COLUMBIA - Cara Walker sports her World Champion Show belt buckle, USA T-shirt and spurs as she saddles up Party, her Quarter Horse. Party kicks at flies, spraying up dust in the barn as he prepares for Cara's ride. The duo has been riding together for five years.
The 11-year-old Quarter Horse usually lives in a showhorse barn in Moberly that is climate controlled and has automatic fly-sprayers. But for now, Party has come home to rest.
AQHA: American Quarter Horse Association.
Canter: In English classes, a three-beat gait, smooth and free moving.
Gait: How the feet of the horse move. In English events: walk, trot and canter. In Western events: walk, jog and lope.
Hunt seat equitation: English class that tests the youth's ability to ride without accounting the performance of the horse. Contestants change gaits, do figure-8 patterns, back up, counter-canter and post on a correct diagonal. Emphasis is placed on sitting correctly, ability to hold the correct posture and ability to hold the horse on a precise pattern.
Hunter under saddle: An English riding event in which judges evaluate a hunter-type American quarter horse on the walk, trot and canter. Emphasis is on the smoothness of gait, free-flowing stride and willingness to perform.
Trail: Tests the maneuverability through an obstacle course. Mandatory obstacles are going over at least four logs or poles and one backing obstacle. Emphasis is placed on the horse's willingness, ease and grace in the course.
Trot: In English classes, a two-beat gait with cadenced and balanced strides.
Walk: In both English and Western classes, a flat-footed, four-beat gait.
Western horsemanship: Tests the horsemanship abilities of riders using Western tack. Riders are divided into two sections where they follow a pattern of maneuvers. Finalists ride in a group around the arena. Emphasis is on the rider's body position, seat in the saddle and ability to control the horse.
Youths: Must be 18 or younger as of Jan. 1.
Cara, 19, graduated from Rock Bridge High School this year and has been riding horses practically her whole life. She recently returned from both the American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup and the Ford American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Champion Show.
The American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup is held every two years. This year it was held in Ontario, Canada, from July 6 to 13. Sixteen countries participated this year. Cara was one of five chosen to represent the United States. She had applied the last three times and was finally chosen this year.
"It's like the Olympics for the QHA (Quarter Horse Association)," she said.
The application process began in January. The hopefuls need to be more than good horseback riders. A selection committee looks at community service and good sportsmanship, too. The applicants must submit a letter from someone such as a trainer who confirms the youth's riding ability, and also a letter from someone such as a pastor or a principal speaking to the community service and moral integrity of riders.
Party was not able to join Cara in Canada because contestants don't use their own horses. They are provided with horses once they get there.
To prepare for the competition, Cara spent a week in Moberly with her trainer, Kendra Weis, who has been with her since she was 6.
"She had me ride every horse in the barn," Cara said. "She wanted me to be prepared for anything."
When Cara arrived in Ontario, she had four days with her assigned horse to practice for her events. She participated in five events: showmanship, hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, western horsemanship and trail.
She said her favorite event was the trail competition but said her horse wasn't very good at it.
"I had to teach him trail in four days," she said.
Cara won the High Point Rider award, the Horsemanship High Rider and the Hunter Under Saddle. She placed second overall after losing a tie-breaker.
Cara made friends with her fellow competitors from Germany and Italy and stays in touch with them.
"We still talk on Facebook," she said.
She reunited with some of her friends from Germany last week at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Champion Show.
The show was from Aug. 1 to Aug. 9 in Oklahoma City. Cara qualified nationally but says that riders could also qualify on the state level.
Party accompanied Cara to this competition. She won the Hunt Seat Equitation and was named the Reserve World Champion. She was rewarded with a belt buckle and a giant silver trophy.
"The World Show trophy is something you want forever," she said. "I was really excited."
Next week, Cara is leaving to go to college at Missouri State University in Springfield, where she plans to study marketing. She won't have her horses there but says she plans to bring them down eventually.