By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 15, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 11, 2012) -- Fort Rucker gets plenty of recognition when it comes to excellence in Aviation, but one of the installation's own brought national recognition to an arena the post isn't well known for -- horsemanship.
Michelle Mitchell, wife of Fort Rucker's deputy garrison commander, Justin O. Mitchell, placed third with her horse, Ozzie, in the 2012 American Horsemen Challenge Association Finals held in Abilene, Texas, Sept. 28-30.
The horsemen challenge is a competition in which riders must navigate their horse through an obstacle course and they are judged on how well they complete the course, horsemanship and time, according to Mitchell.
"At the competition, there was even a narrow bridge that you had to cross with the horse that went into a ball pit full of water," she said. "The horse had to trust you enough to step into the water and move the balls out of the way. It's not just a competition about the physical aspect of the horse, but also of the relationship between the horse and its handler."
As much as the competition is about the relationship between the horse and its handler, much of the competition is judged on technical skills as well, like spinning, rollbacks, loping and the correct lead, Mitchell added.
"You have to be able to move your horse and have some sort of technical expertise," she said.
The competition was open division, which meant that people from amateurs to professionals were allowed to compete and all breeds of horses including American Quarter Horse, Arabian, Thoroughbred, Paint, Friesian, Gaited, Welsh Cob and mixed breeds, said Mitchell. This was the first year the AHCA held this particular competition and Mitchell worked throughout the year to get herself ready for the competition.
"It started in February, and you have to compete all year in division and at the end of the season. If you qualify, you can go to nationals," she said. "I've been riding since I was 3 years old. I grew up on horseback and I come out to the riding stables [on Fort Rucker] at least three to six times a week."
Mitchell used the Fort Rucker Riding Stables as a place where she could train while she was on the installation, and many of the obstacles that the riding stables have were used in the competition such as the teeter-totter bridge, gates that riders must open while remaining on their horse, a two-step where they must jump up or down, and a lunge table where the rider must dismount the horse and navigate it around the table.
"A lot of these obstacles are very similar to the ones at the championship, but they are a bit more advanced at that level and I had to practice all the different obstacles whenever I had the opportunity to work with my horse," she said. "I also attended challenges throughout the year in different places like Florida and Louisiana to build up to the national finals."
Mitchell said that winning isn't everything and placing in national competitions isn't the main reason she enjoys riding horses.
"[The competition] was a lot of fun because you get to meet a lot of other horse handlers since it's not breed specific, and it's fun to watch how the different breeds work -- you can learn a lot," she said. "I just love riding because it's relaxing and it's a great way for me to relieve stress and just be, but it's also a great way for me to get the adrenaline flowing."