With the introduction of Heroes on Horses at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, a conversation has started about, “how does all this work?” Any new class usually requires a learning curve, as the logistics get sorted out, mistakes are made, and surprises crop up. Any military veteran will tell you, they likely aren’t a fan of surprises. What I’m sharing today is my speculation as to what you might be able to expect during the Heroes on Horses classes at Congress.
I’ve started having people ask me what the provided guidelines might mean, and I understand the importance of needing to feel like you know what to expect. I am a veteran of the horse show arena. I’ve logged countless hours on the rail, in front of many judges, and to date, I’ve survived 100% of those experiences. The veterans who will be participating in these classes are also 100% survivors in their own right, deserving of the same chances and opportunities the rest of us have been blessed enough to experience.
First and most-importantly, my advice to you is what I would advise anyone new to the show arena. The show pen isn’t the place to reinvent the wheel, fix major issues, or try something brand new-do all that at home. If you’ve never worn chaps while riding, ridden a well-trained show horse that’s been offered on loan, or put makeup on for an outing, show day isn’t the day to test it all out. You want to feel well-rehearsed, and you want your ride to feel as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans.
Judging will be based 50% on the rider, and 50% on the horse, meaning it isn’t a standard pleasure or horsemanship class. They’ll be looking for the horse and rider team who best communicate with each other to navigate what could be a very new experience for them both, with the most ease and confidence. Most of the riders will be exhibiting horses from their PATH facility, which may or may not be Quarter Horses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few atop borrowed, show-quality tanks of the equine world. Yes, that would pose a slight advantage for the horse already being familiar with the surroundings and format, but it’s no guarantee of a win.
Tack and equipment should be PATH approved, and hopefully what the rider is already accustomed to. Again, you might see an odd silver-adorned saddle, but if it isn’t what you’re comfortable with, stick with what you know and what already works.
The appearance of the horse and rider team overall should be clean and neat. All riders will wear helmets, so ladies (or gents) with long hair, please be sure to have it neatly secured at the nape of your neck. Remember, loose, fly-away hair creates the impression that you’re moving around more than you actually are.
Attire for both men and women should be simple and functional as well. There’s nothing worse than wearing a shirt or pants that doesn’t fit well, anything that you would feel the need to constantly figit with, so make sure you try on the selected outfit and give it a trial ride to make sure everything lays as it should, stays tucked in, and is flattering. My recommendation would be nice, dark jeans, free of the trendy frays or embellishments. Clean and polish your boots, this one ought to be familiar! For your shirt, I would go with a classic button-up, collar, and long sleeves. If you’re comfortable with a little starch, it does make things look nice and crisp. Prepare your outfit like you would have preparing for an inspection. Ladies, if you’re comfortable with makeup, go for it! There’s nothing wrong with doing what will make you feel your best. If you feel confidant, you’ll look and ride confidant. Support people, I think you’ll be in good shape if you use the same guidelines.
The class itself, to be ran in traditional walk-trot format, would be at the instruction of four judges and their stewards. There is often a photographer in the arena as well, as each arena has a backdrop along the rail for photos. The supported class will allow for 1-2 assistants per horse and rider team, and the independent class will allow for assistants in the arena as spotters.
The class usually begins with them on the rail at a trot. If a warm-up period is allowed they’ll be in the arena, posted on the rail, if coming from a warm-up area, they would enter and go to the rail at the trot. Once judges have seen the entire class trot, they’ll be asked to slow to a walk, and once the entire class has been judged at a walk, they’ll be asked to stop and reverse direction, then follow the same directions at both gaits. The stop and reverse is a great time to re-position on the rail if you’ve gotten in to traffic. At the end of the class, riders will be asked to line their horses up down the center of the arena, facing the audience. At that time the Judges will turn in their score cards, and placings will be announced. As medallions are awarded, additional photos may be taken.
During the small fry walk-trot class at Congress, the announcer usually requests that all applause be held until the class is over, to eliminate the risk of spooking a horse. I would guess they’ll make that request here as well.
These classes will be held in the Celeste Center, which is a large space that can feel a little overwhelming. For it’s size, it actually seems pretty quiet when you’re riding. Stalls will be made available at no cost for those who would like to arrive the day before. This would give you an opportunity to take your horse in during an evening open work session to get a feel for things. Remember though, the open work sessions are for everyone at the show, so the the traffic you might encounter there could be a little nerve-wracking.
At the end of the day, remember that the judges are there to provide feedback and opinions, not to see anyone fail. They want to see confidant, consistent, enjoyable rides from everyone. Practice being able to trot for longer periods of time, practice riding with others around you and getting out of large groups. Most importantly, just be in and enjoy the moment! The class itself will take a few minutes, though sometimes that can feel like an eternity. Take advantage of the opportunity to showcase your hard work, and as my dad always told me “don’t give them a choice,” (let the judge know, through your showmanship, that you’re there to win, no matter who else is in the pen with you).