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From Green as Grass to Champs

Krystal Meade was the Northern Alberta Reined Cow Horse Club's 2016 Green As Grass Rein-Box Reserve Champion with her horse, Herc. Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman/Have-Dog-Will-Travel Photography

------------------------------- When I dreamt up the “Influencers” series, I was thinking about people, horses and organizations that positively impact the horse industry. As many of you know, I am a huge supporter of beginner and novice competitors and I’m always on the lookout for organizations and people that are not only catering to that level of competitor but celebrating them at the same time. The Northern Alberta Reined Cow Horse Club (NARCHC), based in Alberta, Canada, is an association that is definitely doing just that. The NARCHC has a whole-industry outlook and approach to supporting the entire pyramid that I find unique and invaluable. I spoke with their president, Jocelyn Williams, to get a further insight into how the club is fostering positivity and support for various aspects of the performance horse industry. ------------------------------- President Jocelyn Williams says, “the strongest part of our club is that we give novice cow horse competitors a place to learn and grow. To me, the growing is the most important part, I don’t think they want to be in the beginner classes for too long. We want to give these competitors an opportunity to ride the horse they have now. They may find the opportunity to develop the skills of that horse, or they may move that horse into a more suitable career and find themselves a more suitable cow horse. We want them to enjoy the process and move through the ranks, enjoy the sport, enjoy their horse, and enjoy everything it has to offer.” The NARCHC is a currently not sanctioned by the National Reined Cow Horse Association, and as such they have liberal rules and class structures which make it easier for beginners to tip their toes into the proverbial pool of cow horse.

The Green As Grass classes, including cutting, rein/box and cow horse, allow non pro riders to compete who have less than $1000 LTE in any judged cow horse event. Williams explains, “The Green As Grass classes allow you to ride in one or two hands in any legal AQHA bit, you aren’t restricted to the cow horse bridle. We also have the Ranch Hand class, that has the same bit requirements, that is set up more for young trainers. These trainers don’t want to compete against those big time open trainers. It’s hard to hang your shingle when you have to compete against those guys, some of which are world champions. We kept the class structure more open for these riders because you can ride your horse in something other than cow horse equipment." There is also the Step Up Rein/Box class, which is for riders who have either earned under $750 down the fence, or riders over 50 years of age who have stepped back from the fence work. "We’ve also added limited classes, so once you are done Green As Grass, if you are still not thinking you want to step into the cow horse age classes, and aren’t ready for the bridle, you can go to the limited class like the Step Up Rein/Box class, ride your experienced horses in any of the approved cow horse equipment, regardless of age, and enjoy the competition.” For those that wish to go down the fence in regulation cow horse equipment, there is a $2,000 Limit Rider Cow Horse class as well.

The bridle component of cow horse is often nerve-wracking for beginner riders, Williams notes. “It’s interesting being around the novice riders because they can be so nervous about putting their horse in the bridle. It’s an expense. The rider will learn more about their hands, how to communicate without causing problems for your horse, it’s part of the whole learning curve. We try to provide enough room to get it, learn it, have fun and show your horse.”

Reese Ostroski, of XJ Horses, is an open rider who utilizes the liberal class structure of the NARCHC. Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman/Have-Dog-Will-Travel Photography

The NARCHC has encouraged their novice riders from the beginning. “It’s been the main goal. [NRCHA open competitor] Clint Swales was one of the first open riders that was with our club. He would stand on the fence and coach every rider that came in the pen if they asked, and sometimes when they didn’t. Green As Grass or Youth riders, it didn’t matter, he was coaching through each phase, cutting, rein, and then boxing or fence. We have several other open riders bringing their clients along to our shows now. Dustin Grams is another great coach who spends a lot of time on a horse or the fence mentoring the novice riders. Dustin has gone one step further and is also a part of the board. Our open riders do an awesome job of encouraging and coaching these Green As Grass riders so that they feel better about what they are doing and have confidence while they are doing it.” Williams credits the atmosphere of the club, and the forward-thinking initiatives of the board for what has grown the NARCHC. “Our board is truly amazing, they have great ideas and they are willing to take the reins to run with those ideas. We all have the same vision for where the club should go. Our entire club is a group of people that wants to have fun with our horses.” Williams jokes, “I mean, you can hardly win enough money to pay your fuel bill to go to a show, so you better be having fun, enjoy your friends and learning something!” The club bolsters the confidence of beginners while catering to open riders as well, Williams says this balance is the only way to continue to grow the club, and sport of cow horse. “The ability to support our open riders and their clients so that they want to participate here is also very important for our club. The beginner levels will not grow without the support of open riders coaching and mentoring them.” Reese Ostroski of XJ Horses trains out of Turner Valley, Alberta and has been actively showing in the NARCHC since 2015 in open cow horse classes. In 2015 he was Reserve Champion Snaffle Bit, in 2016 he followed that up with a championship in the Open Snaffle Bit and last year he was the Open Two Rein Champion.Reese Ostroski of XJ Horses trains out of Turner Valley, Alberta and has been actively showing in the NARCHC since 2015 in open cow horse classes. In 2015 he was Reserve Champion Snaffle Bit, in 2016 he followed that up with a championship in the Open Snaffle Bit and last year he was the Open Two Rein Champion. "I find the club atmosphere to be a great place to show as I grow as a trainer in cow horse. The club is well organized, embraces new trainers, and the shows have good turn out. Added money in year end shows like the Futurity/Derby and the Extreme Cow Horse attract a great group of open and non pro riders looking to showcase their horses' talents. They have chosen excellent facilities such as the Calnash Ag Centre in Ponoka, Alberta, for a majority of their shows making it a no brainer choice when I'm showing. I'm excited to see the club grow, and am looking forward to show with them going forward."

