All Play, Some Work

By Alexis Bennett | May 01, 2015

The National Reined Cowhorse Hackamore Classic is one of the first major horse events of the year and its close proximity makes it the first show we’re often able to attend in the calendar year. The event kicked off yesterday, which means that horse-show season is officially underway.

The Colorado skies finally cleared up in time for competitors to enjoy two days of sunshine at the 2015 event in Pueblo, Colorado. I couldn’t help but feel eager at the prospect of taking the two-hour drive south to spectate. The Denver-metro area has enjoyed its fair share of stormy weather recently and we at the office were unsure if we’d be able to make it this year. Horse shows are a nice way for we editors to step out of the office and interact with our fans, both professional and amateur (and watch cool horses). So when I saw the sunny forecast, I felt the itch to get on the road and out to an event. Last year editor Jennifer Paulson and I took the trip together, but this year I headed out solo.

Competition at the Classic is fierce, as the horses are all as talented as the riders who pilot them. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see fellow competitors shake hands, fist bump, and nod their heads in approval as a rider exits. This is one reason I enjoy this particular event. The sport is well-known for camaraderie in and out of the arena. Today’s performance of open competitor Wade Meador and Truly Screyumptious is an example that comes quickly to mind. In the cow work, the pair managed a fast cow to mark a 151 and earn the applause and cheers of the crowd, and the ‘atta boys’ of the horsemen waiting in the out-gate aisle way.

Though it sounds a lot like a day of “play,” and it certainly was, there was also work to be done, especially behind the camera. The unpredictable Colorado weather meant that the events would take place underneath the cover of the warm-up arena, which makes the light tricky to get a nice shot. I enjoyed taking photos of each run, fine tuning camera settings in order to get the perfect shot. Learning how to operate the camera has been a fun, and sometimes trying, experience over the past year. Thankfully I’ve had helpful mentors by my side through the process to help me improve behind the lens. Taking on photography this year was a bit of a confidence booster because there’s definitely been improvement. This means I’ll be better able to serve our readers with better imagery in print features and online content.

The trip also wouldn’t be complete without a Frappuccino from Starbucks (there’s my shameless plug). We stopped last year for half-price frappe happy hour and for nostalgia’s sake I dropped in again.

I look forward to more events to come this summer and want to hear about everyone’s first-show-back experiences. The first outing of the year is always an exciting, nerve wracking adventure and I wish you all best of luck this season!

2015 Kentucky Reining Cup

By Alexis Bennett | April 27, 2015

The weekend of April 24 – 27, was a busy one for horsemen of all disciplines at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.  

The 2015 Kentucky Reining Cup had several stand-out performances across all divisions and included a special tribute to a kids’ favorite with a freestyle performance choreographed to “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”

Futurity Finalist to Kentucky Reining Cup Champ

Credit: Waltenberry
Shawn Flarida and Magnum Chic Dunit
The duo of National Reining Horse Association trainer and competitor Shawn Flarida and Magnum Chic Dunit (Magnum Chic Dream x Sheets Red Dunit) secured the $10,000 Added Spooks Gotta Whiz Open title and led the Kentucky Reining Cup Team Challenge with a 218.5-point run to kick off the event on Friday night.

Magnum Chic Dunit, owned by Eluterio Arcese of Arcese Quarter Horses USA, is a 4-year-old mare that Flarida made the NRHA Futurity Finals on last year. In the 2014 Level 4 Futurity final the pair finished with a score of 216. “She’s been a dream to train,” explains Flarida. “She keeps improving each year.”

He was happy with her performance at this year’s Reining Cup, sharing that “she was awesome in the run.” The team placed first under each judge, plus-ing nearly each of pattern 10’s maneuvers. “Her stops have always been nice, and she stopped well here,” Flarida shares. “She was good on her circles with nice speed changes in either directions, her lead changes were nice, and she got to run and stop hard. Plus, pattern 10 has the run-in start, which is awesome for her.”

The mare has a full plate this show season. “Our plan is to continue showing her throughout the season and next couple of years in NRHA aged events,” says Flarida. “Then she’ll likely have babies.”

Flarida shares why he enjoys the Kentucky-based event: “The Kentucky Reining Cup is a neat event because the facility is gorgeous, and it’s also where the World Equestrian Games representatives are chosen every three years. This mare could be one that I bring for the Montreal selection in 2017, but we’ll see how she is at that point.” 

Watch Flarida and Magnum Chic Dunit here:

Let It Go

Credit: Waltenberry
Laura Sumrall and Wimpys Top Model
Laura Sumrall captured the crowd’s awe and applause with her well-choreographed performance to “Let It Go,” made famous in the Disney movie “Frozen.” Wimpys Top Model (Wimpys Little Step x Sailin Bueno) and Sumrall turned in a 224.5-point run to win the freestyle title. Sumrall’s long, draping gown and blonde braid did nothing detract from her reining performance, as her pattern was complete with classic reining maneuvers as well as flourishes from other disciplines, including side passes in both directions.

