FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 31, 2013) -- Locals' riding skills and good horse behavior was put to the test Jan. 26 at the second Wiregrass Horseman's Challenge held at the Fort Rucker Riding Stables.

The timed challenges put participants through a series of obstacles of varying difficulties where both rider and horse were judged on the approach to the obstacle, doing the obstacle and the departure from the obstacle, according to Michelle Mitchell, event coordinator.

"At the end of the course [each rider] gets an overall horsemanship score. It's not just about being the fastest, it's also based on showing good horsemanship skills," she said, adding that anyone who could get on post could participate.

Participants earned ribbons and trophies. Hats and horse treats were also awarded at the event.

There were nine categories: lead line; wrangler, under 11 years old; youth, 12-18 years old; English youth, under 18 years old; English adult; novice, for beginner riders; amateur, for active riders that don't teach; legends, 55 years and older; and the open/pro division.

Some of the obstacles were cantering while holding a flag, a teeter-totter, backing a horse through a gate, side passing barriers and logs, and standing on large ground tarps.

People came from as far away as Maxwell Air Force Base and Blountstown, Fla., and the event is expected to attract more people next time. Fort Rucker wants to bring in new events and keep events growing, and this is one of them, according to Justin O. Mitchell, deputy garrison commander.

"Michelle really got this event going. She wanted to bring it in and see how big of an event it could become. Everyone who is participating is enjoying themselves," he said.

The deputy garrison commander also said that the event was a great opportunity for the outside community to participate in events held on post.

"The only other events like this in the area are in Bonifay [and] Maxwell Air Force Base, so by having events like this they can see what Fort Rucker is all about, and understand that they are welcome on base to use our facilities and to participate in our events," he said.

The competition, which had 48 competitors, had a variety of people participate from all backgrounds and ages. The youngest participant was 5 and the oldest was older than 55.

Competitors build horsemanship skills in a fun way and learn how to work with their horses to find out what they will do, what they need to work on and how much trust the horse has with them, said the coordinator.

"When you are outside, you never know what you are going to run into--logs, trees, joggers. So it's just a good way to improve skills," she said.

It is also a way, within the horse community, for people to meet new friends and have some friendly competition.

"You get to meet new people because this competition does have English divisions, and traditionally the Western and the English riders may not meet up very often," said Michelle.

"Riders like participating in the open/pro division because anyone who wants to can be in it and it is fun to test your skills against a better rider," she added.

Connie Jones, who rode General Stonewall in the Legends and the Open categories, placing first and eighth, said that the completion, to her, brings out the best in people.

"Everyone has a great time and it is such great exercise. Horses bring out the best in people, I think. And just to groom a horse is so therapeutic. Horses are great as stress relievers, they help with blood pressure and they are amazing with autistic children," she said.

Children, according to Jones, reap the most out of being horsemen.

"Children learn that a little try is better than no try. They also learn patience, confidence, how to focus and concentrate, and compassion. This is a living, breathing, powerful animal and you have to respect that in order to get any kind of response from the horse.

"If more [children would] come out and get acquainted with these guys (horses) it would be so great. If a parent is looking for something to get their child out, then they have a great place here. To me, anything that gets a child away from all their gadgets, out of the house and into the fresh air, and gets them active is a positive thing," she said.

Garrett Law, a 10-year-old competitor, said he likes riding for those exact reasons.

"I like riding because it is fun, and I like to get out and do stuff. I do tricks, sorta, like climbing stairs on a horse. And I rope, do barrels, go on trail rides and I do a lot of arena events," he said.

The stables have several arenas for different riding types and miles of riding trails for people who want to get involved. For more information about local competitions and the Fort Rucker Riding Stables, call 598-3384.