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Versatile Horse and Rider Success! (Part One)

Published: 11/24/2009
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Read this marvelous account of this competition at the Equine Affaire.
Here is the first of three installments.
Click here for Part Two
Click here for Part Three
For more information on Sherrye and Sable Oak Equestrian Center, click here.

By Sherrye Johnson-Trafton

It was November 2007, three years ago, after a busy schedule of exhibiting Gypsy Horses for a client; I excitedly watched the finals of the Equine Affaire’s Versatile Horse & Rider Competition with another Mainer, my friend and fellow Findlay College alum, Stacey Westfall.

We were both enjoying the show. Stacey turned to me and said, “We could have SO much fun doing this.” Oh yes, I was already thinking the same thing!
I had been asked by the AQHA Region 6 organizers to bring a horse for the 2008 QH Breed Demo. I became extremely excited with the prospect of tying the breed demo in with the versatility competition. I knew it would be a challenge but thinking about the whole idea got me thinking about my dad.

My father loved to take me to horse shows when I was in my early teens. He loved watching me compete in speed events. He was not as fond of the classes that took place on the rail but he sure was proud with everything I accomplished in the show ring.
My dad, Bob Johnson, died of cancer ten years ago.
I still have my father’s fiery red sorrel mare “Catari,” who we call Cat. I thought if I worked hard and trained for this event, it would be a great tribute to her abilities and to my Dad.
Cat was a team penning horse, but after Dad’s death, I trained her on poles and barrels, as well as to be my “Head pony horse” at my facility, Sable Oak Equestrian Center in Brunswick, Maine.
From trail rides at Acadia National Park, to the beach rides at Popham, Cat loves to do it all. Cat has been instrumental in ponying rogue stallions and horses of multiple breeds. She is always very steady and willing to do or go through almost anything!
To prepare for the Equine Affaire, I also did many other things that sometimes make my friends and fellow trainers roll their eyes. If I can think it up and it is scary, fuzzy, wiggly, bubbly, lights up, blows smoke, moves, or “moos”, I put in my routines. Some might say I’d lost my mind but it has helped get me the top scores in this event. As long as I would not injure or endanger my horse or myself, I gave it a try!
Last year, I competed in the Versatile Horse and Rider Competition on Cat. She was 22 years old, and we had the fastest and cleanest preliminary round the first night. What a blast that ride was!
With two piloting errors in the finals, I placed 5th out of thirty.
I was so proud of Cat. She was great and loved every minute of the competition! I also rode her in the QH breed demo that year, showing off her barrel racing skills. It is always a rush to take that fast lap around the coliseum carrying our American flag!

After last year, I approached my client Brittany Welch, to see if she would consider letting me train her 9-year-old Bay gelding, “Sip It While It’s Hot” aka “Slick”, for this year’s competition.
Brittany not only gave her blessing but her family and cousins sponsored my entry fee for the event as well. This was great news, but it was off to work for Slick, Cat and me.
I trained and conditioned the horses through this spring and summer and took Slick and Cat to numerous QH shows. Slick had been a great beginner mount for many students and that summer he carried Lauren Glancy and Morgan McDonough to walk trot and novice youth championships respectively. Slick also works as a lesson horse at Sable Oak with students of all ages and abilities.
I attribute Cat and Slick’s great abilities to the fact I train often, teach lessons off both horses and expose them to as much as I can; including field and hill work. This rounds out most of my routines and keeps all of my horses physically and mentally fit.
I attribute Cat and Slick’s great abilities to the fact I train often, teach lessons off both horses and expose them to as much as I can; including field and hill work. This rounds out most of my routines and keeps all of my horses physically and mentally fit.
To prepare for the Equine Affaire, I also did many other things that sometimes make my friends and fellow trainers roll their eyes. If I can think it up and it is scary, fuzzy, wiggly, bubbly, lights up, blows smoke, moves, or “moos”, I put in my routines. Some might say I’d lost my mind but it has helped get me the top scores in this event. As long as I would not injure or endanger my horse or myself, I gave it a try!
Several times a week I would make up a new and different obstacle to try. I would work on that obstacle until I got it right and could do it with ease. As I prepared I tried to imagine what obstacles might be presented in this year’s competition. I did this religiously every week. Both Slick and Cat had much of October off except for being lunged and/or backed by the students, this was just to keep them legged up and fit since I was gone most of that month working at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. I was home for a few days the end of October and then had to go to Oklahoma City to take my NRHA judges renewal test.

Next week: All that training is put to the test!


View Reader Comments:

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11/25/2009 Frannie Burridge
I had a chance to watch the first go round of the Versatility Challenge at the Equine Affair and I must say, Sherrye did a wonderful job of preparing her horse for this event.
11/25/2009 Chake Higgison, Brunswick
Nice to have Sherrye as a contributor; can't wait for the next two installments. Fun to read of her work with Catari and reflect that it was 10 years ago this Thanksgiving that my husband and I took lessons from Sherrye at Sable Oaks. Her Dad had just died, it was a very hard time for her and yet she was a generous instructor, as always. The hook for my husband was she put him on Catari, the horse with the liquid dreamy eyes, and for my husband is was love at first mount. He had never ridden but with Catari underseat his natural riding ability took hold, and we went on to purchase, ride and love two horses of our own. I realize this is a long comment but its a tribute to Sherrye that she can train champions but also get folks comfortable in a saddle who " swore it was not their thing". So back to the comment at hand, can't wait for the next two installments.
11/27/2009 Julie
My husband and I had the great experience of watching all three rounds of the versatility competition at this year's Equine Affaire. By far, it was the most technically challenging-looking of the three years they have been putting it on. On the first evening, my husband thought he heard the announcer introduce a student of Sherrye Johnson-Trafton from Brunswick. We were excited to watch the english-dressed rider negotiate her english-style horse around the very challenging obstacles and do so well. The following evening, I recognized Sherrye in her western attire riding Cat and so we cheered her on very enthusiastically. We debated and felt that she had to have made it to the final go-round the following morning. Sunday morning came and we quickly found two seats and started checking out the new set of obstacles for the finals. As we were watching the contestants, I recognized the horse from the first evening that we thought was ridden by a student of Sherrye's. As we watched the event and the horse and rider came near us, I thought perhaps that it was Sherrye herself...we weren't quite sure...so we debated in whispers as we continued to watch the fabulous horse and rider team compete. Cheering, clapping, hootin' and hollarin' was at times deafening, especially near the end of each horse and rider's turn and every one of them deserved it. But it was as this "Sherrye student" left the arena and was given a big hug and kiss by John Trafton that I started laughing and knew for sure that Sherrye had ridden two horses in this competition. My husband and I debated how big of an advantage Sherrye might have had being able to take two horses through, but we came to the conclusion that preparing two very different horses and having double the stress probably far outweighed any advantage she might have had. I won't give anything away on the outcome of the event, but look forward to reading Sherrye's perspective on the competition.

   
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