As the weather warms and the sun starts to feel just a bit warmer, daydreams shift to the promise of another great season of trail riding and hours spent on a favorite horse climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains or cantering along a river at James River State Park.
Last weekend (April 13-14, 2018) in Virginia, both fabulous weather and plans for great trail rides converged at the Virginia Horse Center for the Great American Ranch and Trail Horse Sale as 120 horses, hundreds of buyers and even more spectators gathered for another sale.
Unique to this sale are the competitions open only to consigned horses. The ranch horses go first on Friday afternoon in a class the requires them to perform an AQHA ranch horse pattern and then box and rope a cow. On Friday evening, another class of horses tackles a trail course that features obstacles such as logs, a bridge, brush, a campsite complete with campfire and a bear, an outhouse in which they must ground tie outside while the rider steps inside and a horse trailer that the horse hops inside. It also often includes a few surprises like a live animal. This year it included a goat along the trail. Horses may only enter one of the competitions.
After the Top 10 performers from Friday night came back for the Trail Horse finals on Saturday morning, Steve Meadows of Virginia and Ima Sweet Machine (Hip No. 10) took home the top prize in an especially strong group of finalists. Meadows’ 2008 black gelding then later sold in the sale for $30,000. The Reserve in the trail class went to John Roberts riding Marion G. Valerio’s AQHA gelding Get Your Shine On. He later sold for $11,700.
The ranch horse competition is in just its second year at the sale. The class showcases the working ranch horses and their ability to work cattle. In his first year consigning horses to the sale, Tanner Keith of Virginia had three of the Top 5 horses. Winning the class was Keith’s Hy Rem Cowboy, Hip No. 68. Later in the sale his price did not reach the reserve. Reserve champion was Keith’s RobPaulPayPeter, Hip No. 111. He later sold for $6,600.
While many years a champion for the competitions is also the high seller, this year it was pure beauty that took the sale by storm. Hip No. 45, GG Jonah, a gorgeous 2008 black Gypsy Vanner gelding consigned by Buckeye Acre Farm of Ohio stirred hearts all across the country before the sale. And it was a series of phone bids that sent his sale price to $40,000, topping this year’s sale. A video of the bidding can be found here.
Horses really are available at all budgets. Some prices came in at less than $2,000, many ranged between $3,000 – $8,000, and then top sellers brought more than $10,000. Some of 2018’s top sellers included:
Training any horse is no easy task, but for the trainers who take part in the Extreme Mustang Makeover events around the country, the challenge is made even more difficult by four-month time limit and a horse that’s never been handled.
Rob West, of New York, says he has found his true calling in showcasing the potential of Mustangs. “It just doesn’t get any better than this. I am given a lump of clay to mold and sculpt the way I see fit, until I have a masterpiece to present 120 days later. … We take these scared wild animals and we ask for their trust. And guess what? They give it to us.”
If you were at the 2016 Extreme Mustang Makeover at the Virginia Horse Center, you may remember West and his red roan mare, Moonshine Lady. Their Native American-themed freestyle routine featured the mare jumping over barrels while a tarp flew overhead, earning them a Top Five finish. Moonshine Lady then was purchased at the competition’s auction by a family in Virginia. But that was not the end of West and Moonshine’s story together.
Not long after going to her new home, the mare jumped her pasture fence to escape a new pasture mate and disappeared into the dense woods. West, tipped off by a fan in Virginia that had heard about her disappearance, traveled to Virginia to help find his beloved partner. (See Rob’s account of training the mare, competing, learning that she was missing and how she ended up going back to New York with him by clicking here.)
The story of how the trainer traveling to Virginia to help find the horse he trained touched New Freedom Farm founder Lois Fritz. She later contacted West and they formed a friendship. Now the Buchanan, Virginia, nonprofit, which helps veterans suffering PTSD find healing through horses, has announced it will be hosting a Westang Equine Confidence Building Clinic on April 28-29, 2018.