Watch Sumrall and Wimpys Top Model here:

Reasons to Smile

By Alexis Bennett | March 30, 2015

Left-top: First-day headshot, Bottom-left: Taking photos at the Hackamore Classic, Middle: #FancyFriday with Dusty the office horse, Top-right: Jen and myself at the Continental Divide on our way back from Parellis', Middle-right: Clinton Anderson's #NoWorriesVegas tour stop, Bottom-right: Budweiser Clydsdale at St. Louis Brewery & Purina tour

Just a year ago I posted my first blog as a member of the Horse&Rider staff. Since it’s #ThrowbackThursday, I thought I’d share my top four favorite memories, projects, and experiences of the past year.

Paring down this year into a four-item list was a much-needed reminder to slow down and be grateful for the events of life, whether exciting or challenging. We editors are especially skilled at looking ahead; we've always got our eyes on the next deadline, event, issue, or editorial calendar and too easily forget to revel in each moment and truly enjoy the perks of our jobs.

So, here's my reflection. And, I'd love to hear yours! What's your most-memorable horse-related event or experience from the past year? Leave comments below or email me at

NRCHA Hackamore Classic: This was editor Jen Paulson and my first outing together. We swapped stories, she heckled me about my slow driving (I don’t think I’ve been allowed to drive on another trip), and we bonded over our enjoyment of Starbucks frappes. In Pueblo, she showed me the ropes: teaching me to use the company camera; schooling me on the types of images we look for at events, both in and out of the arena; and impressing me with her vast knowledge of each competitor, their trainer, and their horse. 

AQHA World Show: In my second consecutive trip to Oklahoma City, I met up with old friends, made new ones, and worked hard to bring the show to H&R fans across all of our social platforms. Horse shows are a nostalgic environment that make me happy that I got into the industry. I feel almost giddy watching gorgeous horses and talented riders compete.

Photo shoot with Darla Kennepohl: Though my own barrel horse is still enjoying his temporary retirement with my parents in Idaho, I still hold a soft spot for the sport. I was intimidated to go on my first solo shoot, but Darla’s a pro and put me at ease with her knowledge and patience. I would’ve gladly spent the afternoon at her place, talking horses and learning more about her competitive journey.

Tack Talk with Al Dunning: This year the team decided to create a new department. Tack Talk was born out of several discussions about the importance of a solid understanding of the basics. The department's reader service is high and anytime I get to chat with Al, I hang up with a smile on my face-----he’s just that kind of guy! He’s knowledgeable, well-spoken, and an amiable character to boot. I’m lucky to be able to work with him on this series.

Thanks for the great year, Horse&Rider. And, thank you to our dedicated readers and fans for your thoughtful feedback and continual engagement.

AQHA Convention Insights

By Jennifer Paulson | March 09, 2015

This was edited on March 21, 2015, to more precisely reflect the direct quotes found in the AQHA transcript of Johnny Trotter's speech.


I made a quick (36-hour) trip to Fort Worth over the weekend to attend Saturday's events at the AQHA Convention, which also commemorated the association's 75th anniversary. 

The overarching feel at the event was positive. There were lots of celebrations, including the Hall of Fame inductions, the Cowtown Showdown exhibition, and the year-end high-point awards ceremony. I saw many pats on the back and high-fives over the current status of the cloning lawsuit, with the district court judge favoring AQHA's stance against registering clones. (The plaintiffs have noted that they're in the process of appealing.) And there was just a feeling of pride for having reached the milestone of becoming an industry leader over the course of 75 years.

But as you'll read below, there was an undertone of concern, calling out the organization and its membership to do what's right for the horse rather than serve personal interests, to focus on improving the welfare of the horse, and improving the membership experience.

I went to both the general membership meeting and the show committee meeting on Saturday. Here's what I took away from the discussions.
Retiring AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway accepts a custom Montana Silversmiths buckle for his 41 years of service.

General Membership Meeting

I ran into an old friend from my days at AQHA on my way into the meeting. She noted that registrations were up for this convention, with more than 1,000, which is likely attributable to the location, right in the center of Texas Horse Country. The large ballroom at the Fort Worth Omni hotel saw every seat full, and numerous people standing in the back of the room. 

After the opening of the meeting, the Mayor of Fort Worth, Betsey Price, spoke about a city she loves very much. It's clear that she was trying to sell the attendees on the attractiveness of Fort Worth for major events, even noting that the city has missed AQHA since the Youth World moved to Oklahoma City in 2007. She noted that the Will Rogers Memorial center will undergo a major upgrade, to be complete in 2018. It'll include underground warm-up facilities and tunnels to the John Justin arena. Price noted, "Your shows will fit here," with a smile.

