Stockman’s Challenge for Beginners

Angela Tiede recalls the fun she has had with her stallion Ezekiel at stockman’s challenge events. Image: ‘Walking’ the cross-country course, 8.30am, Maldon, Victoria, December 2018.

I have claimed that my stallion Classic Ezekiel is an all-rounder, and so he is. We started our competition partnership in breed classes at Agricultural shows, added adult riding rings to our repertoire, then stockman’s challenges and working equitation events. We have even made it to dressage competitions, in a dressage saddle! For context, I started riding in my fourth decade and was in my fifth by the time I had Ezekiel under saddle, but why not give it a go with my first-born Waler foal who just so happened to be a boy, his bloodlines too important to think of gelding him.

He has never let me down, for the most part staying relaxed all day, usually in crowded and mixed company, a credit to the Walers and always complimented on his manners and attitude by judges, participants, and observers.

Ezekiel doing a working pattern at Kingston show stockman's challenge

The stockman’s challenges are hands down the most fun events. The very long event days aside, as we have competed in three and four phase events which means long waits in-between each phase. Totally worth it! Usually there is a working pattern, followed by an obstacle phase, and a speed obstacle phase. Our biggest event was working pattern, cross country, cattle, obstacles, at Maldon Victoria in 2018, and it took us three years of doing one event annually to work up the courage to take it on as we had no experience at all of cross country or cattle. We had only started out in 2015 and were learning as we went.

Image: Ezekiel and I in 2016 at Kingston Show, Victoria, where we won the working pattern encouragement class (beginners).

Our second stockman’s challenge event was at the Ballarat Show, a feature in the main arena. There were three major challenges that had nothing to do with the event: the amusement park section directly behind the ring, the bulls tied to the fence all along one side of the ring, and the pig racing tent opposite the entry and exit end of the ring. Zeke was wild, the noise and activity was all just too much! There was nowhere to get away from any of it, as the float parking was directly backed onto the main entrance road, buzzing with vehicles and pedestrians all day. Suffice to say we survived the experience but were so happy to get to the end of it without any mishaps. Luckily, I think he missed seeing the camel rides in the general excitement, that might have tipped him over the edge.

The organisers and all who were there were so supportive and encouraging, they really are always determined to ensure everyone is safe and enjoys the day. Hats off to them. My experience of these clubs is that they are family oriented and are really interested in everyone having a go.

By the third time we went to that same show, Ezekiel did not raise an eyebrow at the uproar, he just settled into a long day of competing and waiting and being admired by passers-by in the down time. We even placed third in the encouragement section over-all, I was just delighted at how far we had come.

And this was in spite of the lunchtime feature: clowns and crazy cars. Not just revving engines amidst loud and dangerous antics, there was also a rocket car which was like a jet engine complete with smoke and fumes. All in our competition ring, around which our vehicles were parked. All we could do was huddle behind the floats and hope for the best, if one horse had lost the plot it would have been mayhem for sure. And Zeke did meet the camels that day too, he was not keen, but it was just another thing for him by then.

Ezekiel at Ballarat show stockman's challenge

It was after this show that I summoned the courage to attempt the Maldon event, I mean, how hard could a cross-country course and a cattle phase be after that wild day? Sure enough, we had a ball. Yes we only trotted the cross-country that everyone else galloped, and it took me every bit of assertiveness I could muster to even get Zeke to cross the starting line over a bridge with tyres leading to it, but we jumped every jump. We were both so proud of ourselves that we even managed a canter back over the same bridge through the finishing posts.

We waited in a bunch of horses for our turn to work a steer around a few markers, and after a wow of a start where he zipped across nearly from under me, Zeke saw the other cattle waiting in the holding yard and froze, not wanting to go towards them. But ours waited for us to get it together and we got it around the markers with no trouble (I bet they send the trained ones out for the beginners). Mostly at a walk with a few steps of trot to catch up to the steer who knew his way around the markers but we had to be seen to be pushing him… And afterwards we helped for a bit until our next event guarding the rails at the end of the pen in case of a breakaway, so before too long Zeke thought it was all just ho hum.

As my experience demonstrates, anything is possible if you give it a go. Find a supportive bunch of people, take yourself out of your comfort zone, and put one foot in front of the other on the day. By the end of it you will wonder why it seemed like mission impossible. There is fun to be had, new skills to learn and people to meet, and above all such a great opportunity to work on your partnership with your horse! As our confidence grew with each event so did the joint enjoyment of the adventures and the time together overcoming the challenges arising. Of course, we remain beginners, but we can say with pride that we are in the post-beginner phase…

Posted by Angela Tiede

Educator and Waler advocate and owner since 2006.