MOUNT VERNON — For horse riders, the Contest Challenge event on the second day of the Knox County Fair is the penultimate experience.
The event, which on Monday started at 6 p.m. and lasted until well in the night, is a riding competition that combines five events together and culminates in a medal for all of the riders who score in the top 10 of the finishers – either the Senior level or the Junior Level.
For the competition, the riders have to participate in all five of the events in order to qualify at the end, which includes riding through or around barrels, poles, stakes, flags and keyholes.
Some riders look forward to this event all year.
“The Contest Challenge is the biggest contesting event of the entire fair,” said Jesse VanAtta, a rider and fair veteran at age 16. He called the event ‘fun’ and explained the atmosphere within the five-plus hour competition.
“The reason why I say its fun is because all of us are up here, laughing, joking, yelling at each other with ‘go faster!” and trying to get all our patterns done right,” he said.
Each of the five events challenges the rider and horse with maneuvers around obstacles in the ring. Some of the maneuvers include riding around two barrels in a figure-8 shape; taking a flag from one obstacle and planting it into another and a riding a pattern around a series of poles.
The competition itself is tightly organized and judged from the press box, but the underlying current is fun.
The arena crew dresses in a theme – this year it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – and the riders can decorate their horses if they choose to do so.
“We paint our horses with war paint, I got ‘Victory or Valhalla’ on my horse – a Nordic thing,” VanAtta said. He was one of many who had painted American flag patterns onto their horses, while several others had a collection of hand prints in various colors on theirs.
The challenge has an unorthodox scoring system where none of the riders know their scores or standings after any part of any of the competition – in any capacity – until the end.
“The biggest thing about Contest Challenge, the most rewarding part for most people, is at the end of the night, sitting there, since we don’t get our times, and waiting to see what place we get, if we get top 10,” VanAtta said.
VanAtta said that he trains as often as he can with his 10-year-old horse Rhythm in order to prepare for the competition.
“Honestly, you have to get a bond before you are able to do any of this riding,” VanAtta explained. “You have to have a close bond with your horse. If you don’t, you might as well kiss it all good-bye or you’ll just come flying off. It is not fun. We even practice during the winter. You have to constantly ride and keep your horse in shape. You just do your patterns. And try to do them daily.”
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