A team of six local young people, along with three Indiana youth, went up against some of the best riders participating in July’s 2018 Youth National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show held at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City and came out top winners in a number of categories.
The team was made up of Hadley Dowell, 10, Hailey Pirtle, 10, Karoline Lewis, 17, Madelyn Williams, 14, and Hollie Bryant, 14, all of Farmington; Maddie Sutton, 14, of Fredericktown; and Keelin Milus, 10, Hugh Milus, 11, and Bailey Hendricks, 16, all of Indiana.
Along with hours and hours of practice in their drive to push for perfection, the team’s success in the competition can be largely attributed to their equestrian coach, Kassidy Tiefenauer, 32.
The daughter of Denny and Kristi Herbst, Tiefenauer puts the team through their paces in the arena at Herbst Farms, located just outside Farmington on Possum Hollow Road.
“We raise, breed and train Arabian and Half-Arabian sport horses here at the farm and I do most of the training,” she explained. “My mother and I have a passion for kids and horses. I grew up on a horse here at the farm. I was born in December and at six weeks old I was riding in front of my mother.
“I have pictures of my two- and a four-year-old under three months old on horses in front of my mother in the arena. We ride. That’s what we do. All these kids that come here — whether they have their own horse, whether they don’t know anything about horses, but they want to learn — we make that happen here.
“I have horses from beginner horses to advanced horses. So, you can have your own, which is great. Usually when you get to a certain point you kinda’ want your own and off a school horse. School horses you have to share — you don’t share your own.
According to Tiefenauer, the number of students she works with at any given time can vary, but averages around 10 at a time.
“Sometimes more, sometimes less,” she said. “Sometimes they’re here for a lesson or two a month because that’s all they can make it in for because they do other activities. Some kids are here three times a week. Those kids are usually showing and competing and that’s what they’re doing all the time. They live, eat and breathe this.”
Tiefenauer has a wide range of ages among the students she’s currently training — from as young as five years old to riders who are adults. As far as the kids who traveled to Oklahoma City to participate in the championship, they ranged in age from 10 to 17.
“I know them best by what age division they show in,” she said. “That’s how I care. ‘Oh, you moved up? OK, so now you’re over 14 or you are under 13 or under 10.’ Most of these kids have been riding since they were four or five — or younger. I don’t like to take any kid that’s been riding for under two years. They need that time.
“By the time you get there, you have to be a smooth operator and you have to have the time to get your nerves under control. You get one shot in each class, so you have to be able to go out and do your first class as calm as you are in any other show or any other place. Nerves play a big part in what we do.”
When asked what size of audience watches the competitions, Tiefenauer said, “Audience varies, and partly because we run three different arenas going at the same time — so, the audience is split between three different places.”
As far as judges, the riders competing at the championship are not just appearing before a single judge.
“When we go to a normal show, there’s one judge and whoever’s showing,” Tiefenauer said. “At this show, in every division there’s at least two judges and most divisions have three, so that really changes the dynamic. It’s like the pressure times three.”
Whatever pressure the eight girl, one boy team might have been under, there’s no debating that they performed well in the championship.
“We did really well this year,” Tiefenauer said. “We got there on a Friday and then we didn’t come home until the following Saturday. It’s a really long show. Most people get there even earlier than that. They get there on Tuesday or Wednesday the week before and they’re there until the following Sunday.
“Our classes are in a shorter, confined period of time, so we don’t have to be there quite as early. My cousin Karoline was there on Wednesday, I think, because she started showing on Saturday. So, you want to be there in time to let your horses settle in and get used to the new environment, new arenas, new footing — everything.
“At a regular horse show we go the day before and we deal with what we have there, but for nationals you want them to be as in the moment and accepting of every situation as possible that may come up.”
Tiefenauer was proud of her team because they were able to keep calm enough to each bring home a ribbon.
“They all did very well and that’s a big feat at nationals,” she said. “Not everybody gets a ribbon and not everybody places. They place 10 placings at nationals. You get champion or reserve. They don’t rate the next top eight. Some divisions you know what your rankings are because they are scored. Some are just the judge’s opinion.
“Everybody came home with ribbons — at least ribbons — and we came home with a lot of roses this year for champions and reserves. I’m really proud of these kids. They worked really hard. The two weeks leading up to nationals, most of them rode twice a day.
"They were here in July. It’s hot, it’s miserable and they’re riding at 7 o’clock in the morning and then they’re back here to ride at 6 to really get those horses in peak condition going into the nationals. It’s hard work. It’s hard on them, it’s hard on their horses. We worked hard — the kids really worked hard.”