A Year of Firsts

Good friends settle open reining championship in ride-off at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Morgan Knerr and Tyler Kirby ran off to determine the AQHA opening reining champion at the 2018 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Katie Navarra photo)

Morgan Knerr and Tyler Kirby ran off to determine the AQHA opening reining champion at the 2018 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Katie Navarra photo)

Western events became a celebration of “firsts” at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In IHSA competition, riders don't get a warm-up. They randomly draw a horse, mount up and head into the show pen. It takes confidence as much as it requires skill to succeed.

On May 4, Danielle Paulson was the first student from the University of Wisconsin to win the AQHA team open reining class. This school year was Danielle’s second on the team, but it was the first time she qualified for nationals.

“Last year, I had a rough go at semifinals, and making it back to nationals this year was an incredible opportunity,” said Danielle, who is from Rochester, Minnesota.

On May 5, Sarah Ricker became the first rider to represent Canadian school University of Guelph in the AQHA High-Point Rider class.

Phase A is a combination of rail and horsemanship work. Phase B, the next day, is a reining pattern. Sarah explained she had a unique journey to the IHSA National Finals.

“Our open rider quit partway through the season, so I’m filling in for the open reining,” she said. “This is all new to me but it’s so exciting to be here.”

First-year students Morgan Knerr, riding for University of Findlay and Tyler Kirby, representing Ohio State University, tied in open reining class with a 148, forcing a ride-off. While it’s the first trip to Nationals for both riders, it’s not the first time they’ve faced off. The two have been close friends and competitors throughout their youth careers.

“This is not the first time we’ve tied so it was kind of like a reunion,” Tyler said.

For the first ride, Morgan drew Broadway Blondie and Tyler drew My Gun Smokes. Judges required the two riders to swap horses and re-ride the same pattern. Before heading in to the pen, the two competitors shared tips and advice for having a successful ride on the horse they had already competed on.

“It was really neat watching these two offering tips to each other and genuinely wanting the other to ride well,” said Cheryl Moran, who owns My Gun Smokes and hauled the horse from Massachusetts so that students had an opportunity to ride a finished reining horse in the competition.

My Gun Smokes is a 2008 sorrel gelding by Colonels Smoking Gun and out of Miss Royal Fritz by Mr Royal Chippers. He was bred by Bryant L. Pace of Sanger, Texas.

Broadway Blondie is a 1993 palomino mare by A Spanish Token and out of Skips Webb by Skips Budd. She was bred and is owned by Phil B. Jenson of Albert Lea, Minnesota.

In the ride-off, Morgan’s 147.5 aboard My Gun Smokes won her the championship title and AQHA trophy saddle. Kirby finished reserve aboard Broadway Blondie with 146.5.

“It was really exciting to have a ride off against Tyler. I knew he’s a good rider and that he would have a good run,” Morgan said. “Broadway Blondie was so good, and we had a really good run our first one out. It was exciting to win.”

Classes May 5 included AQHA beginner horsemanship. Tori Gonzales from Ohio State University was named the national champion and Alexander Smith from St. Andrews University was reserve.