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The high winds added an extra degree of difficulty at beautiful Phillips Ranch on Saturday for the Southern Nevada Horseshoer Association’s annual Obstacle Course challenge.   The arena contained ten course obstacles with all manner of scare that made me happy to be behind the camera instead of on a horse for the day.  Compared to the open trail challenge I visited in February, this took the intensity up a few notches into situations that only a very trusting horse would not turn heel on.   It was a lot of fun to watch each horse work through things with the cues from its rider, some braver than others, but all twenty teams coming through in the end.

Formed in 1981, the SNHA is a chapter of the national non-profit American Farrier’s Association, the only horseshoer’s association recognized abroad for its standards of education and testing.  President David Sierra and Treasurer Leroy “Doc” Daines are the only Certified Journeyman Farriers in southern Nevada, the highest level of certification within the AFA.  The standards at this level are so high that it is considered an equivalent to England’s governing standard which includes five years of mandatory college and apprenticeship in order to meet requirements for licensure.  The competition today for our local chapter will raise monies for the club to continue hosting educational clinics for local farriers.

Certified Farrier Rodney Ketelhut helped Daines and Sierra set the fun obstacle course inside the large covered arena, with five stations on a side.  Each horse and rider team would be collectively graded on how successfully and quietly they completed the obstacle, with minimal fuss scoring the most points.  In the first three stations, the rider would open and direct their horse through a gravity gate, adorned with a coiled neon snake and a bright hanging ball.  Next, a giant inflatable happy-face ball was to be rolled by either horse kicks or boot toe from one end of the enclosure to the other.  A few horses visibly enjoyed this exercise, kicking and biting at the giant rolling smile.  Third was the teeter ramp, complete with brightly colored swaths of faux fur that rippled in the morning breeze.  The ramp would bang down onto the ground on the other side once the horse crossed midway and the weight was transferred.  Fun!

Fourth in the queue was the ring lance, where four horseshoes were plucked from a rack, each one banging noisily on top of the next and then all tilted together into a bucket on the ground.  Following that was an ingenious design consisting of an oversized doll riding a tricycle at the end of a length of chain.  Facing the menacing child, the rider would draw the rolling trike toward the horse until it crossed the line.  It was hilarious to see the facial expressions on some of the horses, a mixture of curiosity and worry.  Some competitors used today's event to prepare for next week's Mounted Police Obstacle competition to be held at Horseman's Park on Saturday.  It's supposed to be several degrees harder than this!

The sixth obstacle was an audible challenge, where the riders used a pin-tipped pole to pop balloons along a ground track, one on either side of the horse.  Next came what I would consider the scariest obstacle, a giant shivering hanging ghost complete with boggling reflector eyes that was to be raised from the ground by the rider via an overhead pulley.  As the silver blob rose up and cleared the ground, its weight would cause it to shift and swing slightly toward the horse.  Any sudden backing up while the rider still had the rope would cause it to rise even more formidably, and I was surprised there were no real spooks at that station.  Kudos to all the contestants for even giving this one a try! 

The final obstacles included the flappiest components: donning a brightly colored poncho in front of the dressage mirror, then riding through the “car wash” with its canvas walls and hanging pool noodles rippling in the wind, and finally putting a custom garden hat onto each horse and riding from the arena.  Amusing to me was how some horses seemed non-plussed by the hardest of obstacles, yet could become unraveled by a flimsy poncho or having a hat put on.  Sarah McDougall and her horse “Ice” had no such difficulties. Everyone did a fantastic job and anyone who completed the course, regardless of how well they did in points, should feel a great sense of accomplishment.  Angela Fiato placed second overall in this her very first competition.   Keep an eye on the AVH calendar for more information on other horse & rider opportunities sponsored by the SNHA, such as a Farrier/Horse Owner clinic coming up in June and a Midnight Ride in August.  For all AVH photos from this event, visit the Other Event Pix gallery -> Special Events. 

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