The clinic’s basic goal will be to make a braver more confident horse and rider. The clinic is open to all disciplines and horses. There will be an trail obstacle course and a chance to have fun playing equine soccer on your horse. All experience levels are welcome. There is limited space available. The 2-day clinic will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
The clinic costs $150.00 for both days and includes daily lunch. One day clinic is $85.00. Private sessions on Friday afternoon or before or after each clinic day available for $50.00/session. Audit only (includes lunch) $20.
Veterans who want to ride in the clinic are half price and veterans who want to come and audit the clinic are free (includes lunch). Call 540-855-1158 or email email@example.com with questions or for more information.
$50 nonrefundable deposit due by April 10 to secure a spot.
We spoke to Rob about his start in the horse industry, the challenges of training a wild horse and his equine teachers/partners along the way.
Q: Tell me about your business. What kind of services do you offer?
I work mostly with both troubled or problem horses with issues ranging from bucking and rearing to bad ground manners and starting young and most times unbroke horses. Although I do not refer to my method as breaking. I call it gentling. When done right, it can be a nice experience for both horse and rider. Q: When did you get started in horses? What is your riding background?
I started riding at the age of 3 and got my first Shetland pony “Cupcake” on my 4th birthday. My mom wouldn’t allow me to show until I was about 9 years old. Her idea was that I should love the horse first and showing came second. I am glad she was so wise, because that’s exactly what happened. I then began barrel racing and gymkhana gaming shows. I instantly loved it and excelled at it. Q: What makes your stable/business different than others? What’s your specialty? What do you take the most pride in?
My specialty seems to be that I can gain the trust/respect of a horse almost right away. The horses bond with me and love me to a point that they can overcome their fears by putting their faith in me. My business is very much like a lot of others. All sorts of obstacles and desensitizing tools to make a more bombproof horse, but I believe its how I deal with the horses that makes my barn different. When it comes down to brass tacks, I care. I never started this as a business. I started helping horses because they needed it, and I care so much about them. When I see a distressed horse my heart goes out to them. The thing I take the most pride in is that I can speak to these horses in their language. I can regain their faith in humanity even if we don’t always deserve it. I believe that every horse that I encounter and work with is all the better for it. Q: Can you describe your training/teaching philosophy?
My philosophy is simple. Make deals and don’t break them. Offer a horse an option and reward it with release of pressure or with praise. NO HAND TREATS. Your horse will not love you because you give him mints. He will however begin nipping and pinning his ears because you aren’t getting the treat when he wants it. I can’t say enough how important praise is. Q: What is your favorite characteristic about Mustangs?
Its hard to pick just one. They are loyal to a fault. They will also do anything you point them at. Once you have a Mustang’s heart they will literally walk through fire for you. Q: What is the most difficult part of training a wild horse?
The hardest part for me is far and away letting them go. I try to build a wall and not get attached by telling myself that I am training someone else’s horse for them, but it doesn’t work. I am devastated every time I say goodbye. Q: How did you learn about New Freedom Farm?
The founder Lois messaged me after hearing I drove from New York to Virginia to find a mustang that I trained that had gone missing. We became instant friends with a mutual respect for each other’s passions. Q: What will be the main goal taught to the riders at the clinic at New Freedom Farm?
I try to keep an open mind and invite whatever is presented to me, but I always strive to have both more confidant horses and riders in the end. I want to show how we teach our horses on the ground first and then transfer that to the saddle. Its safe and effective. Q: Who are your riding mentors? How have they influenced your riding?
I don’t have a trainer that I follow. However I have picked up quite a bit from many of them. Like I’ve said before, I am a student of the horse and they teach me more than any other person ever has. On the national level I admire Monty Roberts and Guy McLean. I also had the pleasure of being guided by some people as a child that were great horseman like my neighbor Joan Norman and another strong influence named Richie Fisher. Q: If you could spend the day riding with any horseman, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
I would have to choose Bobby Kerr. I have met him twice and I just love what he does for
Mustangs. He is a talented horseman and a showman of the highest caliber. We have similar ideas and a flair for a wow factor filled performance in our freestyles. I am not at his level yet, but I am on my way. Q: What was your proudest moment in the saddle? My proudest moment has to be finding my lost mustang Moonshine Lady after she was missing for eight days. We covered many miles and exhausting hours. She heard me speaking on my cellphone and came out of the dense woods to find me.
