It's been a long time coming! Despite the fact that statistics say far more women are involved with horses than men, the open western pleasure division at the national level has been dominated by men. Over the last years a woman has .managed to garner a top ten here and there and even a reserve championship but the highest honor has eluded female trainers; that is until the final session of the 2012 US National All Arabian Horse Show.
I really hadn't watched much of the show this year. The time change got me. I just didn't seem to get in sync but by Saturday afternoon I was finally on top of it and managed to catch the schedule for evening classes before they started.
On that list was the purebred open western pleasure class which always calls to me. Those horses and the way they work is the measure I strive to achieve with my training and my breeding. It has been my focus from the very first horse show I ever saw. I watched the entire evening session to guarantee I wouldn't miss this one class which was wedged in between the purebred open mounted native costume and the purebred open 4& over stallions.
There always seem to be controversy around the western classes. The horses are too low, too slow, four beating, with reins draped too much or too little. But no one really talks about that glass ceiling even though you can bet plenty of women trainers are thinking about it, even dreaming about it, hoping to be THE one to bring that ceiling crashing down.
Women have won top honors in other western pleasure classes at this level. Heck it was over twenty years ago that LaRae Fletcher-Powell won the purebred western pleasure junior horse championship at both Canadian and US Nationals on RRF Taylormade. It was a huge accomplishment for anyone but being done by a woman it had huge implications. Were the social barriers finally beginning to fall in the Arabian industry? Personally I believe it inspired many young women to challenge the status quo and fight the big boys to win but women even garnering a top ten were scarce.
I have seen a ride here and there that I thought might do it. I imagine the women riding those rides were as disappointed as I was with the results although you couldn't tell it by looking at each as she accepted a lessor prize. It's just been that thing women do, working longer and harder, trying to be so much better that they can't be denied.
Because I had not seen any of the qualifying classes, I really had no idea what to expect as the horses jogged into the arena. It was one of those classes where even on my computer I could recognize the individual riders, most of them anyway. It was a Who's Who of big name trainers in the game of western pleasure and they were mounted on some talented horses.
I have to admit I was surprised at the competition. It seemed over all the gaits were truer, the horses steadier than I have seen in times past but still, to my eye, there was one clear winner. I wondered if she would even make the call back for the top ten.
As those final horses entered the arena, there were actually two women in their ranks. I have to admit even that surprised me, two women in the top ten, wow. The viewer's choice pick was the same as mine but I don't know if anyone really believed she would win......even if she should.
We have lived with that glass ceiling for far too long. I found myself holding my breath waiting for the announcement. I wanted it to be her for her sake and for the sake of the industry. Women trainers need to get what they have earned if our industry is to survive.
You could have heard a pin drop as the whole arena waited for the announcement. The tension in the air clearly displayed the unspoken ramifications of the outcome however it should end. Could it, would it happen this night?
The announcement was electrical. The audience exploded and Liz Bentley of Missouri ran a gauntlet of emotion in the blink of an eye as her name rang out and our industry changed forever. It was a magical moment long over due and the arena twinkled with joy as if the shards of finally shattered glass were reflecting a new era for the US National Purebred Arabian Western Pleasure Open Championship. Not only can a good woman trainer make as much money as a man but she can compete with him and win. What a day it was for Liz Bentley and the Arabian horse.
NOTE: I got so caught up with excitement, I actually forgot the name of the horse and its owners. Normally it is the horse's name I remember. I apologize to both horse and owner. If anyone has this information please post in the comments
I know it was Liz Bentley's dream to win this class at this horse show. Her expression said she was incredulous that she did, but only for an instant. Then she celebrated with unabashed delight ........dreams really do come true I feel honored to have witnessed it and even more motivated to get out there and chase my dream again.
Congratulations to Nancy & Bob Risen owners of Khaberet PGA!!