By Julie Preble, Assistant Editor
As I learn more about the Pomona Expo from the clinicians and trainers who?ll be there, my excitement keeps growing.
Today, I spoke with Charles Wilhelm about his Ultimate S.U.P.E.R. Horse Challenge that takes place Thursday through Saturday night.
Here’s what he had to say.
H&R: Can you tell me a little bit more about the challenge?
CW: It’s interesting how the challenge evolved. Years ago, I was on the East Coast, and I was known as the blue-tarp guy. Not a lot of people were using blue tarps. When it became more popular, that evolved into teaching horses how to carry flags. One of the things I always talked about is that it’s nice to have a horse that’s versatile and doing other things.
About 20 years ago, there were trainers who talked about cross-training for horses. So if you had a dressage horse, you might do a little jumping, too. But no one talked about using natural horsemanship.
I always thought that was a great idea that horses can do more than one thing. Their expertise may be jumping, but the horse does dressage, goes on the trail, and does something else.
So I started bridging the gap. I?d mix in traditional training with natural horsemanship. That’s how it evolved.
What separates the S.U.P.E.R. Horse Challenge from a lot of other challenges out there is that it includes Western pleasure, cowboy dressage, ranch pleasure, or whatever, but competitors can also play with cows, go on the trail, and multitask. You really have an all-around horse.
But the difference is most horses can go over obstacles, but what I see is that they?re not balanced. Their shoulders are falling in, they?re working on their front end, they?re hips aren?t engaged, their transitions aren?t good, or there’s not a good cadence to their gaits. This is what separates all of them. The challenge is also based on horsemanship. I don’t expect every horse to be perfect when they go through this event. The horse might come up to an obstacle and snort at it, but because the rider has horsemanship skills her communication with her horse is good?she’s not focused on just spurring the horse to get over the obstacle?she navigates the horse, and we call that horsemanship. The horse may get a low score, but she might get a high score in horsemanship. We judge on horsemanship and equitation.
Before each event, we have a meeting and go over the patterns. The judges and I offer suggestions to help the horse and rider to improve their performance. The idea is to encourage higher standards for horse and rider.
Another thing that makes this event so good is that you get rewarded for your effort. It takes years to do this. That’s why I offer one of my saddles as first-place prize. Second prize is $500 cash. There’s also a super-horse buckle and ribbons as prizes.
It’s a way to thank the riders for their hard work and participating.
H&R: How many participants do you have in the challenge this year?
CW: We have 13. We only take up to 15.
H&R: Who?s judging the event?
CW: We’re going to have Sharon Camarillo, Sandy Collier, Tim Kimura?who?s the AQHA trail class guy?and Eitan Beth-Halachmy, the cowboy dressage guy. We brought in big guns. We’re trying to really appreciate the participants and award them not just in prizes but with qualified judges.
H&R: How is the event set-up each night?
CW: What we do is, in this case, each contestant gets two rides before there’s elimination, and then we eliminate five. What we’re going to do is cowboy dressage and an in-hand class on Thursday night. Each event has three judges. We also video the rides. Sometimes the riders ask questions, and we can refer back to the video.
Thursday night, there won?t be an audience because it’s not open to the public.
On Friday, we do another event. They get two rides on Friday, and then we eliminate five more riders.
Then Saturday, we’re doing two events Saturday: one on Saturday morning, and then we’re showcasing the event Saturday evening from 6?8.
In the morning, we’ll eliminate another five. Saturday night, then that?ll be the finals. We’re asking the other participants to stay around so they can be re-introduced, thanks for their time, effort, expenses, and hard work.
These horses are decent horses, so there’s a lot of competition. There are some amateurs riding and a couple of professionals riding.
They?re judged on the quietness of the horse, as well as that the handler is able to control the horse. As far as I’m concerned, any of the horses competing could win.