Sunday, April 6, turned out to be a beautiful spring day — one that was very much appreciated by all those who participated in the Sullivan County Chapter of the NYS Horse Council’s Spring Clinic. Held at the Oak Ridge Farm in Youngsville, NY, the clinic was the area’s first to be devoted to the popular “Cowboy Challenge” play days. Jill Welch who, along with her husband, Pat, owns the farm, donated the use of her indoor arena, a bright and spacious 72 x 120-foot structure with shredded rubber for comfortable footing.
The Cowboy Challenge Clinic was the brainstorm of the Sullivan County Chapter of the NYS Horse Council. Chapter President Eunice Hartling was happy to welcome the many participants, more than 20 of whom brought their horses; others audited the course. A light breakfast, lunch, drinks and snacks were provided free of charge to all participants, and members of the Sullivan County Chapter were on hand to provide help and assistance. A good number of participants traveled from as far away as the states of Pennsylania and New Jersey, along with others from New York to get their horses out for the first time this spring, start their riding season and enjoy the day.
Eunice explained that the Sullivan County chapter usually starts planning these events during the fall of the previous year, and sets up their next year’s events calendar by the time the long Catskill winter sets in.
The SC chapter has sponsored the popular Cowboy Challenges for the past four years, and for the first time, will be joining forces for a Tri-Chapter series with the Orange and Ulster County Chapters of NYS Horse Council for their respective Cowboy Challenges this year. The first was sponsored by the Ulster County Chapter and held on Sunday, April 27, at the Ulster County Fairgrounds, New Paltz, NY. The Orange County Chapter will hold their Challenge on Sunday, July 26, at the Orange County Farmers Museum in Montgomery, NY; and the Sullivan County Chapter will hold the last of the three Cowboy Challenges on Sunday, Aug. 2, at the Little World’s Fair Grounds in Grahamsville, NY.
Each chapter will provide its own obstacles, but some such as the “noodle gates”, live animal demos, the tire drag and other favorites will be familiar fixtures for participants. There will be at least 10 obstacles per course; and a point system will be used. Obviously, those who participate in all three events will stand a chance at earning the highest number of points (scored as 10 points for first place, down to one point for 10th place) and points will be tallied by Chip Watson, Director for the chapter in this area and a ‘neutral’ scorekeeper who will keep records of all the points scored for the three events. At the Sullivan County Cowboy Challenge in August, the high point winner will be announced, with the first place winner to be awarded $500, and second place winner awarded $200.
Horses and riders can enter one or more of the Challenges. There will be a number of divisions — from Open division to Novice and even to Gaited horses. Eunice explained that the Sullivan County Challenge usually has five different divisions, including a Gaited division that people can enter their horses in who are, or were, race horses from the track — “We have some horses that come every year, ex-race horses to even a few that have raced the night before they came in!”
The day’s youngest participant was 7-year-old Penelope, who traveled up from Wantage, NJ, with her mom, and Prez, their two-year-old horse. Prez was diligent in his efforts to overcome his fear of the blue tarp and wooden ‘bridge’ and received several hugs from his delighted owner after successfully mastering the obstacle.
The tallest participant was a 16-year-old Clydesdale gelding named Black Jack Pershing (named after the famous World War I General, Black Jack Pershing!) who measured an impressive 17.3 hands. Jack, as he is more commonly known, is a fixture in his home state of New Jersey at various parades and events, and loves to pose for the camera. Today he traveled to his very first Cowboy Challenge, and the gentle giant never batted an eye nor took a mis-step in going through the obstacles.
Also on hand was Steve Luoni, who traveled up from Highland Lakes, NJ, along with his 7-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse, Pavo. Steve is a ‘regular’ at the Sullivan County Cowboy Challenges, and stated that this was his fourth year participating, and as he’s watched during the years, he thought perhaps others could use a little help and critiquing. He came out “to practice myself and to help everybody else — coaching through the obstacles.” The ‘coaching’ involves teaching riders “how to get horses to respond better to cues. You need to work on moving the horse’s front and back ends independently, and also together.” A good way to help prepare your horse for these challenges is to take him out on trails, and introduce him to the unexpected. Steve explained “take something unusual — spend a lot of time setting stuff up in paddocks or arenas, using any kind of obstacles. The key is fun and safe. If you have a tarp, you can put it out on the ground like a small pond, or roll it up like a solid object, or you can even hang it from the ceiling….anything unusual to help desensitize your horse. He added that a lot of these kinds of obstacles are similar to those that are used for training mounted police. “Again, it’s all about teaching your horse to move his front and hind feet independently. I coach people to just go out there and have fun!”
And judging by the smiling faces of all in attendance, fun was definitely on their minds.