Friday, June 7, 2013

Quest for the Best

Mule Wins the Quest for the Best Challenge
By: Shannon St. Clair Hoffman, St. Clair Red Mule Farm

Last year I started taking lessons from my long time friend Linda Hoover. With her help Seven and I have improved our riding and refinement.  After one of our lessons she asked me if my mule Lucky Number Seven would be available to compete in the Quest for the Best Challenge on April 13, 2013. I said yes and was very excited about him participating!

The Quest for the Best Challenge is a local Southern Pines fundraiser for the Companion Animal Spay and Neuter Program in the area.  Well-known riders from the area compete, and people pay to vote and also Calcutta the riders to raise money. 

The challenge is to ride a dressage test and then an obstacle course, judged on refinement, partnership and versatility of the riders and equines.

Linda had some trouble finding a rider willing to take on the challenge of riding Seven in the event. All the other riders would be using their own horses, so it was an added challenge to do well riding someone else’s mount, much less a mule!

Time was running short and I started thinking that Seven might not be able to compete. Linda called with the good news that Dr. Jock Tate was willing to ride Seven in the Challenge.  I was very excited because I used to work with Dr. Tate at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine where is a respected equine surgeon and he is an experienced and excellent rider! 

We met at Reflections Farm in Vass for the first practice session. I gave Dr. Tate some cookies and told him how important it was for him to make friends with Seven and gain his trust.

Dr. Tate impressed me with his horsemanship and the two had a great start toward a winning partnership!  The first practice was a little riding, but mostly working with the obstacles. Dr. Tate quickly realized that this was not a problem for Seven.

For the last 6 years I have been competing with Seven in a host of events including Cowboy Races, Trail Obstacle Competitions, and ACTHA. Seven has grown in his training and confidence and will now tackle nearly any obstacle with confidence! Over the years we have won some big competitions and even a high point buckle. But how well would he do with a new rider?

Dr. Tate made the long drive to my house several times to ride Seven for some more practice. He also took some dressage lessons from a successful dressage trainer. Dr. Tate has successfully shown and ridden jumpers and foxhunters all his life, but dressage would be a new challenge!

The week before the show I felt like they needed a little more practice together so I let Dr. Tate take Seven to his farm for a few days.  In the ten years I have owned Seven he has never been away from me so it was a big decision! But who better to send your mule off with than an Equine Veterinary Surgeon?

While Seven was at the Tates’ place he settled right in and went to work on the nice green grass. He had his own run in shed and some equine neighbors. Dr. Tate told me that his farrier showed up at the farm and upon seeing Seven in the pasture, quickly announced that he “Did not shoe mules!”  We all got a good laugh out of that one! 

Dr. Tate took Seven out on a hack with a small group and Seven walked out in his quick ground covering flat walk across the fields. Dr. Tate said he was just enjoying the ride and looked back after a little while and realized that Seven had left the group of long legged fox hunting horses in the dust!

I came down the night before and we went to the Hotel Jefferson in down town Southern Pines for the party and introduction of the riders. Each rider had a costume and a theme song for the introduction.  Dr. Tate was the Mad Hatter! Many of us put on rabbit ears and did the bunny hop too! It was great fun!

After the party Dr. Tate, his wife Kathryn, our friend Diane and I walked down to a local restaurant.  He went in full costume and I had my rabbit ears on. Boy did we get some funny looks at the restaurant, but that made it all the more fun!

The next morning I cleaned Seven up and did some last minute clipping and we trailered over to Reflections Farm in Vass, NC.  I got Seven tacked up while Dr. Tate went to the riders’ meeting.
Soon they were starting their dressage test. I don’t think I breathed during the whole thing but they put in a good test!  People seemed to be impressed with his test and I was just happy they got the right lead they had been having problems with.

The Obstacle part was next. It involved things like dismounting and picking up a stuffed animal dog and delivering it to a Vet, re-mounting, opening a gate, trotting between boulders on a black mat, backing out of a chute, and crossing a bridge.  At one point Dr. Tate did an obstacle out of order. This was a big let down because they were doing everything so well.  He had to take a zero on that obstacle, and was not disqualified, but it was a double pointed obstacle and that was a big hit.  We headed back to the trailer a little down but I was still so excited about how well the two had ridden together!

At awards time I was surprised when Seven and Dr. Tate won the People’s Choice award! We were very excited about that because people had to pay $1 per vote and he had over 500 votes!

Then the Awards were given out for the placing in the Quest. I knew that he would get at least a 5th place since one of the other competitors had some other major problems on the course. So when he did not get 5th I thought, ok, 4th that is pretty good. Not 4th, wow then 3rd then, nope not 3rd, so I was thinking, wow he got 2nd place?  Nope, their names where not called. I was counting the group and I realized he was the only one left right as they announced that Dr. Tate and Seven were the winners of the Quest! 

His score on the Obstacle course was so good that he had just enough points to still win the whole event!  What fun to pin all those ribbons on Seven and watch them take a victory gallop!

I am so proud of Seven for being so willing and responsive to Dr. Tate’s cues and being so trusting of him so quickly! 

Link to the video of the competition:

United States Refined Horsemanship Association   

Linda Hoover

Practice Session

Seven's special hair cut 

The competitors

Dressage Test

On Obstacle Course

TEAM TATE - Dr. Tate, Seven, Shannon and Kathryn Tate

Mom and Dad came all the way down to show their support

Taking Victory Gallop

Seven looks rather pleased with himself

Dr. Tate as the Mad Hatter! 

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