Allison Pickles: Still Riding, Still Winning

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

A lot has transpired for Allison Pickles since the day she fell off her horse on Mulberry Road years and years ago.

That was with a horse named Keeper. She joined the Pickles family when Allison was 11 years old. She saw an ad in a newspaper and they went to take a look.

“Mom,” she said, “I’ve got to have it.”

Perhaps that wasn’t too hard of a decision to make for her mother, Londa, who grew up in the Vanderpool family north of Morenci. Horses have been a part of that clan for years.

“The first day I was on her I was bucked off, right in the middle of Mulberry Road,” Allison remembers. “I thought I broke my back.”

It could have ended there, but Londa insisted that she get back on. She did and she’s been riding ever since.

allison Now, at age 24, horses are as big a part of her life as ever.

When Allison gives a tour of the horse barn at her parents’ farm, she starts off with Melvin, her current show horse. This is the one that helped Allison win a pair of national awards in June. Next comes Keeper, her very first horse.

Patrick is next. This was her horse throughout her 4-H days. In 1998, she and Patrick teamed up for a 19th ranking in the nation through the American Paint Horse Association. She competed in the amateur division for women over 19 years of age.

In the next stall is Tonto, a former shoe horse who was taken out of competition after he was kicked and broke a hip. The new kid, Pickle, is next door.

“This is my new one,” Allison said. “I just got him and I’ve only been on him three times. I don’t know if I’ll show him. I’ve got to break him first.”

Competition

Allison began showing horses years ago at the county fair through 4-H. Londa still serves as the leader of the Gentle Giants club.

“I did 4-H through high school until I couldn’t compete anymore,” Allison said, “then I moved on.”

It’s not hard to find a competition in Michigan and Ohio—two horse crazy states. Two years ago, Allison moved on to national competition in Texas through the American Paint Horse Association. This year, she made her first trip to the annual Pinto World Show in Tulsa, and during the two-week event, she certainly made a name for herself.

She and Melvin took top honors in the 19- to 34-year-old division for Amateur Western Pleasure and Amateur Disciplined Rail.

What does that mean for the horse ignorant?

Western denotes a square saddle. Pleasure refers to the horse itself. Judges look at how the horse moves around the ring. The leg movement, how the head is held, the gait, the movement of the hip—the overall presence in the ring.

In Disciplined Rail, judges look for the horse’s response to commands as it travels around the rail surrounding the show ring. Commands are presented to all riders over a public address system and the horse must respond in a timely fashion.

Horses might be told to “lope off,” then “trot” at a slower speed. There are turns, there are changes in which leg is “leading,” and any number of challenges presented for the showman to pass on to the horse.

Experienced horses often respond on their own when a command is given. It’s likely not the right response, of course, and the person in the saddle must remain in control.

Cues are given through verbal and leg commands, such as a clucking sound to trot, a kissing sound to lope, and the standard “whoa” to stop. Each rider has his or her own means of communication.

“There’s a lot to know when it comes to body movement,” Allison said. “I still take lessons occasionally. The learning never ends.”

What’s considered “good” also changes, and that forces a rider into additional work. In the 1970s, Allison said, the head was supposed to be held high and the tail was cut short. In the 1980s, the horse’s head was to be as low as possible. The current style calls for the head to be somewhat in the middle. A larger tail is preferred and an artificial piece is often attached.

Even the rider’s clothing style changes over the years. Currently, it’s a retro look.

“We’ll see where it goes from here.”

Allison was also crowned the best in Non-Professional Futurity, a competition that combines all age groups and sexes and pays a money prize. She earned Reserve Champion in showmanship—leading the horse by a halter through a variety of patterns and manuevers—and she teamed up with two acquaintances from Ohio for the Team Tournament. Points are tallied from several contests, and Allison finished on top.

In Western Pleasure and Futurity, she earned the top rating from each of the three judges—the only person at the Pinto World Show to achieve that feat.

All in all, Allison placed in the top six in 14 of the 16 contests she entered.

Her parents flew down for one weekend of competition and Londa entered the Novice Walk Trot division.

“She was a nervous wreck,” Allison says.

That may be so, but Londa was named the champion in her first stab at showing.

As far as breaking horses is concerned, she’ll probably leave that to her daughter.

“Before I get on a horse,” she said, “it’s got to be safety checked.”

Lots of work

Allison currently stands at third in the nation for total points in the 19- to 34-year-old age group. Getting there wasn’t easy, and she’s put in a lot of time since that day she fell off Keeper.

“It’s taken a lot of riding to get to where I’ve gotten,” she said. “Most every night I’m here for at least two hours.”

It takes a lot of work, but Allison hasn’t a notion of cutting back. When she advances past the 34-year-old limit, there are two more age groups she could enter. For now, she aims to keep getting better.

“I don’t see myself quitting anytime soon,” she said.

 

-September 10, 2003 

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