After two days and two nights at the five-star (AAA and Mobile) guest ranch, HYPERLINK “http://www.CLazyU.com“ www.CLazyU.com, we were getting accustomed to the fine dining, the luxurious accommodations and resort atmosphere. After a full eight hours in the saddle, concentrating hard on cramming as much information as we could into our brains from the five-star clinicians, it was time to put all the stuff we learned in the four half-day clinics into a schooling competition for Versatility Ranch Horse.
VRH is a challenging competition, to say the least, testing just about every Western discipline there is. One horse/rider (rider must be owner) competes in five different classes including conformation, trail obstacles, ranch riding (similar to a Dressage pattern), ranch cutting (cut and pen) and working ranch horse (reining, boxing cow, fence work, roping and stopping cow). They are all individual performances and all five classes are usually held in one day.
The rules and procedures are different every where you go in this country, but AQHA is the standard rule book since they have been doing it the longest and in the biggest numbers and AQHA hosts the VRH World Championships, held at the Denver Stock Show in January. The event we participated in at C Lazy U was sanctioned by HYPERLINK “http://www.NVRHA.com“ www.NVRHA.com and was open only to participants of the 2-day clinic that preceded the competition, amateur riders only, divided into three divisions: novice, intermediate and advanced. The novice riders are coached all the way through each class by the clinicians or other participants and they are not required to fence the cow, rope the cow or drag the log; in the halter class, their horse is not judged on conformation, but rather on the handler’s showmanship ability.
The conformation/showmanship class was held Sunday night right before dinner after riding all day in the clinic with the horses dirty and stinky. Since I had quit on Dually earlier in the day he was dry and fairly clean (technically the judges don’t care about this because they know they are judging working horses, but a shiny clean horse is much more pleasant to look at and if I am going to show my horse, I am going to go for every possible point I can get. In fact, in VRH, the conformation score factors back into the performance scores so a horse that does well in conformation gets extra points in performance too. After a quick stop at the wash rack with some high pressure spray-and-rinse and Dually‘s four white socks were clean. While I was at it, I washed down the legs of six other horses and then gave my friends a CRASH course in showmanship.
Then it was time for the conformation class and all 40 horses get judged by division. The advanced horses come in first, one at a time and have their legs judged for straightness and movement, then line up head to tail on the far wall and wait for all the other thirty something horses to be judged. After all legs & trot have been scored, the judged comes back to judge conformation, taking a look at each horse individually for structure and balance, then the judge rearranges the line up in each division by who he likes best, second, and so on. Dually placed third in the advanced division; Tucker was his usual middle-to-back of the pack because his is not straight legged. This is very unfortunate in VRH because a horse that does not do well in conformation has to seriously out–perform the horse that scores well in halter. If Tucker would place higher in conformation, Rich would be coming home with tons of blue ribbons. The rest of our group was in the novice division and placed well, with Jeannie winning and the other guys placing.
At the barn at 6am the next morning to be ready to ride at 8; it was a beautiful Memorial Day morning. There were eight of us in the group: Lucy had to scratch because her awesome ranch horse, Dodger HYPERLINK “http://juliegoodnight.com/horses/dodger.html“ http://juliegoodnight.com/horses/dodger.html , was a little off; Patti & Pascale, my dear friends from Kauai were riding two of our sale horses, Renegade and Tequlo (whom they had only met a couple days before so were just getting to know); Cheryl, my dear friend from next door was riding her dream-horse (and the star of my riding videos, vol 3-4-5), Gracie; and Jeannie, our friend from MD was riding a borrowed horse that none of us knew anything about (although Jeannie had learned a lot about him in the past two days). They were all entered in the novice division and had never done any of this before; Rich and I rode in the advanced division on our own horses Tucker and Dually. Rich and Tucker have been competing for a few years and generally do well. I had only competed once on Dually last year; my score would not count in this show because there was no open (pro) division in this schooling competition. Or as they said at the awards ceremony, I was both first and last place in my own division SYMBOL 74 f “Wingdings” s 10 That works for me because I just wanted to school my horse, learn the complicated machinations of this event, so I know what to work on in preparation for an AQHA VRH event.
There were about 38 riders divided in half—one group did the cutting class while the other group rode the ranch riding pattern—then we switched groups so that by lunch, all 38 riders had done both ranch cutting and ranch riding (half of the performance classes). Typically the advanced group goes first in cutting because that is when the cows are freshest and tend to be running in all directions with their tails straight up. In VHR, you have 2 and a half minutes to walk into a group of 20 or so cows, and find the one with a specific number glued to its back (they yell out the number as they start your time), sort that cow out from the herd, move it to the middle of the arena and then keep it cut away from the herd. Two turnback riders assist you so the cow doesn’t just run away from you all the way to the other end. After you have showed your horse‘s ability to keep the cow away from the herd, you then take the cow around a cone and down to the other end of the arena and into a pen (your turnback people cannot help you with that).
Rich was second up in the class and had a really good cut, worked the cow nicely then had a good pen; he placed third. This only being my second competition, I was very happy with myself that I got the cutting part down well. I positioned Dually right into the middle of the herd, slowly brought out my cow to the middle and let the other cows drift off, then we went to cutting. Considering I was concerned about Dually‘s over-exuberance on the cow because he was too fresh, I thought we had a really good cut. It was a squirrely cow and it got away from me when I went to pen him, but over all I was pretty happy with our performance.
Next came the ranch riding. This is a class that Rich & Tucker normally score well in and one that is pretty easy for Dually and I. There‘s a reason why they don‘t want pros to compete against amateurs and the reason why is because of the unfair advantage we have of knowing how to do all this stuff already! Many facets of this competition are very complex and challenging and someone who‘s been riding and doing this stuff professionally for a lifetime has infinite advantage over someone that has only been riding a few years and perhaps never even shown. In the ranch riding class, you ride a pre-ordained pattern making specific transitions at cones placed strategically around the arena. The point is to show that your horse is well trained and responsive and a pleasure to ride; he can perform well at every working gait of the ranch horse. The pattern is similar to a dressage test, but you just ride around the rail. The required transitions are: walk to trot, trot to extended trot, to regular trot, halt, lope off on right lead, extend lope, regular lope, lope to walk (hard to execute well) then halt and halt to trot (also very hard), then trot to left lead canter, canter to trot (again hard), halt and back. All of those are executed at specific markers. I practice all of these transitions every time I ride in the arena, at the cones that are permanently set up as markers. Some might think this is boring but to be able to execute these transitions smoothly and with precision takes a lot of skill and practice and it almost impossible to score a perfect pattern.
Well, this is the third time in the past 24 hours that I have worked on this blog and I am only half way through the competition day. It has occurred to me long before now that this C Lazy U blog is going to have to have one more post! Heidi, my aforementioned slave driver and the reason I even know what a blog is, keeps telling me to keep it short! So I‘d better go ahead and post and try and finish this thing up tomorrow. We still have the trail class to go plus the nemesis of all VRH riders: the working ranch horse class—it‘s a killer! For now, it‘s almost eight o‘clock, I just got in from riding and we haven‘t even thought about dinner yet. A typical summer night when we don‘t eat until 9:00!
Thank you for all your meaningful comments—it‘s nice to know someone is actually reading this stuff and interested in it, since I am taking time to do it. I am actually enjoying writing it but finding the time each day is tough. Anyway, keep reading and keep those comments coming in.
Enjoy the ride!
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