Versatility Ranch Horses at the National Western Stock Show
In the toolboxes of hard working cowboys and cowgirls, or in their truck glove boxes or even clipped to their belts, you’ll invariably find an multi-purpose tool (maybe even two or three). You know the type … a popular gadget combining pliers, screwdrivers, knives, and hole punchers in one convenient implement. After all, carrying a single device for several jobs can be a lot easier than lugging around a half-dozen or more, as long as the task doesn’t require a lot of specialization.
The same can be said of most AQHA horses found on working ranches throughout the United States. Those working horses may not win any high-dollar cutting or reining competitions, but then, the elite equines winning big purses probably wouldn’t last a month doing all the tough jobs required of a ranch horse day in and day out. It’s a primary reason the AQHA created the Versatility Ranch Horse classes, and why they have become so popular within AQHA circles in a short period of time.
“This (concept) actually grew from our membership, they asked for a class,” explained Jim Bret Campbell, AQHA Senior Director of Marketing and Publications, about how the Versatility Ranch Horse divisions were created in 2002. “We have many classes that have grown from the original use of the horse, but they’ve become specialized classes such as cutting or roping. Those events have their roots on the ranches, (but) there’s a lot of difference between how you rope a calf in a branding pen and the way Trevor Brazile does it to win a (rodeo) world championship,” continued Campbell with a smile. “It’s not exactly the same as the way we use them on ranches.”
Asked how well received the classes were by AQHA membership, Campbell had a ready answer.
“It’s been very well received,” he stated. “We’ve seen steady growth in the response from membership and really bringing in new members. We have horses that can do anything and everything, and we have a place for anybody to come and participate with AQHA.”
Switching gears to the topic of the Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship, which started at the NWSS just last year in 2008, Campbell explained the skills competitors and their mounts needed to win the coveted title.
“The event is made up of five classes,” he said, covering the topic in-depth. “We have Ranch Trail which exposes the horse and shows how well it handles the trail, like going over a bridge, opening a gate, and dragging a log. We try to keep that realistic (and) it shows off the skills a horse would need to go out through the brush and bring you back home.
Then we have Ranch Riding. It is sort of like a modified reining pattern. They ride a pattern and show how well the horse takes his leads, how well he responds to the rider’s commands, how well he stops, as well as how soft and easy he is. It just shows how pleasant he’d be to go and ride if you were checking cows or checking fence or whatever else you were doing.
Then we have a Cutting class, which is a classic horse against the cow, separating it from the herd and seeing if he can control that cow for two and a half minutes.
Then we have the Conformation class, which evaluates that horse against AQH type. How well they actually represent the breed.
The culmination is in our Ranch Horse class. That’s where they come back and do a short reining pattern, they get one cow turned in the arena and they have to control that cow at the end of the arena – they turn it both ways down the fence, just like a working cow horse class. Then they take down a rope and rope the steer and stop it to finish it out.
We combine all those points together to get an overall winner,” Campbell said in closing. “That will be the world champion at the end of the day.”
Campbell also commented on the event’s importance to AQHA membership.
“It really gets us back to our roots and highlights the abilities of the American Quarter Horse as a ranch horse. It shows that no matter how specialized our horses might have become in the show pen or the rodeo arena, they can still go out and do this every day. The fact we have this class and have so much participation and so many people willing to take on the challenge shows that off.”
One of those contestants taking the challenge was Martin Kribs of Idaho, who won the Amateur Cutting phase of the competition, and was enthused about being a part of the relatively new world championship format.
“I’m really excited,” said Kribs after winning his Cutting class. “It’s an honor to be here and I’m excited to have done so well. You never know what can happen with cows, but I was really excited to win the event.”
Asked his opinion of the Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships held at the NWSS, Krib’s answer contained nothing but praise.
“I love the Versatility Ranch Horse event. It’s a lot of fun (and) I really enjoy being able to spend the whole day on a horse like we do and showing a lot of different classes. I love it here, I love the history of the NWSS,” he added. “Denver’s a neat town.”
“I think it’s a great place to highlight the Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships,” agreed Campbell about the stock show’s historic locale. “As long as it is willing to host us and the venue fits, I think it’s a continued plan to be here. All the feedback I’ve gotten has been very positive.”
For anyone interested in more information about AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse competition, Campbell wanted to point them in the right direction.
“They can go to the AQHA website,” he stated. “We have a listing of all the Versatility Ranch Horse shows around the country. A great place to get started is to go and watch one, and kind of see what it takes to get going. Beyond that, we have a lot of information in the American Quarter Horse Journal. Get a hold of a Journal and start learning and attend a show; that would be a great place to start. (Versatility Ranch Horse classes are) a partnership between horse and rider that takes a lot of time, effort, and ‘wet saddle blankets’,” he finished with a smile.
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