Winning The Congress

By Nichole Chirico | October 26, 2016

Blaze N Covers and myself winning the NYATT Showmanship at the AQHA Congress

For the first time in a long time I'm watching the All-American Quarter Horse Congress from my trusty computer. While I don't miss the unpredictable weather (it's 70 degrees here in Boulder), or the lack of sleep, there's something about the Congress that I can't help but miss. The thing I miss most about being at this show is seeing the reactions of newly crowned congress champions leaving the arena. It's been 10 years but I still remember every minute of winning my congress championship. 


I wish there were step-by-step directions on how to win a big horse show, but the truth is it just takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I practiced roughly six times a week months leading up to that day. And by that time I was homeschooling, so I spent the entire month of October living in my trainers' motorhome on the congress fairgrounds. 

The day of the NYATT Showmanship I started my day like any other day. I got up around 4 a.m. to get to the barn and get in a quick longe-line session before a last-minute practice. By the time they set the cones in the show pen I knew my game plan. The pattern was a tough one, it involved backing a half-circle to the left between two cones, which seemed to give people some trouble. Besides not hitting the cones you also had to focus on ending up straight with the judge, because you immediately trotted to him after your backup. 

I was the last person to go in the finals. I tried to stay calm but as I watched rider after rider have great patterns, I could feel my nerves kicking in. This was the Congress after all! I finally made my way to the start cone and as I set my horse up all the nerves went away. The pattern itself was great, and as I closed my last turn I felt a sigh of relief--everything went according to plan. 

Standing in the lineup I saw riders that had multiple world and congress championships to their name, some that I've admired since I first started showing Quarter Horses. As they started the placing I looked at my trainer but all she could say was "it's up to them now." There were 15 of us in the arena but they would only place 10, so as they placed the Reserve Congress Champion I began to realize I was either going to be a finalist or the winner. It seemed like forever as we waited to hear who won but I'll never forget hearing them announce 'your Congress Champion unanimous under all four judges' followed by mine and my horse's name. I was shaking so much I could hardly accept the bronze trophy from the Congress Queen. I didn't even have a chance to turn around before my barn family had jumped the fence and ran into the arena to celebrate. 

This moment was 10 long years ago, and I've competed at the congress a few other times since 2006, but winning a congress championship is a moment I'll never forget! 

Take a Friend Riding: My Day

By Leo Paulson | September 15, 2016

My name is Leo Paulson. I'm 8 years old. My mom is editor of Horse&Rider magazine. My brother, Joe, and I have a horse name Old Paint. I bet you can guess what breed he is!

On Saturday, September 10, we took some friends riding. Andy and Dawson live in our neighborhood, so we invited them to ride for the Take a Friend Riding Pledge.
Here's our crew, left to right: Dawson, Andy, Paint, Joe, and me.

Before they came over, we gave Paint a bath, clipped his whiskers, and got him cleaned up. We also cleaned the barn so it was nice and clean for my friends.

When my friends got to the barn, my mom went over the barn rules first. We had to be quiet around the horse, no wrestling at the barn, don't walk up behind him, and don't go under his neck or the lead rope. I taught my friends how to curry my horse, brush him, and saddle him.

Mom longed him, and then I got on and warmed him up by walking and trotting around the arena, in small circles, and zigzags. Dawson rode next. He'd never been on a horse before. He kept laughing about how bumpy it was. I think he had fun! Next Joe rode, and then Andy. Andy's been on a horse before. He said he had fun, too.
Dawson took his first ride ever on Paint.

After we finished riding, I led Paint back to the barn and unsaddled. Then we put him in his stall and said goodnight. 

Dawson's mom brought a pizza cookie, and it was delicious!
Andy took Paint through the zigzag cones.

I thought it was really fun to take my friends riding. It might be one of my most fun times riding, since I did it with my friends. I think other kids should take their friends riding, too. Who knows, maybe they'll get horses, too, and we can all ride together!


Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Mom typed this blog, as dictated by Leo. And Mom fixed punctuation. But she's really proud of Leo for writing this post!

Meeting Fallon Taylor

By Jennifer Paulson | September 07, 2016

When you read the name "Fallon Taylor," you probably think glitz, glam, mermaid hair, tie-dye jeans...everything superficial that you see on social media and coverage of her rodeo career.
Fallon coaches a young rider at her clinic in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

But, as I learned at her clinic in Wyoming on Monday, the 2014 WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer has a lot more to offer than a catchy soundbites and a million-dollar smile. (One she flashes every time she runs home on her mare, Baby Flo.)

Monday's clinic was Fallon's biggest yet with 32 riders and bleachers full of auditors videoing her every word. While many professionals are afraid to "give away their secrets," Fallon encourages her clinic's attendees to get in the arena to video up close what she tells each participant to do. She goes so far to say that she wants her clinic participants to give her a run for her money at the next barrel race and even—gasp—beat her.

From my perspective, every single rider left the clinic with at least a small piece of advice for trimming time from their patterns, changing their horses' bad habits, and overcoming personal roadblocks to success. But the most important thing in my mind was immeasurable: the way they carried themselves after speaking with Fallon about their horses and riding. If Fallon Taylor told you, "That's a nice horse" or "That mare reminds me of mine" or "That was awesome!" wouldn't you feel pretty darn good?

To close her clinic, Fallon gives a pep talk like only she can. If you follow her on social media, you know that she consistently shares motivational and inspirational stories, quotes, and anecdotes. The way she closes her clinics falls right in line. She made it clear that each rider had been seen and validated. She emphasized that they're important, they have skill, and that they're capable of achieving their goals if they set their minds to it, put in the work, and eliminate negativity. And, of course, she signs autographs and takes photos with her fans because it's Fallon Taylor, after all!

