An equestrian competition unique to the Rim country will soon provide an opportunity for cowboys and cowgirls to showcase their in-the-saddle skills.
"Open Ranch Horse Competition," the summer saddle and buckle series, will be held June 5, July 17 and Aug. 14 at the Payson Event Center. The event is being brought to Payson by Zach and Vanessa Gibbs, owners and operators of Gibbs Performance Horses in Camp Verde.
At first glance, it might seem the new series will conflict with the highly popular Payson Parks and Recreation-sponsored summer barrel and pole bending series as well as the Montonera Gymkhanas. Not so, says Charlene Hunt, town parks and recreation specialist.
"We welcome them here," she said. "They will provide even more opportunities for those interested in showing and training their horses."
Hunt, a longtime local equestrian and the founder of the Summer Barrel and Pole Bending Series, lauds the Gibbs as experienced horse trainers.
"They are very well respected and have been around cattle and horses all their lives," she said.
According to Zach Gibbs, the Payson Event Center was a logical choice for the event.
"It was the only really nice arena that was available the three dates we needed it," he said. "Then everyone in Payson, including the sponsors, were so helpful. We've even had quite a few (competitors) from Payson already enter."
Gibbs said he grew up on a ranch in southern Arizona and at the age of 14 began training colts and ranch horses. At 16 years of age, he graduated from Western's School of Horseshoeing and took up the trade part time.
Throughout high school, training and shoeing horses were his occupations and competing in rodeos was what he did for fun, Gibbs said. After graduation from high school and spending time punching cattle around the state, Gibbs decided to train horses for a living.
In 2000, Gibbs said he began managing the M Diamond Ranch, a 40,000-acre operation in northern Arizona. He says it was there he gained the skills and the confidence to open his own horse training business.
He met his wife, Vanessa, at the 1997 Silver State High School Rodeo Finals in Fallon, Nev. where both were competing. In 2002, the two married and now have a daughter, Alexis.
Vanessa, an accomplished horseperson herself, plays a prominent role in the family business located in rural Verde Valley.
Gibbs credits his wife's behind-the-scenes efforts and knowledge of horses for helping make Gibbs Performance Horse a premier horse training operation.
Unique events unencumbered by sanctions
Ranch horse competition is unique in that there is no sanctioning body and no long list of prearranged rules and regulations.
"It's open to the world," horse trainer Zach Gibbs said.
In the competition, participants are awarded points from judges based on their performance in reining, cow work, roping and the overall appearance, confirmation and attitude of the horse during competition.
Reining and cow work are worth up to 20 points, roping can earn a competitor a maximum of 20 points, and overall appearance has a point value of 0 to 10.
In reining, competitors must ride their horse through a pattern in which the rider opens and closes a gate on horseback, takes the horse on a trot along a fence in the center of the arena,then lopes, fast lopes and backs the horse 15 feet.
In cow work, the rider and horse must box in the cow at the rear of the arena, and later drive the cow down the arena and turn the animal back at least one time in each direction.
The roping event calls for the entrant to rope the cow and tow it about 15 feet.
In overall appearance, the rider is allowed six minutes to ride the horse through a designated pattern. An unfinished run results in 0 points.
At each Payson Open Ranch Horse Competition, a Cowgirl Class will also be featured.
At the end of the series, a custom trophy saddle will be awarded to the high point champion of the open class. To be eligible, entrants must compete in all three shows.
Trophy buckles will also be award at each event to the high point participant in both the ranch horse open and cowgirl classes. A custom-made bit will be given to the cowgirl class high point series winner.
For those looking for a last minute tune up for themselves and their steeds, Gibbs will host a ranch horse versatility and cattle clinic prior to each show. Each practice will provide an opportunity for riders to improve their skills before the competition begins.
A limited number of riders will be accepted and reservations must be made. Call Zach or Vanessa Gibbs at (928) 301-1143 for more information.