Outgoing President of the Executive Committee Johnny Trotter spoke quietly, with a deep Texas drawl, but he was clear and adamant about one thing: "I have always felt that each of us needs to do what is best for AQHA and the horse, and forego personal bias. Members of the Executive Committee, task forces, and voting body members should serve with credibility."

He spoke sternly about drugging and welfare, across showing and racing, saying, "I think people now know that we are serious about cleaning up our sport--by ourselves--without Washington outsiders or animal rights activists telling us what to do." 

He advised that the owners must take responsibility by giving their trainers specific instructions of ethical training expectations. He also thanked Carol Harris for her efforts to bring welfare to the forefront of the discussion. (See more about that below.)

The financial report, given by Trent Taylor (chief operating officer and treasurer), hasn't been a highlight of the meeting since the industry went into a downturn. But he began by noting that it's the best report he's given in years, with the first increase in total revenue since 2008, registrations increasing by 9 percent over last year, and the first time that the number of mares bred has increased since 2008.

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway gave his final address to the general meeting, as he'll retire soon and Craig Huffhines (pronounced HUFF-heinz, in case you introduce yourself to him) will take his place at the helm. Treadway began with a warning that he might get emotional, which is to be expected from someone who's spent his entire 41-year career in the same organization. He gave an oral history of the organization, and was presented with a custom Montana Silversmiths buckle. He noted, "I've never won a buckle!"

Show Committee Meeting

Members jam-packed the Show Committee meeting, with all chairs full. Meeting process dictates that the moderator (2015 AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the Year Stephanie Lynn) reads the rule changes up for consideration, and attendees can speak in support or disapproval. 

The Protect Them Coalition, represented by Kathie Hansen, spoke about changing the penalties schedule of fines; adding a statement of protecting the Quarter Horse's welfare to the association's mission statement; and hiring professional stewards to police shows, rather than the peer-based system that's currently in place. This coalition represents what Johnny Trotter mentioned in his address when he thanked Carol Harris for her efforts.

Lynn Palm spoke about adding Western dressage to the standard slate of show classes, including at the World Shows, noting that "as ranch riding classes have proven, pattern classes get participation."

The raising of the age to compete in select classes (now 50; proposed to raise to 62) seemed to largely face opposition. While a change could beef-up the amateur classes if those riders ages 50 to 61 decide to stay in competition, it's more likely to see those competitors drop out altogether.

The ranch classes came up many times, with rule changes proposed regarding penalizing the "ambling," over-animated walk that's sometimes rewarded and adding ranch trail and ranch rail classes.

A proposal regarding changing the World Show schedules so that open and amateur classes of the same type run closer together on the calendar seemed to get resounding approval, with no one speaking against it but the roomful of people applauding it.

The final major discussion involved the use of lip chains in halter classes. Those against them regard the chains as unnecessary and say that those handlers who need them could spend more time working with their horses to handle without a chain. Those in favor of the ability to use chains say that chains keep participation up in halter, particularly in amateur and youth classes, where handlers might be smaller or of a more fragile stature for the select crowd.

All of the proposals required discussion by the committee members, and then go through other chains of command, ending with approval or dismissal by the executive committee. We won't know any final rulings for quite some time.

Overall Observations

It seemed like everyone in Fort Worth recognized this as a time of great change and opportunity for the Quarter Horse industry, as well as the industry as a whole. With new leadership comes a learning curve, growing (or retracting) pains, and uncertainty. But the now openly articulated focus on the horse rather than personal agendas is the best place to start building toward success.

Meet Megan

By Jennifer Paulson | February 12, 2015

If you're a regular reader of Horse&Rider, you might recognize the name of our new blogger.
Megan with one of her horses, Willow.

Nope, she's not one of our contributing editors or a freelancer we commission to write features for the magazine. But she regularly submits items for our reader-contributed departments, such as "We Hear You", "You Said It", and "Your Stories."

Meet Megan D'Andrea, a 17-year-old rider from Ohio. You can learn a lot about her horse activities here, in her "Your Stories" from the October 2014 issue.

So why did we pick Megan to blog for us? Megan is the poster child for involvement with horses. She's spent her youth putting herself out there, taking on projects other kids shy away from, and doing her best to get the most out of her horse life. And she's succeeded--and even earned money toward college in the process.

Megan will post about twice a month about what she's doing with her horses; new activities she's trying; and what it's like to be a teen who eats, breathes, and sleeps horses. (Hence the title of her blog: "Eat. Sleep. RIDE.")

Megan's first post will go up tomorrow, so be sure to look for it. And tell any of the horse-crazy kids you know to check in on Megan, too. She just might inspire them to try something new with their horses.

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