And like magic, all of a sudden, Moonshine turned right toward me from the darkness of the thick woods. I had begun recording her walking toward me. She heard me talking to Mike on the phone, and came to my voice. As I videotaped her, I called her name. My voice cracked and I just lost it crying my eyes out. It was the most beautiful moment in my whole life with horses. I saw the love and trust as she looked at me as if to say, “What took you so long. I was scared.”
— Rob, on finding Moonshine
Q: Do you have a favorite horse movie or book?
My favorite horse movie is “The Black Stallion.” When I saw that movie with my mom as a boy, I have to admit that I wished it could be me stranded on that island with that horse. Q: What is the one item a rider shouldn’t leave home without when attending your clinic?
Probably their cellphone or camera. Its amazing how much you forget. So if you can record it, or have someone else record it for you, then you can always go back over it later or for years to come. Q: What one piece of advice would you give new/young riders?
Enjoy your horse. Don’t get caught up in showing and pressure unless you like that. Its supposed to be fun, so make it pleasurable. Q: If you could try any other riding discipline, what would it be?
I have tried many, but I really do like Dressage. Mounted shooting is a blast, too. Q: What is the best thing about riding/training horses?
I look back on some people and horses alike that are happier because they met me. I love to get their success stories all the time. I mean some were at the point of selling their horse or giving up riding altogether and I was their last ditch effort. That makes me smile. Q: What would be your idea of a dream vacation?
I want to travel the United States with my horse trailer and just trail ride every inch of it. Q: What horse industry/riding trend do you wish would go away and never return?
There are way to many to list but the dying crab canter in western pleasure riding really
bothers me. That is changing at this point though. Q: Tell us about the best horse you’ve ever ridden. The best horse I have ever ridden is whichever one I am riding at the time. As corny as that sounds, they are all so amazing. I often refer to myself as an architect that has to carefully uncover each precious artifact. Each horse has those hidden treasures. Q: If you could ride any famous horse from history, who would you ride?
Secretariat. From what I’ve heard, he was all heart.
A quarantine has been lifted at a Bedford County, Virginia, farm after a veterinarian reported eight horses affected with Strangles. The horses first showed symptoms on Dec. 21, 2017, including cough, discharge from the nose, swollen lymph nodes and fever.
Strangles is an infection of the upper respiratory tract found only in horses, donkeys and mules. Strangles does not spread through the air, but it is highly contagious. It can be spread by an infected horse touching another horse or indirectly through tack, shared drinking water or feed, clothing, hands and other pets such as barn cats and dogs.
Twelve horses were put under quarantine at the Bedford County farm, but only the original eight horses showed signs of the disease during that first week. All of those horses have recovered and have been free of symptoms for the past three weeks.
One of the things I love the most about living in the Roanoke region of Virginia is having the Virginia Horse Center just a short jaunt up Interstate 81. The first class horse facility brings top competition and horsemen to our region each year, and 2018 will be no exception.
If you are a fan of natural horsemanship, one of the very top clinicians will be visiting the East Complex on Oct. 5-7, 2018. Buck Brannaman was the inspiration for the movie and novel character Tom Booker from “The Horse Whisperer.” He was also the equine consultant on the film. A documentary about Brannaman called “Buck,” directed by Cindy Meehl, won the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Brannaman will hold Foundation Horsemanship and Horsemanship classes at the October clinic. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Brannaman’s website lists clinic costs at $700 for three days of class participation as a rider and an auditing fee of $30 a day.
