He's a 16-year-old soccer star at Oklahoma Christian School. His partner is also 16, but less effective with a ball.
Together, Austin Halvorson and his chestnut-colored quarter horse, Cherry, are an effective team.
“It's a combination — I put in the time and effort, and she has too,” the Guthrie teen said Saturday, after his Top 10 finish in heeling at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association's world championship. “We're just reaping the benefits now.”
Halvorson and 800 other exhibitors, ranging in age from 6 to 18, wrapped up 10 straight days of exhibition and education this weekend at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.
With entries from nearly every state and from as far away as Sweden, the event capped off a year of local and regional competition for the participants. Dozens of prizes were awarded to winners and placers in categories ranging from showmanship to more traditional rodeo-style events.
In heeling, Halvorson and Cherry eased their way through preliminaries and semifinals, and ultimately finished 10th. He entered another mare into the heeling competition but didn't place.
Heeling accounts for half of a team roping event. The mounted cowboy competitor is tasked with lassoing a fleeing calf around the back legs. In this arena event, points are awarded not on roping style but in the responsiveness and positioning of the horse.
Halvorson, who competes about 10 times a year, has spent months training Cherry on good box behavior and how to react during and after the roping action. He has been competing in this event for three years, and in halter work — which focuses more on showmanship — since he was 9.
His father breeds and trains quarter horses in Guthrie, he said, and he's been riding since he was 3.
“I chose the quarter horse route because that's what my family raised me in,” he said. “I enjoy this more than rodeo anyway, because I like to make my horses look good instead of just run fast.”
The youth championship is about more than competitive riding and showing, said Landi Campbell, director of communications and special events for the American Quarter Horse Association.
Participants are taught work ethic and other life skills that extend beyond the show barn. Additional competitions were held in speech and judging, and experts hosted a variety of demonstrations.
“This is their Super Bowl,” she said. “All of these kids had to show all year long, earning points just to get an invitation. Just qualifying is a big accomplishment.”
The association has held its world championship in Oklahoma City for five years, Campbell said. A total of 2,407 entries were judged this year.