, and carriage driving. Top trainers from around the country gather to compete including Bob Avila, Randy Paul, Marci Ver Meer, Deb Cooper, Brent Naylor, Cory Cushing, and old-timers like Benny Guitron.
This year just getting to Arizona was no easy feat. Andy and his client left in winter weather from northwestern Colorado and ran into one of the largest winter storms to hit southeastern Utah and Arizona. Weather conditions ranged from blizzards, to flash flooding, tornadoes, and high winds. Completing what, under ordinary conditions would have been a 13 hour drive; they arrived a day later after having driven 22 hours. Thankfully, the travelers and the three horses they brought with them arrived safely and in good condition. Pete and I headed out a few days later and had an easy go of it crossing a striking mid-winter desert in northeastern Arizona, the red desert and sandstone highlighted by a stunning blanket of heavy snow.
Andy and Pete registered to compete in the reined cow horse event on Annabelle Playgun and Andy competed in the reining event with Cisco, whom a client had recently purchased in Texas and had earned a number of points as a cow horse. The reined cow horse event consists of two parts, each judged separately: they consist of a reining pattern and cow work. The reining patterns vary from class to class but all involve a change in gait, speed and direction; and spins in both directions. The cow work includes boxing a cow on the end of the arena to show control over the animal and then the horse and rider work the cow on the fence, usually at high speed, turning her twice, once to the left and once to the right. The final maneuver consists of turning the cow in the middle of the arena in two circles, one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.
As the competition begins, you might think every horse and rider would enjoy scoring high points in every class they enter. The truth is that each trainer has specific training goals for each of their horses. Some may very well be the ones to score high and compete for the high point saddle while others have goals related directly to the horse’s particularly training progression.
Pete and Andy both had specific goals for Annabelle and Andy had goals important to his work with Cisco, whom he had ridden for just over a month. Andy had recently put Annabelle in a hackamore as part of her training progression from the snaffle bit to the hackamore to the bridle bit. While the hackamore gives her something new to think about she can easily realize that it’s more difficult for the rider to control her. During Pete’s first run, Annabelle responded well to the hackamore. He had one of the top scores in the reining and his cow work earned an average mark. However, in his second run on Annabelle, she realized she could exert more control and when it came to the cow work, she had an impulsive mind of her own. Pete had difficulty controlling her speed and her focus. As a result, when Andy rode Annabelle in the next class, he schooled her, which means he took her at a slow and even pace so she could not get out of control insisting she do the maneuvers properly in the show ring. While this impacts the scoring, it is an important training experience for any horse and many of the trainers use a class to school or prepare their horses for future events.
At the end of the week, Pete was pleased to have performed well on Annabelle in his first run and Andy was pleased that he and Cisco had two respectable runs out of three. Trainers like Andy also spend part of their week observing one another; asking questions about training particularly when they’ve reached a stumbling block with a horse; and visiting with those who love the very same process and satisfaction of creating a precise partnership with these powerful and athletic performance quarter horses.