The classes offered are described as follows:
This new class is for the green rider or a green horse who may feel the need for additional groundwork prior to riding. During each of the three-day sessions half of the class is dedicated to working the horse from the ground in preparation for riding, with the second half of the class horseback.
For the green horse and rider already comfortable in the snaffle bit along with aged horses needing continued work. This is the first stage of progressing into the bridle with all basic movements introduced. All levels of riders – no matter what discipline – will benefit. The class features strictly dry work – no cattle. All maneuvers stress the vaquero style of riding and are appropriate for horses from first level snaffle to experienced bridle horses. Hackamore horses welcome.
Brannaman, of Sheridan, Wyo., spends much of his year on the road holding clinics around the globe. For instance, his 2018 schedule includes stops in Australia, Italy and throughout the U.S., although most stops are in the Western U.S.
“I often tell people in the clinics, the human possesses the one thing that means more to the horse than anything in the world, and that is peace and comfort,” Brannaman told ABC News in 2012. “That’s all they want.”
The trainer grew up a child of abuse, terrified of their widowed father who forced him and his brothers to perform trick roping.
“The horses at that time in my life, they saved my life,” Brannaman told Weir. “The horses did way for me than I did for them. So they were my friends, and they were sort of my refuge. So it’s interesting that I’ve been given the opportunity to spend the rest of my life making things better for the horses.”
Brannaman is known for his quiet approach to gaining respect from horses. He emphasizes that respect and fear are not the same thing. He was for many years a disciple of Ray Hunt, one of the founders of the natural horsemanship movement, and also inspired by Tom and Bill Dorrance.
The Botetourt County Horseman’s Association held it’s annual horse show on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Green Hill Park in Salem. As a new twist on the horse show, the association added a hunter pace to the afternoon, sending riders out on Green Hill Park’s cross country course on a lovely fall ride.
The show included two classes that featured a perpetual trophy to the winner. The BCHA Members Only class was won by Jill Franceschini riding her gray mare Kelty. Along with the trophy, Franceschini also received a free membership renewal with the association.
The Susan Bradley Memorial Arabian Pleasure class, created many years ago to honor one of the club’s founders, was won by Grace Myers riding Shadows Morning Joy.
The show also featured a $100-added Jackpot Pleasure class, won by Aubrey Puckett on Hennley. She took home a jackpot of $75 for her win. Other money was split between second and third place horses and a exhibitor drawn at random.
The show, judged by USEF “r” carded Rachel Bandy Witt, featured a wide variety of classes from model in the morning, three over fences divisions in the afternoon, plus pleasure classes for English, Western, Ranch, and Gaited horses. Those were followed by a series of Games classes to round out the day.
If you are searching for something equine to do this weekend, head to northeast Roanoke County/Botetourt County for a trio of events clustered in the Hollins/Daleville area.
Start your day at the Hollins University Fall Horse Show. The hunters/jumper show runs all weekend, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. Jeanie Smith (USEF “R”) of Tyron, North Carolina, will judge.
Then be sure to make some time to drive over to Rockingham Co-op on Route 220 South to the Virginia Horse Council’s Essentially Equine Craft Fair. The craft fair will feature area artists’ work but with an equestrian twist. It’s a perfect place to get your early Christmas shopping done for all your horse-loving friends, plus get yourself something special, too. It’s only a 10-minute drive from Hollins if you happen to be showing this weekend. The craft sale will be open from 8 a.m. until 5.
If you like to barter a bit, Hollins Stockyard has scheduled a tack and horse sale on Saturday. At 11 a.m. tack will be auctioned and can be a great place to pick up riding essentials for less. Horses will follow later that evening at 4 p.m.
The Cross View Horse Show Series closed it’s 2017 series, crowning its high point winners for the day and the season at its fall show this past weekend. While the calendar said it was fall, the weather felt more like mid-summer with temperatures well into the mid-80s and the sun shining hot and bright all day.
