The Rundown: A Friendly Face

Before contestants can vie for cash, glory and fame at Battle in the Saddle, presented by RFD-TV, they first need to make it past AQHA Steward Doug Householder.

By Tara Christiansen
The American Quarter Horse Journal
July 7, 2011

AQHA Steward Doug Householder directs a Battle in the Saddle contestant to his stall

AQHA Steward Doug Householder directs a Battle in the Saddle contestant to his stall. Journal photo.

When contestants check into Battle in the Saddle at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City, they’re more than likely greeted by the friendly face of AQHA Steward Doug Householder.

Aside from Doug, who hails from College Station, Texas, contestants are also likely to be greeted by AQHA Judge and Steward Karen McCuistion of Wilson, Oklahoma.

“We’re wearing two hats here – we’re doing two things,” Doug says. “We are doing our normal stewarding activities, but since the health regulations were so critical at this show, because of the (equine herpesvirus outbreak, AQHA) asked us if we could stay at the gate for two out of three shifts of the day while the majority of horses are coming in.”

Doug and Karen run the health check-in entry point at Battle in the Saddle. As AQHA stewards, in general, they wear multiple hats.
“We do about four different things,” Doug explains. “We are responsible to maintain the welfare of the horses that are at the show – that’s the main thing we do. The next thing that we do is quality control and we make sure that the competitors conduct themselves and show their horses in a professional way. The third thing is that we do is be on the front line with people who come to watch, and we answer questions and help them understand what’s going on (at the show). The fourth thing is help new exhibitors have a good experience, and inform them of the show procedures and proper equipment.” 

In light of the EHV-1 outbreak, AQHA and State Fair Park are taking every precaution to ensure horse health at the 2011 Battle in the Saddle. Horses being checked in for the show must have current health certificates and Coggins papers at the entry check point.

“We’ve had some (people checking in) who have been really organized, and some who are on the other side of that, too,” Doug says.

“We had one lady, interesting enough, who took a lot of time explaining to us a horse that was in a particular stall in the trailer, not realizing that there wasn’t a horse there, but three or four bales of hay and shavings and things like that.”

Doug’s stories don’t end there.

“We had one professional trainer come in, for example, who had about 10 horses, I believe, on his trailer and about two other trailers that were behind him with his associate trainers driving them. As we went down through his trailer, looking at the trailer, we got to one horse and he said, ‘That horse should not even be making this trip – that customer hasn’t paid his bill in three months That horse isn’t even supposed to be on the trailer!’ He just kind of laughed and shook his head.
“Obviously this is a serious situation,” Doug notes, “but what Karen and I have both noticed is that the people who have come through here have been very, very, very cooperative and friendly.

“The ropers have really been the best – they’ve had things in perfect order. One guy from Nebraska was just perfect – he got out, knew exactly what was going to happen. He gave me his papers, I put them on my clipboard, and he went stall by stall and he said, ‘This is –’ and called them by name and was like, ‘This is a dun mare, she’s got markings on her face, markings on her legs, here are her Coggins paper, they were done here,’ and we went right on down the line for eight horses, and I checked every one of them off.”

Some other issues that Doug has noticed is competitors having the wrong horses on the trailer, not having the proper papers with the horses, having papers out of order, or having them in another vehicle an hour or two behind.

“We don’t want to make people wait here, but we can’t let horses in that haven’t been checked,” Doug explains. “I think that’s one of the things that’s beneficial about having people working here who have shown and understand this – we’re horsemen, too. It’s hot – it’s 100 degrees today. If we have a situation where a trailer comes in and we need to hold it, we just have them back into the warm-up arena under the shed (in the shade). We’ve tried to be as accommodating as we could.

“Since there are so many ropers, cutters and cow horses around Oklahoma City, we’ve had quite a few people just park out here (in the parking lot) who have just ridden in. But they don’t think about it because they’re riding and they think, ‘They can see that my horse is healthy, and they can see everything about him,’ but they still need to have their Coggins papers and their health papers stuck in their pocket, whether they’re riding in or driving in.”

Even though several competitors forgot their current health papers, Doug says that with modern technology, the stewards are able to remedy the situation.

“One of the things that we’re fortunate with in this day and age of technology is let’s say that somebody has forgot (their health papers) and as long as they’ve got the name of their veterinarian and a telephone number and if they give us permission, right from here we can call the veterinarian and if he says, ‘Yes, I’m looking at the health papers right here,’ and if we get a verbal OK, he can scan the papers in and email, and we can get the email right on our phone, and he can fax them in.”

Obviously, that situation is less than ideal, but Doug says that it’ll do in a pinch.

Fortunately, though, Doug says that he hasn’t encountered anyone who wasn’t aware that horses need health papers.

As a word of advice, Doug suggests that contestants checking in have their horses’ registration papers readily available, even though they’re not required at that point, in addition to the health papers.

“The biggest thing we’ve seen is that there are two kinds of Coggins papers: one is color Coggins paperwork where basically everything is typed up on a computer and it’s all very clear, the other is the old yellow ones that are on really flimsy (carbon) paper. If the veterinarian doesn’t write really hard (through the carbon paper), his paper and the (pink) copy for the lab will be fine, but the copy that they give to us, in a lot of case, it didn’t come through. So if people have their registration papers, too, from the three pieces of papers we can get all of the information that we need. You don’t need the registration papers here – you will at the registration office when you check in – but it’s a good backup with the horse’s markings, just in case they don’t show up on the yellow Coggins paper.”

It was Doug and Karen, along with Dr. John McCarroll, who established the check-in protocol for proper show biosecurity.

Karen worked at the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association’s Redbud Spectacular on June 1-12 at State Fair Park, Doug says, and the Redbud’s check-in protocol was where Doug and Karen found their inspiration. From there, they’ve added a few more procedures with Dr. McCarroll’s help.

Doug and Karen each work eight- to nine-hour shifts.

“We’ve tried to look at the schedule to figure out when people are going to be coming in, and typically different groups will arrive at different times, but in a fairly probable pattern,” Doug says. “There have been different times when we know that it’s going to be really slow that we just have one person here, but in a lot of cases, what we do, for example, when the ropers all had to be entered and checked in the night before (they competed), we had two, and sometimes even three, people working so that we could be checking trailers all at the same time. But I don’t think anybody has had to wait much over five minutes to get a trailerload of horses done.”

The American Quarter Horse Journal is on the road at the 2011 Battle in the Saddle. For more event coverage, check out Journal on the Road on americashorsedaily.com.