Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is the Ultimate Horseman's Challenge Association?

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend an Ultimate Horseman's Challenge Assn. (UHCA) event, held at the Chapman Ranch in Pleasanton, Kansas. I had never been to a competition like this before; my only exposure would be limited to watching various RFDTV shows, and I was worried that I might see some wild and crazy riding. I don't know what I was expecting really.....ponies leaping through rings of fire? Riders juggling knives at a full gallop? I just knew that I had seen all kinds of obstacles that would no doubt scare some of my horses to death! But I went with an open mind and a little notebook to take notes, and prepared myself for whatever feats of horsemanship lay ahead.

Saturday morning, the weather was not being very helpful toward getting a outdoor competition started. When I arrived, it had been drizzling off and on, but then the skies opened up and it poured! I was able to find a sturdy awning to shelter under, along with some nice people willing to share the goings on of the organization and who was who. They had a great turn out, despite the weather, and the competitors looked to me to come from every age group. In addition, I saw a very diverse herd being warmed up to compete too. Lots of gorgeous ranch-type Quarter Horses, of course, but also Appaloosas, Paints, Arabians, mustangs, a stunning Clydesdale, an assortment of ponies and the darling of the crowd – a little palomino and white painted mini ridden by the cutest little girl! Most people continued to ride in the downpours, or they sought shelter under umbrellas, tents and awnings. Of course, none of the horses seemed worried about anything, not the people running everywhere, the water pelting them in the face, nor the umbrellas over their heads. And because it has been so hot and dry here, no humans were complaining about the rain!
Cute kids - nice ponies!
When we were finally ready to get under way, I was able to go out in the middle of the course, and stand on a flatbed trailer used by the judges, and the timers. Truly a bird's eye view! The first class in was the colt's class. The course was as follows: Begin loping at the in-gate, lope all the way around to the other side of the course, at speed. Descend into the pond, and cross one side of the pond. Go down the side of a hill, negotiating a 'jump down' set of rail road ties. Lope down a grassy ravine, through the woods, go through a 'dead fall' (a narrow passage through brush), and enter a corral, containing 6 calves. Rope a calf (breakaway rope) within two tries. Lope over to a designated spot, dismount, and ground tie your horse. Run over and climb a ladder to grab a tarp, located on a hook on the side of a raised barrel. Take the tarp back to your horse, and mount, then take the tarp and hang it back on the mounted hook. Next, you jump over a log, stop and spin your horse both directions. Trot over to next obstacle, grab a rope attached to a sled with two bales of hay and drag it several feet. The next obstacle required you to dismount on a large plastic box, and while standing on the box, walk your horse around the box 360 degrees, having them step over two plastic tubes, and then remount. From there, you picked up a lope and jumped three large plastic tubes, and continued to lope around five posts. Then over a bridge, back down the dead fall, through the woods, to where you take the 'jump down' as a 'jump up.' Around the pond to the last requirement, where you picked up a gun loaded with blanks, and shot it while mounted!
Hanging the tarp up

I thoroughly expected that because it was a colt's class, and because some of the obstacles seemed somewhat difficult, that I would see many horses refusing. But really, I didn't! The horses all seemed well prepared, and even at the scarier things, most of the horses truly tried. Each obstacle is timed so sometimes the rider was unable to conquer an obstacle in the time allowed, but most of the time, you could see that if the horse had just a little more time, it would have finished it. Some obstacles gave the horses more trouble; the pond was pretty scary to some, and ground tying was a challenge for others, but the obstacle that gave the most riders grief was the big plastic box that you had to dismount onto and then lead the horse around you. Lots of horses did not want to move, and when shushed forward, they invariably swung their haunches out. A fantastic obstacle, in my opinion – simple, safe, challenging, and a very good measure of how much body control you have over your horse.
Eenie meenie miney moe
I was able to take in some of the 'Buckaroo' class (for kids), but because of several rain delays, I had to leave before I really wanted to. I had so much fun, and felt very welcomed by everyone I met. It was fascinating to sit with the judges and timers and hear their comments. I definitely feel inspired to try some of the things I saw demonstrated! I probably won't be roping any cows anytime soon, but you can bet that I will be throwing some tarps around, or maybe dragging some hay, with the goal of making my horses braver, more tolerant and controllable. I think that cross training a horse in this type of discipline will make them even better at your primary activity.

The mission of the Ultimate Horseman’s Challenge Association is to provide a forum to unite all breeds, disciplines and skill levels in a competitive obstacle course setting that emphasizes and rewards good horsemanship while encouraging sportsmanship, camaraderie and above all, fun and enjoyment with horses. I highly recommend you check out UHCA. They are a great group of people, ready to explain things to newcomers, lend equipment and laugh about mistakes. You may find yourself jumping saddle-deep into a pond, leaping over jumps, galloping full blast, and shooting guns – and all the while, you'll be grinning from ear to ear!