By the time I arrived on Sunday afternoon, their was a decent, if not spectacular, turnout for the show. I was a bit surprised that more didn’t take advantage of the incredible September weather to come out with their horses. As with each Cross View show, the midway between the two main rings included vendors and games.
Most of the Western classes appeared to have between two and five entries. Five vied for the Jackpot GAYP Pleasure class. Laura Owen took home the largest slice of the jackpot on her sorrel gelding, Zipposhandsomedevil, who she rode without a bridle in the class.
The ranch horse classes were also well attended. Riders in the ranch rail classes were asked to walk, job and lope, but also to extend the jog.
Attire for Western part of the show was very casual for some — I saw ball caps and blue jeans on some — to gemstones and standard pleasure glitz on others. So don’t let your lack of show attire keep you from coming out to complete next year!
Covering horse shows of multiple disciplines around the region, I see a lot of different ways shows are run. And one of the big differences that I see, and have also experienced as an exhibitor, is the placement of the judge during a flat class.
In the AQHA/stock horse-led culture that I grew up in, the judge was always in the arena for the flat classes. Often they place themselves off to one corner. From there they can see most of the arena plus hear the footfalls of the horses behind them. But when I started showing hunters in college, the judges were always sitting outside the arena. Sometimes they were hard to even find. I always found this disconcerting.
Part of showing includes your presentation to the judge. At the district horse shows I attended as a teenager only the first- or second-place horse moved on to the state championship. Three judges were used and their scores were averaged to determine the final placings. One year, while two of the judges were consistently placing me high, one judge wasn’t using me at all. This was sending me down to sixth overall and outside of qualifying for the state horse show. Part of my instructions from my coach included to make eye contact with that judge as I came toward him. Did it help? I have no idea. But it was part of the showmanship: Confidently showing your horse to the judge, and let’s face it, finding a spot to make an adjustment behind the judge’s back.
I was reminded of this difference at the last show I attended: the Virginia 4-H State Championship. In the hunter pleasure classes on Saturday afternoon, the announcer had to ask each class to look up at the stands at the waving judge and then explain that they shouldn’t ride down the rail on that side of the arena as she wouldn’t be able to see them. It made for a very lopsided ride for the exhibitors with awkward turns at the corner so they could ride off the rail down one side. Maybe not so awkward if you are alone in the arena, but in classes of 15-18 horses, some exhibitors would be coming into the corner three deep. Some of them resorted to riding a little circle in the middle of the arena, which appeared to suit the judge just fine but didn’t make the horse look so great.
At the end of the class, the lineup had horses stacked up in just a tiny part of the arena so that she could see the numbers. If she couldn’t see numbers in a normal lineup, what else couldn’t she see?
I saw one very nice horse miss its lead not once, but three consecutive times, before giving a little buck and taking the correct one. This happened right in front of the judge but perhaps too close to the rail for her to know. It’s hard to say that was the case, but it was a major error that ended in a reserve championship.
Sitting in the stands seems to me to be so disconnected from the exhibitors. I couldn’t help but think to myself that all of this could have been avoided if the judge would simply come stand in the arena.
The Virginia 4-H State Championship had some judging inconsistencies. Some disciplines had just the one judge, such as the hunters and dressage equitation. One person’s opinion to decide the state title. However, when I switched gears to watch the Western divisions, there were two judges. (Both in the arena I might add.) I believe multiple judges is the more appropriate choice at a state championship. Three would be even better than two as you’d have fewer ties. Of course, the cost of paying the judges becomes a factor.
And as a further argument for judges in the arena, the exhibitors got to lineup in front of each individual judge before the final results were announced. Often the judge would chat with the winning rider as they stood there. That’s a memory that is likely to always stick with that rider.
I know that judging is a long day and they deserve a seat. And classes that involve patterns or jumping a course are a fantastic chance to allow the judge to sit. However, for the flat classes on the rail there is no reason to be up in the bleachers. Exhibitors who put their heart and soul into that weekend of showing deserve to get the chance to look their judge in the eye and show them just what they’ve got.
