Horses of all sizes and breeds amassed on the Missouri State Fairgrounds beginning Thursday for the all-inclusive American Horseman Challenge Association National Finals that will conclude Sunday.
The events are being hosted in the Coliseum Building and in the MFA Youth Livestock Arena and have drawn 111 competitors from 10 different states.
Rhonda and Jeffery Lebbin, of Michigan, are founders of the event, now in its fifth year. Rhonda Lebbin said this is the third year the national finals have been hosted on the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
She added that the event is growing; last year they had only 60 competitors.
“Saturday and Sunday are our final rounds,” Lebbin noted. “The top 10 in each division will move on to compete for final awards and that gets pretty exciting.”
The horseman challenge is beneficial to both the horse and rider.
“We’re called the American Horseman Challenge, and it’s a horsemanship competition based on the horse and rider as a team,” Lebbin said. “Even though a lot of the stuff looks kind of bizarre, like a horse going through pool noodles, but when you are out trail riding, you go through thick brush and it brushes against your sides.”
The obstacles, whether it’s walking a horse through crinkling plastic, or attaching a noisy bell to a dryer hose and having the horse pull it along, to jumping over a pole, is all to simulate situations a horse and rider might encounter on a ranch or trail. It trains the horse to not become spooked at strange situations.
The AHCA includes all breeds in the competition.
“We are versatile for all breeds,” Lebbin added. “No one breed is going to excel over another. We’ve got cutting horses, we’ve got reining horses, we’ve got ponies, everything. So it keeps it even. It’s an all-breed. We’ve got a mule here this year.”
Due to the large number of competitors, Lebbin said they would be running competitions in both arenas Thursday and Friday.
“We’ll probably run eight to 10 hours (Thursday),” she added. “Then on Saturday and Sunday we will only run in the Coliseum. They will completely change the obstacles. They will bring all new obstacles and re-set the arena.”
At the end of the competitions Lebbin said winners will take home saddles, buckles, trophies and ribbons.
She added that the AHCA National Finals plan to be back on the fairgrounds next year.
“Absolutely,” Lebbin said. “We love this place and hopefully we’ll be even bigger next year.”
The American Horseman Challenge Association National Finals will continue through Sunday in the Coliseum Building at the Missouri State Fairgrounds. The public is welcome to attend.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.