Take the Next Step: All-Around Competition

All-around competition can be the key to expanding a rider’s horse-training and showing skills.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

For an all-around competitor, riding ability and a commitment to success are paramount. Journal photo

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Jackie Krshka says expanding your events could be the ticket to rejuvenating your excitement for competition and testing the boundaries of your talent. Jackie offers advice to help you take the leap and find the right horse for the job.

Jackie says that an all-around competitor will become a better rider by spending more time horseback - both on the road and at home.

“There is no question - it has been proven time and again,” Jackie says. “It takes riders to a more advanced level and prepares them for moving up. They learn feel and timing, and have a better sense of their horse.”

Although riders can develop feel for their horse in one event, Jackie says the bond can be stronger in all-around competition. “They have so much one-on-one contact in a variety of events that they know that horse in and out. If you’ve got four events to prepare for, you spend a little bit more time with your horse than if you’re preparing for one event.”

To be eligible for all-around honors, a horse must compete in at least three AQHA-approved classes, or events, in three or more categories. The classes must all be in the same division: open, amateur, Select amateur or youth. SHW803.5 in the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations outlines which events belong to which category. There are eight categories in total.

Getting Started

Rather than bombarding yourself with new classes, Jackie suggests a gradual in increase in classes.

For an all-around competitor, riding ability and a commitment to success are paramount.

“I have students who have all the try in the world, but they don’t have the natural talent, and it’s a long process,” Jackie says. “I’m not saying it can’t be done - you can do anything if you work hard enough. But someone with a lot of natural feel can go really fast.”

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Whether you are beginning in western or English events, you can best develop your skills by following a progression of classes.

To Jackie, horsemanship serves as a good foundation in western competition. Riders learn basic maneuvers like spins and lead changes. In addition, they are judged on seat, balance and riding form, thus reinforcing basic riding skills.

In western riding, multiple lead changes further test a rider’s ability and quick thinking. Jackie says reining is the next logical step, as the maneuvers are performed faster and at a higher skill level.

In English events, hunter under saddle competition develops fundamental English skills. Hunt seat equitation, like horsemanship, develops riding skills for flat work. “A rider has to have the basics before going over a jump,” Jackie says.

Jackie believes good equitation riders make good western event competitors, as they have good control of their legs and body. “They have proper feel and leg contact and know how to utilize that in making their horse perform,” she says.

Moving from western to English competition can take more discipline, she notes. “Western riders are very often not required to have as much feel with their legs,” she says. “It’s hard, a lot of times, for a (rider) to move from western into equitation.”

The Right Horse

It’s important to match the skills of the horse and rider. “You don’t match a laid-back horse that needs a little aggression with a shy, timid rider. You will have nothing,” Jackie says. “Nor do you put a hyperactive, quick-handed rider with an oversensitive horse.”

She is also careful not to put a beginning rider on a green horse. “I never, ever do that. In fact, I don’t really like putting an experienced rider with a green horse unless they’re willing to go through the trials and tribulations.”

To be competitive in all-around competition, a rider needs an athletic horse, Jackie notes. The horse also must be good-minded to withstand the constant stress.

“They’ve got to be able to take the pressure of learning a lot of new things,” she says. “They must withstand the day-long process of a show. They’re not going to be prepped one time - they’re going to be prepped four or five different times, so they’ve got to be willing and kind and good minded.”

A horse that is not mentally up for all-around competition might not show the wear and tear in the beginning. But after a year or two, frustration will be evident in the horse’s expression, ears and tail, Jackie says.

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Time is also a consideration. Determine how quickly you would like to be an all-around competitor. If you have developed the talents to immediately compete in a variety of events, then a horse specialized in one event isn’t your best choice. However, if you’re not in a rush, a specialized horse could work for you.

Expanding a horse into other events can bring out new talents.

“We buy horses that have been very competitive in pleasure, and they’ve lost their peak of competitiveness,” Jackie explains. “I give them another job and teach them something else. It’s the rebirth of a whole new horse. They’re bright, and they’re fresh. They’ve got something new to do.”