What do you all think? Do you have a preference as to where you find the judge?
There’s something inspiring about the Virginia State 4-H Championship Horse Show that’s held every September at the Virginia Horse Center.
Not every truck and trailer you see parked in the lot is brand new, although many are. Not every saddle is covered in silver or every show shirt perfectly tailored and covered in sparkling jewels, although many are. But the atmosphere is every bit as electric as the biggest shows, maybe even more so.
Parents stand on the rail more nervous than if they were showing, muttering instructions and tips even though their children are at the other end of the arena and couldn’t possibly hear. Horses are lovingly prepared to enter what for many will be the biggest show of the year, if not their careers, to make memories that may last the rest of the exhibitors’ lives.
Morgan Strickler of Frederick County is one such exhibitor who is bound to always have great memories of her rides at the 4-H State Championship Show. She was returning to the championship show after winning the Western Pleasure Classic last year on her Appaloosa Ima Glowin CocoChip. Sunday morning, the defending champion made it two in a row. First Morgan won the Horsemanship title in a split judge’s decision (Gillian Davis riding VS Red Solo was first under the second judge), and then she took the Western Pleasure Horse Classic in a unanimous decision. Julia Marie Haney of Prince William County and The Kyrmsun Cowboy were Reserve in the Western Pleasure Horse Classic.
Photos from the Virginia 4-H Championship Horse Show available for purchase are being uploaded now at www.roanokeequestrian.smugmug.com.
Digital copies and print versions are available.
The Classics, which require a qualifying ride in a previous class during the show, are simply a cap to what is a busy weekend at the horse center. The show begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday. The winners of the various class divisions then come back at the end of the show for the “Classic” classes… the best of the best enter the ring to vie for the class title. This year, the Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Hunt Seat Equitation and Horsemanship Classics were held in the East Complex on Sunday morning. But other Classics are held also on both Saturday and Sunday.
Emily Michelle Strom of Henrico County and her gray Arabian KK Dream Catcher won the Western Pleasure Pony Classic.
In the Hunt Seat Equitation Classic, Holly Kate Longest of James City rode Playing Hooky to victory. Holly was part of a four-horse work-off the required the exhibitors to show at a walk, rising trot, sitting trot and canter without their irons. Reserve went to Marissa Jones of Loudoun on Above the Clouds.
There’s a balance here between everyone getting a shot and the top riders achieving the giant trophy. And the trophies really are enormous — one Classic trophy required two people to carry it into the arena. Disciplines offered are as varied as the ponies. Western, Saddle Seat, Hunt Seat, Dressage, Speed, Reining and even Side Saddle are represented.
What the 4-H State Show has that many other shows seem to lack is a fabulous sense of community. Counties band together, decorate their stalls to a common theme and everyone seems to have their own cheering section when the results came in after each class. There’s a lot that professionals could learn from the youth in that arena.
The attending veterinarians reported the case in a Appaloosa-cross gelding who began showing clinical signs on August 22, including nasal discharge, swelling of the lymph nodes and fever. The gelding was initially isolated on the farm but has since been transported off the farm.
The gelding tested positive for strangles on culture by nasal swab, lymph node aspirate, and serum.
A Tennessee Walking Horse gelding and a Quarter Horse mare were also exposed as they were purchased from the same source and were hauled together prior to the onset of clinical signs. The walking horse gelding and quarter horse mare have been isolated.
Strangles is an infectious, contagious disease characterized by abscesses in the lymphoid tissue of the upper respiratory tract. The incubation period of strangles is 3–14 days, and the first sign of infection is fever (103°–106°F). Within 24–48 hours of the initial fever spike, the horse will exhibit signs typical of strangles, including nasal discharge, depression, and and swelling. Some horses have difficulty swallowing, and make noise when breathing. Older animals with residual immunity may develop an atypical or catarrhal form of the disease with mucoid nasal discharge, cough, and mild fever.