Riders from 49 states and nine countries are competing for $3.2 million in prize money in the American Quarter Horse Association's World Championship Show, which continues through Saturday at State Fair Park.
The competition features world-class horses and riders participating in some of the most challenging equestrian disciplines.
The show culminates on Saturday night with the finals of senior working cow horse, senior western pleasure, junior western riding and awarding of the title of “Superhorse” — the AQHA's equivalent of an MVP.
This year, the association offered two new classes of competition, ranch pleasure and boxing. The simple pattern of ranch pleasure allows riders to demonstrate their horses' handling, willingness and versatility. Boxing requires horse and rider to manage a single cow at one end of the arena.
Jim Bret Campbell, senior director of marketing and publications for the association, said that in recent years there has been an effort to broaden the base of the competition and open the show to new possibilities.
“I think that's really the philosophy of the AQHA,” said Jim Bret Campbell Senior Director of Marketing and Publications for AQHA. “Our horses are the most versatile in the world, so our association also needs to be versatile. “
Thirteen-year-old Hunter Bryant came all the way from Okeechobee, Fla., to compete at the World Show in the ranch pleasure class. Hunter managed to qualify, even though there's not yet an amateur or youth division. That meant he had to compete against adults, most of whom had been in the saddle a lot longer. It turns out his 4H experience gave him an advantage, according to this grandmother Suzanna Rucks, who came to Oklahoma City with him.
“4-H has ranch riding, which is similar,” she said. “He's been doing that since 4-H started it, about two years ago. When he did (ranch pleasure) the first time, he was going against adults, but most of them had never been in this class either. But he had the experience of the 4-H riding. He kind of had an advantage, even though they were all adults.”
Hunter did odd jobs to earn money for the trip, and also got a financial boost from his other grandparents, Leo and Janice Smith, of Ocala. Janice made the trip as well, and watched with Suzanna as Hunter made it through the ranch pleasure preliminaries to the championship final and finished seventh out of 62 original qualifiers.
“It's been a joint effort,” said Suzanna Rucks. “We're so proud of him and the little mare.”
That “little mare” is officially named Chex With Me and is owned by Suzanna Rucks. Hunter calls the mare “Tango” and said they have a special bond.
“I go out there and talk to her a lot,” he said. “We ride twice a week and on weekends.”
And he's not getting out of his schoolwork. Hunter brought it with him and he says there's a lot of it. So he's learning — from his books, from his horse and from his World Show chaperons. As a result, his strategy in the show pen was simple:
“Do what Grandma says.”