Young riders engage in a little horseplay

Alternative events offer a reprieve from head-to-head competition.
LISBON -- During a stressful week of contests at the Columbiana County Fair, the young horseback-riding competitors need a break.
That's where the versatility competition comes into play.
"This is just for fun," said Mariel Montoney, a versatility competitor.
This is the first time the Columbiana County Fair has offered the versatility competition, Mariel's mother, Judy, said.
"There are no points, no pressure, no ribbons," Judy said. "This is basically practice."
Four divisions: During the versatility competition, riders ages 9 through 18 compete in four divisions -- showmanship, English equitation, Western horsemanship and barrels. The competitors are given 10 minutes and two helpers to change clothes and tack between each division. They cannot leave the ring, which makes the competition that much more interesting.
UShowmanship: Competitors lead their horses, directing them to walk, back up and trot. As the judge walked around the horse examining the horse's position and form, the competitor changed positions accordingly.
"There's an etiquette to it," Judy Montoney explained. "Of course, a smile is important."
UEnglish Equitation: Competitors dressed in English riding gear, wearing dark hunt coats, tight breeches, felt riding hats and knee-high black boots. Trotting in a figure-eight pattern, riders concentrated on posting, rising in their saddles, as the horses' shoulder toward the fence stepped forward. The judge watched the position of each rider's body and the execution of the circular pattern. Then the competitors circled the ring, walking, trotting and reversing at the judge's instruction.
UWestern Horsemanship: Competitors changed their horses' small, lightweight English riding gear to heavy, ornamented Western saddles and bridles. Suede fringes, chaps, sequin vests, cowboy hats, spurs and tassels replaced the conservative English-style outfits. Competitors walked, trotted and loped with their horses, and the judge looked for the riders' straight posture and handling of the horse.
UBarrels: After keeping the horse under tight control for the first three rounds, competitors loosened the reins and raced against the clock.
"For the kids, the barrel racing is fun," Montoney said.
For the contest horses, barrels were all in a day's work, but for the pleasure horses, barrel riding was a whole new ball game.
"It's so hard to do both," Montoney said. "It's hard for a pleasure horse that cross trains to maintain composure during the show."
How she did: After the barrel event, the places were announced. Mariel placed 10th out of 15, but she wasn't disappointed.
"I've never done this before," she said has she fondly patted her horse Jack. "He likes to run, and he doesn't get to run because I have to slow him down."
The 14-year-old from New Waterford will compete in other riding events Saturday. She's especially looking forward to the trails competition, an obstacle course on horseback.
"He likes it better, too," she said of Jack. "That's his best class."
In their blood: Mariel is the youngest of four daughtersall of whom used to ride. Her mother used to be a jockey and now trains race horses.
"I've been riding since I was like 1," Mariel said, adding that she plans on continuing the pastime.
A sophomore at Crestview High School, she participates in volleyball and cheerleading, but riding is her favorite activity.
"It's different than most sports," she said. "It's individual competition."

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