Labor of Love: 10th Anniversary of the Chisholm Challenge

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Each year, the Chisholm Challenge offers riders with special needs the chance to compete in one of the most prestigious arenas in horse show competition. The John Justin Arena at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, has been home to cutting events, the American Quarter Horse Association’s Youth World Championship Show, the Appaloosa Horse Club’s world show and the American Paint Horse Association’s world shows. It is fitting that dedicated riders with special needs take part in the first event to unofficially kickoff the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo—the Chisholm Challenge.

The 2013 show marked the 10th anniversary for the event that has touched so many lives, rider, instructor, volunteer and spectator alike. This year, 10 riding teams from therapeutic riding centers around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and one team from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, brought a squad of riders for the two-day show. The centers are all PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International) certified, ensuring safety and professionalism.

Events range from speed events like barrel racing to English and Western Equitation, and even trail and a driving class. AQHA offers an official point-qualifying day where riders can show in showmanship, trail, hunt seat equitation and Western horsemanship, and the class is held as a walk-trot or walk, trot and canter.

There is a dedicated team working year-round to produce the event, and a committee of volunteers is led by General Manager Cheril Becker, Show Secretary Mary Gwinner and Events Coordinator Karen Schrepel, and many more.

“Competitors receive the official FWSSR rosette, and class winners receive a custom made Gist belt buckle just like other horse shows,” says Schrepel. “Many riders repeat year after year. The youngest is 8 years old, the minimum riding age, and this year the oldest rider we have is 57.

“Over the 10 years we have tweaked it. We have sections for the riding centers to sit in all around the arena. It adds an element of team spirit even though the riders are riding for individual awards.”

Patty Simon Tiberg, group publisher at Cowboy Publishing, awards a Western horsemanship winner.

Patty Simon Tiberg, group publisher at Cowboy Publishing, awards a Western horsemanship winner.

Fittingly, the theme for 2013 was “Decade of Excellence,” and excellence was showcased in every class. Trail class judge Michael Richardson is no stranger to competing or to facing challenges. Richardson was featured in the April 2011 Western Horseman. In 1986, Richardson was involved in a Jeep roll-over accident that left him a paraplegic, yet, he continues to work with horses as a professional clinician. This was his ninth year to judge.

“Coming at it from my point of view, I’m not judging harder than others, but want my score to reflect the rider’s effort,” he says. “It is great to see many of these riders grow up. This show is fabulous.”

Spectators can view class levels ranging from assisted, where a handler or spotter walks with the rider, to fully inclusive, where the rider competes on their own. Spectators and volunteers alike realize the importance of these riders showcasing their skills on a big stage.

“Our volunteers are repeaters,” Schrepel says. “It is fulfilling to watch these riders and to lend a hand.”

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The competition was held Monday, January 14, through Wednesday, January 16. Watching the horse and rider teams compete, it is obvious the connection many riders share with their mount. In addition to rider awards, a top horse award—the Carrot Award—is given to the horse that exemplified a loyal, willing animal. The award began in 2006. Horses are truly a means of freedom for many riders.

For more information on the show, visit ChisholmChallenge.com.

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