Mount Union Senior And Her Horse Are Champions In The Ring

April 27, 2010

Kristin Detwiler, a national champion, has been showing horses since she was six years old. Her experience with horses, however, began at an even earlier age.


Horse shows involve several skilled riders successfully performing various abilities with individually trained horses. Judges award points for how graceful the horse appears, how well the horse and rider work as a team, the physical build of the animal, and how well actions such as trotting and cantering are performed. With nearly 16 years of experience, Kristin has nearly mastered these areas.

"The crowd doesn't make me nervous anymore," she said. "The only thing I worry about is being able to perform as well for the judges as I know we do in practice."

Kristin's father, Ron Detwiler, has always had a love for horses and has encouraged her with these same interests. Their horse farm has always been an enormous part of their lives. According to Kristin, the most horses she can remember her father ever having was 14 at one time. Today, she says that number is down to only four.

Training, grooming and tending to the demanding upkeep of her horses can be overwhelming, especially for a senior at Mount Union College. Since these necessary chores compete with other important commitments, Kristin has a personal trainer to handle all her horse's needs. The trainer works to lovingly teach her horses skills for competition, performs daily duties of grooming and cleaning and trains Kristin in working with the animals.

"The only thing that bothers me about having a trainer is that he's a little more than an hour away in Pennsylvania," says Kristin. "Anytime I need to see my horse or work with him, I need to drive back and forth. That gets tiring."

Not only does Kristin's trainer work to discipline her horses an teach them necessary skills for competition, he also teaches Kristin and the horse to work as a team. At competitions, her trainer gives pointers from outside the ring like a coach does for his players. According to Kristin, having a trainer is necessary to help her keep up with everything happening in her life. It is also beneficial to train under someone who knows every minute detail of her horse.

Kristin has always shown stunning Arabian and half Arabian horses. The horse she shows now, Baton Rouge, has been with Kristin for four successful years. Kristin claims that Baton Rouge is undoubtedly her favorite Arabian. "No other horse has had the connection that Baton Rouge and I do," she said. "He has the sweetest personality."

Baton Rouge is a beautiful chestnut colored horse with a blond tail and mane. Kristin said it was the summer of her senior year in high school when her trainer helped find him during their search for a new show horse. While Kristin watched tapes of Baton Rouge at home, her trainer went to California to meet the horse face-to-face.

"We looked at about five other horses before deciding on Baton Rouge," she said. "He performed at national competitions, had a great disposition, held his head high and was beautiful overall. There was little risk in owning and working with him because he was already a proven champion."

Kristin says that after thoroughly examining the horse's physical build, personality, vet records and show tapes, Baton Rouge became her own and they began training together. She claims the only drawback was that the horse was already nine years old. Horses are in their prime when they are between the ages of six and ten. Though Baton Rouge would still be able to show and perform wonderfully, the possibility of selling him for as much money as he was bought for later were slim.

"Showing horses is an expensive hobby," said Kristin, "and competitions don't award large sums of money for winning. Sometimes it's hard to look to the future when yu see a horse you really want to work with."

At competitions, judges look for relatively the same attributes in a winning show horse as Kristin and her trainer do in choosing a champion. The horse must have a pleasant and obeying disposition and appear to be mindful of its rider. Certain abilities such as walking, trotting and cantering are judged on how fluid and controlled each motion is. The horse's physical build is important - long necks hold heads high with majestic boldness while muscular bodies make the animal seem strong and sleek. In addition, judges examine the horse and rider as a team. Riders are judged on how well they control their horse and how well they coach their horse through various activities.

Kristin noted, "The most important thing judges really look for is whether or not you're having fun. There are many important skills to perform but none of them looks good if the horse and rider aren't enjoying themselves."

Kristin has taken her horses to numerous competitions at all local, state and national levels since she began showing. She competes in some of the same local and regional shows religiously, and though she qualifies for nationals every year, she only attends when her schedule allows. Nationals are alternately held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Louisville, Kentucky in October as well as in Canada in August. The top five regional winners qualify for nationals in the United States and in Canada.

According to Kristin, the number of participants at each competition grows as the level of competition grows. For example, local competitions may have between two and 22 horses while national competitions may have anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 horses divided into classes. The level of competitiveness and quality also increases as each team progresses. Kristin says that national competition has its own level of stress because everyone knows they are competing against the best of the best.

Kristin began competing with her favorite horse, Baton Rouge, when she stillfell into the 17 and under youth category. During her first year with Baton Rouge in 1998, she qualified for Youth Nationals in Oklahoma. She competed in the largest class at Youth Nationals that year with 74 horses. The class had to be subdivided into several smaller groups to accommodate the large number of participants. Members from each group were then slowly eliminated. Kristin and Baton Rouge survived two rounds of elimination to impressively qualify for the top ten semifinals. During the final round, Kristin was awarded second place Reserve Champion, one of the greatest achievements in her life and in the eyes of the entire horse showing world.

Kristin said the level of performance at nationals ranks each horse for the following year and each class division has its own Top 10 list. "Baton Rouge was ranked the second best show horse in his class for the next year," she said. "I got a ribbon, a copper trophy, some money and a top ten plaque from the competition and they brought a huge white rose blanket for Baton Rouge. We walked around the arena while Baton Rouge by Garth Brooks played on the loud speaker. It was the most awesome thing I've ever been part of."

Kristin and Baton Rouge have since won two national Top 10 places (Louisville 2000 and Canada 2001). They have also been the unanimous champions at several local and regional competitions including the regional East Coast Championships.

After nationals, training does not start again until January or February when preparation for the first competition in April begins. Kristin says it is relaxing to be able to take some time off while she concentrates on her college studies. "I wouldn't be able to have this long break if I didn't have such an experienced horse," she says.

Though Kristin's heart is with her horses, she plans to keep them in the hobby category instead of career. She says that jobs in the horse business are low paying and sparse. While Baton Rouge is with their tainer, his champion shower, Kristin, is working on her communications degree to further succeed in yet another area of her life.

Kristin has won numerous local and regional competitions as well as placing impressively high in national competition. "I have won more competitions with the horse I train with now, Baton Rouge, than I have with any other horse in the past," she said.

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