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2014 TWHBEA World Versatility Championships


Story by Allison Rehnborg
Photos by Ryan Rehnborg

At every horse show, that first moment when a horse and rider enter the ring represents more than the start of just another class. Those initial steps mark a moment of transformation, when countless long hours of hot, dusty practice to perfect a maneuver are finally tested; when armloads of dirty jeans and green-slobbered shirts turn into crisp clean blazers or starched denim; and when two separate minds blend together to become one, united in a driving pursuit for success. Whether that success means a blue ribbon or simply the joy of participating in a new event, the fact remains that those moments of transformation abound at every horse show – and especially at this year’s TWHBEA World Versatility Championships, when riders of all ages gathered together to celebrate the best characteristics of their favorite breed: the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Celebrating its sixteenth anniversary, the show, held July 24-26 at the Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN, represents the annual culmination of the association’s Versatility Program. All year long, riders log hours on their flat-shod Tennessee Walking Horses for versatility points, which can be earned through trail rides, shows, and other events. Riders can progress through various levels and earn special titles for their horses along the way.

“This event showcases the versatility of the breed,” explains Tracy Boyd, executive director of TWHBEA. “We have a horse that’s well known for its show-ring accomplishments and as a trail riding mount, but Walking Horses can do many other things.”

The championships offered more than twenty types of classes, ranging from English and Western dressage to over-fences to obstacle driving and reining. Timed events, model and halter, and showmanship classes; fun-and-games classes, like egg-and-spoon races and water-glass classes, rounded out the program. As it does every year, the versatility of the Tennessee Walking Horse reigned supreme!

The show also highlighted the do-it-yourselfers of the horse training world: amateur riders, young and old, who train and exhibit their horses themselves, developing a special bond with their mounts as they learn and progress together.

“The backbone of our association, to me, is these types of people,” Boyd says. “The people who have their own horses and do it for the love of the horse.” 

Love of the horse – and her horse in particular – is what drives Elizabeth Conti, a 17-year-old rider from Jessup, Georgia. Conti and her family drove more than eight hours for her to compete in the championships with her horse, Trooper’s Beaucoup Delight, or “Bogie.”

 “I love it that they have all the versatility classes here,” Conti says. “It’s one show [where] we can do everything that we like and enjoy, and it’s  the one time of year I get to see most of my friends.”

Conti has been riding Bogie, a 16-year-old double-registered TWH and Spotted Saddle Horse, for more than five years, but has only been able to call him her own since last December, when the black-and-white tobiano gelding became her favorite Christmas present. That five-year-relationship, however, has allowed Conti to develop a special bond with Bogie.

“My favorite class is Showmanship, because it shows the connection between me and my horse,” Conti says. “We communicate without verbal commands or a lot of body language. I work on that weekly with him, and now I can command him without a lead or any kind of equipment on him. I wanted to learn to do that because I heard someone say once, ‘If you’re good enough at Showmanship, you shouldn’t need extra equipment. Your horse should cue off of you.’ So one day, I tied the rope on his neck and said, ‘Okay, let’s try it!’ And we did it.”

Conti and Bogie competed in nearly every class at the show, winning the Youth Dressage and the 12-17 Water Glass classes. The only classes they didn’t compete in were the jumping, reining, and driving classes.

“Those are the three things we haven’t pushed him to do at his age,” Conti says. “We’ve tried it, but he doesn’t like jumping at all. We do both English and Western Dressage, though. I love that Dressage isn’t just about winning – it’s about teaching you to ride and how to work with your horse. I like knowing that I’ve put Bogie to work through all these events. I feel like this is my horse, and nobody else needs to do this for me. I appreciate the help, lessons, and tips, but he’s my horse and I feel like I should be responsible for him.”

Conti’s family attended the show with her, including her 12-year-old little sister, Emily, who pronounced that riding Bogie is like being “on top of the world!” Not bad for a horse that stands barely 14.2 hands high.

A new addition to this year’s show bill was a $1500 Jackpot Versatility Class, sponsored by Manna Pro. The class, on the final night of the show, featured four specially chosen parts.

“This is the first time we’ve offered this class,” Boyd says. “It’s one class in four ways. Riders compete in the English three-gait, performing the flat walk, running walk, and canter. Then they’ll change into Western tack and do the same three gaits. Then they’ll perform a precision pattern in the tack of their choice. Finally, they’ll run a set of Texas barrels. That’s all one class, and the judge will have to decide which horse was the most versatile at the end.”

Eleven entries participated in this brand-new Versatility Class, including Michael Boucher of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. Boucher rode his horse, Enchanters MG, a 14-year-old TWH gelding, in every event at the championships, including the Versatility Class, where the pair took third place.

Like Elizabeth Conti, Boucher takes a special pride in training his horse himself.

“He’s my first horse, and we’ve had him since he was 18 months old,” Boucher says. “When I started riding him, I’d pick one new versatility event a year, start him

on it, work him, get him to where we could show in it, and then do something else the next year. Versatility is how I’ve trained him and kept it interesting.”

Through the course of the show, Boucher and “Toby” collected a mass of ribbons, including two blues – one for the Adult Reining and one for the Texas Barrels portion of the versatility class – and many second places. The pair also earned the Overall High Point Award at the show.

“We’ve been competing in versatility for a while,” Boucher says. “And we’ve always known [about] this show, but it’s usually fallen at a bad time for us. This was our first year coming, and we did every single event that was here.”
Boucher and Toby drew many admiring glances during the Versatility Class on the final night, when they had the fastest, cleanest run during the Texas barrels. The small chestnut horse flared to life during the run, whirling around the barrels and thundering across the finish line in just under twelve seconds, then just as quickly subsided, returning calmly to the line-up as the next horse pounded past the time-line.

“He knows his job,” Boucher says simply. “He knows when it’s time to go and when it’s time to stop.”

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