MS-MR-3-Cowboy challenge21by Judy Van Put
The third annual Cowboy Challenge, a much-anticipated event sponsored by the Sullivan County Horse Council, was held at the Grahamsville Fairgrounds on Sunday, Aug. 8. A nice crowd turned out to watch and participate in the fun. Fortunately the weather was cooperative and six classes, Beginner, Gaited, Open, Ride Smart, In-Hand and Leadline, were held.
Eunice Hartling, president of the Sullivan County Horse Council talked about “an awesome turnout”, with new divisions in Beginner and Gaited horses. A good number of entries participated in the “Ride Smart” division, which was open to riders age 45 and over.
This year’s event included new and creative obstacles, including the donkey station, in which horses were required to walk up to and pass by two donkeys that were tethered and eating hay, and proved to be an amusing station for observers. The 11 obstacles included a water sprinkler station, where the horse was required to ride between two standing sprinklers and across a blue tarp “pool” with colorful floating plastic balls  — while getting wet from the sprinklers; then on to the Donkey station; then over a haybale jump; under and through a “shower curtain” that had been cut vertically to long hanging ribbons that waved in the breeze; then back their horses through a set of poles placed in an L shape, and close a rope gate; pass through a ‘noodle gate’ made up of Styrofoam swim noodles that you had to push through; and walk across a wooden platform bridge. A carry station was set up where the rider had to ride past a barrel and pick up a bucket full of empty soda cans, and then deposit the bucket on top of the next barrel without spilling any of the cans; then ride on to the rail and pick up a rope to which was attached a tire, and pull the tire while riding around another barrel. One of the most challenging obstacles was the ‘balance beam’ or ‘log turn’ in which a 10-foot long PVC  pipe was balanced across two barrels. The rider had to pick up one end of the pipe, which was attached to a rope, and carefully walk in a circle all the way around the two barrels while holding the rope high enough to balance the other end of the long pipe on the second barrel, and then replace the rope end of the pipe on to the first barrel — all without dropping the pipe! A dismount was required for all but the Ride Smart division, followed by loading your horse onto a step-up trailer, lead him to look out the window, then turn around, unload, mount up and race to the finish line.
The event was fun, challenging and educational. Alix Dench-Layton was on hand photographing the entrants; and her sons Morgan and Cole, along with Jeff Shick were the ring stewards, keeping things running smoothly, righting the obstacles and preparing for each entrant. Connie Smith Young had the difficult job of judging the event, and did a great job that was much appreciated by all in attendance. Entrants were judged at each station, with a score given that took into consideration three components: the approach to each obstacle, the success in completing the task on each, and the departure from each obstacle. A score was also given for overall horsemanship and speed.
The original Cowboy Challenge was created by Craig Cameron, and incorporates good horsemanship as well as challenges that horses and riders might face on a trail or during daily work, from backing to passing under overhanging branches, to jumps, meeting farm or wild animals, passing through water, etc. although often in a more colorful manner (which adds to the fun and enjoyment by the audience.)
This year’s event featured vendors as well as refreshments/food vendors; a 50/50 drawing and bucket raffles.
Next year the Sullivan County Horse Council will team up in a series of Cowboy Challenges with Orange County and Ulster County Horse Council. Orange County Horse Council President Mark Gisselbrecht was present and said that the groups were eager to work together. The Orange County event will be held at the Thomas Bull Park in Newburgh, NY: the Ulster County Challenge at the Ulster Country Fairgrounds in New Paltz; and the Sullivan County event again at the Grahamsville Fairgrounds. Riders will accumulate points at each event, and the high point winner of the three-event series will be awarded a nice prize.
Eunice Hartling was happy to see “A lot of repeat riders, and a lot of brand new riders today, and there were a lot from Sullivan County. We’re trying to get more people in Sullivan County aware, and grow a large equine community here. Our chapter is very busy and active, and we’ve had more participation this year. “
She noted that it took only about two hours to set up the course, as she had a lot of help — and eight pizzas to feed the hungry group!
Next year’s Challenge will be discussed at the October meeting of the Sullivan County Horse Council, with dates and locations set in the calendar for all events by the November meeting. “Every year we try to make it a little more challenging and fun, without putting anyone off.” For more information, please contact the Sullivan County Horse Council at