Ringside With Kara

AQHA exhibitor and blogger Kara Oldford reports from the Stars and Stripes and Big A circuits in Conyers, Georgia.

By Kara Oldford
The American Quarter Horse Journal
July 16, 2013

Cody Parrish and Bailey Anderson and Zippos Kat Man Do, photo by Kara Oldford

Cody Parrish of Pavo, Georgia, accompanies Bailey Anderson of Millsap, Texas, and Zippos Kat Man Do to the horsemanship pen. (Kara Oldford photo) Scroll down for more photos from the Big A Circuit.

The show must go on.

That saying was put to the test over the last 10 days in Conyers, Georgia, at the Stars and Stripes and Big A Circuits! Amidst monsoon rainfalls, muddy arenas and generally wild weather, the show went on. On the plus side, the rain kept the temperatures at a reasonable level, especially compared to last year’s days of 100-plus degrees!

The Mark Harrell Horse Show management team did a great job keeping the show moving, despite the less-than-ideal weather, and made sure everyone had fun. The exhibitor-friendly show was constantly providing complementary water and freezer pops in addition to boasting ice cream socials, an exhibitor party with dinner provided, breakfast in the mornings and even wifi! Although the amenities were great, there seemed to be a general consensus that the highlights of the show were the Trail Derby and the Huntfield AQHA Derby.

The Trail Derby on July 8, with open and non-pro divisions, featured a tough Tim Kimura-designed trail course with a twist. The exhibitors could walk the course, but could not practice. The course had many opportunities to score extra points, with a chance to choose harder bonuses or play it safe with smaller points. After a ride-off in the open division, AQHA Professional Horseman Whitney Lagace rode away with first place. Multiple world champion Whitney Walquist-Vicars of Cleburne, Texas, and her homebred gelding, Southwestern Gunman, were the champions of the non-pro.

Journal Editor Christine Hamilton brings you coverage from the Big A Circuit Trail Derby, which raised $7,400 for the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

I spoke with Whitney after her win and she said she thought it was unsettling that she could not practice before the class, but found comfort in the fact that no one else could practice, either. Although she had a strategy before the class, she changed her mind after watching the open exhibitors.

“At first, I thought I would try to play it safe and stay clean by mainly taking the easier paths and only try for one or two bonuses, but as I watched the open riders compete and the very beginning of the non-pro, I realized that if I wanted a chance to win, I needed to go for all the bonuses!” Whitney said. “I knew they would be challenging, but worth it if it all worked out. My dad and I decided it was either go big or go home!”

Whitney gave Tim kudos for designing the most challenging, but fun trail class she has ever competed in. Exhibitors and spectators alike enjoyed the pre-Trail Derby party and the unique spin on trail!

Just a few days and many rainstorms later, the Huntfield AQHA Derby also featured two divisions, the open and non-pro, which were both held in the 1996 Olympic stadium. The event drew a large crowd, many of which had never seen the stadium even after years of showing in Conyers! Jessica Johnson of Pickerington, Ohio, won the open class while Jillian Goldberg won the non-pro. Just one point behind the winner in the non-pro class was Ariel Herrin of Pisgah, Alabama. As if it wasn’t impressive enough to be second in such a prestigious event, it is an even bigger feat knowing that Ariel was in an ambulance just a few days before the event!

Ariel Herrin, complete with her arm sling, days
after her accident.

Ariel was thrown from a young horse on July 9 and was disappointed when she thought she would have to miss the Huntfield AQHA Derby on July 12. With a strained shoulder and bruised hip and back, Ariel started riding again on July 11,  hoping she might still have a chance to show. Although the doctors did not give her permission to ride, she found that it wasn’t too painful to jump. Sporting a sling when she wasn’t riding, Ariel enlisted some help to get her horse ready for the event.

“My injury definitely played a huge roll in my preparation. I usually do all of my own riding, but we wanted to make sure my horse was nice and soft so as to not (stress) anything, so my mom cantered him around in the morning before (AQHA Professional Horseman) Linda Crothers schooled him around the course for the regular over fences classes that day,” Ariel said. “I showed that day, and admittedly I was still stiff. By the time I practiced in the stadium, though, I felt prepared.”

When the evening came around and another storm threatened the Derby, Ariel and her horse, Challaging Details, were ready and rode to a second-place finish.

“Showing in the Grand Prix arena may be my favorite horse show experience! It was just awesome to show in the same arena that so many legendary horses have been. The course designer laughed before it started, saying that if you usually held your breathe during a course, you would be in trouble today because of the length of this one. He was right! I thought it was really relaxing to have so much room in between the jumps. It was so much fun!”

Read the Journal's coverage from the Huntfield AQHA Derby at the Big A Circuit, complete with results and a slideshow.

The Trail and Huntfield AQHA derbies definitely added excitement to the show, but weren’t to be outdone by some impressively large classes and countless opportunities to have fun. People were thrilled to watch the annual painted pony contest, the dog show and be a part of the Custom Tails Team Tournament. This year’s winning team, consisting of an amateur, youth and Novice exhibitor, included Courtney Sutloff, Kamiah McGraff and Kelsey Moody.

The show may be over, but our tack and show clothes are still drying off!

High-point winners from the Big A Circuit (provided by Mark Harrell Horse Shows) were:

•    Novice amateur – Call Me A Hottie shown by Caroline Cavallo
•    Select amateur – Impulsive Grace shown by Lynn Agee
•    Amateur – Southwestern Gunman shown by Whitney Walquist-Vicars
•    Novice youth – Royality In Blue shown by Maria George
•    13-&-under youth – They Call Me Jake shown by Kamiah McGrath
•    14-18 youth – Remarkable Can shown by Rachel Kolb
•    Open – Cool Movin Lady owned by Jessica Baird

View complete results from the Big A Circuit at www.markharrellhorseshows.com/bigapage.

Ronnie and Vickie Kent of Graceville, Florida, watch their grandson, Justin Clay Arrington, compete in the horsemanship. (Kara Oldford photo)

ABOUT OUR BLOGGER: Kara Oldford of Croswell, Michigan, is no stranger to the AQHA winners circle. Knocking out year-end high-point awards in youth hunt seat equitation, showmanship and horsemanship in 2008 with the late Im Shy But Deluxe, Kara and "Travis" earned the 2008 AQHA youth all-around high-point title. Amid many more world show finishes and year-end awards, Kara and Im Shy But Deluxe worked their way to the 2010 amateur showmanship world championship. The former AQHA marketing intern now competes with Willy Be Lazy.