Krystal Meade and Herc boxing a cow during the Green As Grass Rein/Box Finals in Ponoka, Alberta. Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman/Have-Dog-Will-Travel Photography.

Krystal Meade, of Millarville, Alberta, started showing at NARCHC shows a few seasons ago, at the time she was newer to horses and had never shown previously, in 2016 she captured the reserve champion title in the Green As Grass Rein/Box class. "I found showing with the club to be super inviting, friendly and fun. The class structure allowed me to show my horse, regardless of sanctioning, as there was a class I could compete in with my gelding. I like that the fees are affordable, and the year end prizes are always really nice." The club's inclusive atmosphere was another draw for Meade, "the open riders and trainers that attend the shows are also really supportive, offering help and coaching at practice sessions and during the show warm ups and breaks. Plus, the club works year round to develop riders through lesson and clinic series, which is another great way to develop skills and stay in touch with the club through the off season."

The NARCHC hosts a year end show in Ponoka, Alberta that includes aged events, and the Extreme Cow Horse Competition, modelled after World’s Greatest Horseman. “We build our year focusing on the year end show. We have developed good sponsorship bases for the futurity and derby to encourage all competitors stay in Alberta instead of going across the border. We keep the show fun for both a spectator and competitor by challenging their skills in the Extreme Cow Horse Competition followed up with Trailer Loading and Team Doctoring for some good laughs. It’s really hard to compete with the money and prestige of winning something across the border so we try to create an event where our members want to compete.”

Meade agrees with Williams, "the creativity that has gone into the year end final shows is a great end to every season. Adding the extreme cowhorse competition, team doctoring and trailer loading events makes the weekend really fun for spectators, and allows newer members to see some awesome cow horse and set personal goals at the same time." ”NARCHC holds an annual stallion auction for fundraising purposes, and this year was another success. “We need to support the stallion owners who are doing their part in supporting growth of our equine industry. The babies from these great stallions may be your next champion in any of the equine sports but of course our focus is the cow horse. A percentage of our funds is set aside for the offsprings’ futurity year. Any foal sired by any of the stallions that sold in our auction will be eligible and the high earning foal will receive the incentive in 2022. The stallion owner also gets a percentage of the funds back. 2019 is set to be the first time the incentive money will be a side pot of the futurity and we are very excited about it.”

Williams says that supporting the breeding industry is just another way the NARCHC can grow their sport and keep support in the club. “This year we had just one stallion that was not Canadian owned, Call Me Mitch, and 90% of those stallions were from Alberta. We are trying to support the industry that supports us. It’s not much, but we are proud do this for them.” Williams continues, "Mary Ann Finley has been with the club as a founding board member. The founding board members are responsible for a lot of the success of the club and she has been able to bring their vision forward. With the support of Deanna Lonsberry, they started this auction in 2015 with a format to give back to those taking the risk." Social media has also boosted the reach of the club, "Using Social media the club is able to promote, educate and inform. Our social media people are excellent, we are lucky to have these people in our board team. They make sure that everything is up to date and they get the information out to our membership and beyond.”

It’s the atmosphere of the NARCHC that has the members hooked. “I would say that we have fun all weekend long,” says Williams. “Last year we hosted three club-sponsored BBQ’s at different shows so that people can socialize. Sometimes you don’t always get a chance to meet everybody while on a horse. When competing you are so wrapped up in when you have to be ready, one doesn’t always have time to see those other classes. It’s just another way for people to meet each other outside of the show pen in a positive environment. The atmosphere of our club is my favourite part. It doesn’t matter at which level, whether we’re watching the open riders first thing in the cutting classes or watching the last class of the day, our members are always out there having a good time and someone is always cheering them on. It’s just good.”

Reese Ostroski, of XJ Horses, circles a cow during the NARCHC's year end show. Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman/Have-Dog-Will-Travel Photography.

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