Our contributing photographer, Mallory Beinborn of Impulse Photography, also attended the clinic. She's spent a lot of time photographing the barrel-racing beauty. When I asked if Fallon is always so smiley and positive, Mallory said, "Always." She wasn't kidding. 

We met to work on some magazine material after a long clinic day (that followed a rodeo and another clinic), when most people would be exhausted and ready to be done. I can tell you that the smile almost never left Fallon's face. (Usually only when she was piercing the camera lens with a serious "I'm here for business" look.) She was up for anything we tossed at her.

I'm excited to share what we worked on with Fallon in an upcoming issue of Horse&Rider. Even if you're not a barrel racer, I'd encourage you to follow her for inspiration in your horse life. I know I will.


Take a Friend Riding

By Jennifer Paulson | August 24, 2016

A typical playdate exchange with school moms goes something like this. Jennifer Paulson
Credit: Jennifer Paulson
Leo can't wait to have his friends out to ride Old Paint for the first Take a Friend Riding Challenge.

Me: I’ll pick up Leo at 4 sharp. He needs to go ride his horse this afternoon.

Other Mom: Um, what? Wait. He has a horse?

            I’ve become accustomed to their befuddlement, so it no longer catches me off guard. But it does give me pause that a child having a horse—or learning to ride on a lesson mount—is so foreign to my suburbia neighbor moms. Living in Colorado, high-dollar ski passes and equipment goes without a second thought. But a horse? It’s as if we have a pet hippo! 

‘I Rode as a Kid’

The second, less common, response from Other Mom is, “Oh, how cool. I rode as a kid.

But then…”

Her answer generally ends with college, career, and/or kids replacing her horse activities. I tell her I can relate and ask her more questions about her past horse activities, plus share mine. We talk about how lucky my boys are to have Old Paint. And then there’s a quiet pause.

Connection Lost

I say, “You should bring your kids out to ride.” Her eyes usually light up and she says she’d love that. But then life—our careers, kids’ activities, family—happens, and we don’t follow through.

            I’ve also mentioned giving horses a try to the non-horse mom. She’s usually more guarded, which is understandable. It seems scary and potentially dangerous. I reassure her that we have helmets, and I’ll lead the horse or walk beside to offer her child confidence. But the same thing happens—we all run out of time, so we don’t make the connection.  

Make the Time

September 1, 2016, kicks off a new initiative from the folks at Time to Ride ( It’s called “Pledge to Take a Friend Riding,” and it aims to encourage active riders to invite their non-riding friends out to take a spin on their horses. They’ve sweetened the deal with a prize: a luxury Montana dude-ranch vacation at The Resort at Paws Up.

            Prize aside, when I told my boys about the pledge, they couldn’t wait to ask a couple of their buddies to come ride (or even just visit) Old Paint. The opportunity to share their special interest with close pals had them hounding me to get it on the calendar. We’re setting a date, and we’re committed to making it happen. No more excuses!

            We want to know: Do you invite your friends out to take your horse for a spin? If you do, send us your stories at the email address below. We can share some of your experiences to encourage other readers to take their friends riding.



Giving a Leg Up

By Nichole Chirico | July 15, 2016


At a young age my horse trainers expressed the importance of attending different clinics that were offered at horse shows and at the end I always walked away realizing there was so much more to learn about riding and showing. Even after years of riding and showing I enjoy any opportunity I get to listen to what different judges or trainers have to say. 

So when my editor asked if I wanted to attend NSBA's Boot Camp taking place at The Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, I knew I had to go. Thanks to Stephanie Lynn and the National Snaffle Bit Association there were three boot camps held throughout the country. They took place in North Carolina, Illinois, and Colorado, and each location offered different clinicians that specialize in a variety of events.  

While the boot camp took place for two days, I was only able to attend the day that held the Western events. This included trail with Tommy Sheets, horsemanship with Sara Simons, and Western rail-work with Suzy Jeane. Each event was split into sections, giving riders with similar riding experience the chance to work with each other. The theme for the day kept going back to something that is extremely important, but often overlooked, and that is 'go back to the basics!' It doesn't matter if you've been riding for years, or just started a year ago, everyone can use a reminder that sometimes the answer to your problem is going back to the basics. 

As I spoke with different riders that were participating in the clinics I kept hearing how much everyone loved opportunity to work with such well-respected trainers and clinicians. It also helped them face some of their riding fears, giving them the confidence they once lacked. Some people were even staying for the horse show that they thought they weren't ready for prior to the clinics taking place. I think my favorite part about this boot camp was how it brought people of all riding levels together. I talked with riders who have competed at world championship competitions, while others had only competed at local open shows. There was something to learn no matter what your riding, or showing, experience was. 

Suzy Jeane put it perfectly when she said, "You've just got to be one percent better than what you were yesterday." That quote reminded me of the many years, hours, and minutes that I've spent in the saddle. I left the boot camp that night realizing how much I missed showing all-arounders, and what a great opportunity it was for me to be able to sit and continue to learn more about riding, even though I don't currently have a horse.

The horse show that is taking place this weekend is the Mid-Summer Classic. This show is an NSBA event that offers points for APHA and ApHC horses, giving riders of all ages the opportunity to apply what they learned during the clinics toward a horse show. If you are close to Loveland, Colorado I recommend taking a day out of your weekend to see this new horse show in action. 

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