Goal Accomplished

These AQHA Horseback Riding Program members achieve the 5,000-hour level.

From America’s Horse

Sherri Ross starts off nearly every new year the same way. She and friends from the Indiana Trail Riders Association roast a hog at Salmonie River State Forest in Indiana and spend New Year’s Day socializing, eating and, of course, trail riding.

“A day of trail riding is always fun; getting to see, talk and ride with friends and meet new people is always a good day,” Sherri says.

She has spent many days doing just that in the 11 years since joining the AQHA Horseback Riding Program. In fact, she has racked up more than 5,000 hours in the saddle, earning her the program’s highest recognition, as well as a Montana Silversmiths buckle.

Do you love trail riding and want to be rewarded for your hours on the trail? Enroll in the AQHA Horseback Riding Program today!

Lifelong Love

Sherri, who lives near Huntington, Indiana, says she has always loved horses. Sherri got her first horse when she was 8. She participated in 4-H horse club events as a youngster and showed in some local horse shows, as well. But, she says, once she started trail riding, she found her true love.

“The thrill of being up on this big, 1,200-pound animal, exploring nature out on the trail is unlike anything else,” Sherri says. “There is nothing like being out in the woods and seeing nature from the back of a horse. You see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise notice.”

When she discovered the Horseback Riding Program in 1997, she joined without hesitation.

“It was only 25 bucks, and I thought it was a pretty cheap investment for the rewards I’ve gotten,” Sherri says.

The 5,000-hour achievement is the highest level, but the awards start with a $25 Drysdales gift certificate at only 50 logged hours.

“Everybody that sees my belt buckle is impressed, and when I tell them the award level I’ve achieved, they’re just amazed,” she says.

Debbie Peters of Elizabeth, Colorado, also earned her 5,000-hour achievement in 2008. She has been working toward that goal since the program began in 1991 and says the reason she joined the program was to earn rewards for time spent in the saddle.

“It was something that I, as a non-shower, could complete in, with a limited amount of time and actually get rewards,” Debbie explains. “It was a lot of fun actually seeing how many hours I did ride.”

Debbie, too, has been a horse lover all her life, but just in recent years has found more time to devote to her passion. At 57, the “retired homemaker,” as she puts it, has found a group of gals that enjoys riding as much as she does.

“We are all in different fields, but we finally have time at this stage in our lives to go places for long trail rides.”

Debbie has participated in many horse activities, including pair pacing, endurance riding and cow work. But the other women who trail ride with her, usually between and four and 10 depending on the trip, compete in everything from cutting to jumping.

“What has brought us together is the love of the horse, especially Quarter Horses,” Debbie says.

Think you have what it takes to earn the 5,000-hour award today? Enroll in the AQHA Horseback Riding Program today and get rewarded for your hours on the trail!

Facing Challenges

Earning a belt buckle hasn’t come without challenges.

“Fifteen years ago,” Debbie says, “I was working a 2-year-old when she fell with me, and I got a concussion. It took me 10 years to get over the mental block of loping in a small circle.”

Also, in spring 2008, Debbie broke her collarbone when she fell off one of her horses.

“It’s a challenge just getting through the fear and getting back on and working though it,” she says. “That’s where my friends have really helped encourage me.”

Sherri, too, has faced adversity during the last decade that she has spent working toward this goal. She worked as a manager of a feed store, but it went out of business, leaving her jobless. She says she worked some odd jobs and drew unemployment pay until she could find something more permanent. With four horses to feed, she says, she always put their needs first. Luckily, she found her current job as assistant manager of an auto parts store.

Throughout the rough times, she never gave up horseback riding. Sherri says riding always relaxes her, especially in nearby Salamonie River State Forest, only 17 miles from her home.

Her favorite memories of riding in the state forest are when she and her horse must cross water. Her American Quarter Horse, Bills Tiger, is a beautiful light palomino color, Sherri explains. And yet, when her friends’ horses tiptoe around or hesitate to cross muddy water, “Dozer,” as they’ve nicknamed him, slops right through it.

Debbie also enjoys crossing water and says one of the best times ever was when she and some friends crossed a river in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and the horses had to swin.

“The water was over our heads,” she says. “That just felt awesome.”

It’s times like that when, Debbie says, she feels most humbled by this achievement.

“I don’t deserve this recognition; it’s my horses who do all the work.”

She also stresses that no one is ever too old to ride and learn something new every day.

“That’s my motto: learn something new about your horse and about riding every day.”

Read about other 5,000-hour award winners in the May America’s Horse, an issue dedicated exclusively to recreational riders.