Te Awamutu rider Natasha Guest and her horse Arahi Tahi finished on a high after the recent Rangitoto Cowboy Challenge held early last month.
It was their first attempt at intermediate level competition and they came out with a red sash for the tack room wall.
Cowboy Challenge is a horsemanship competition ridden over a course of 13 obstacles unknown to riders until the day.
Riders can earn bonus points for horsemanship skills and speed, however overall a partnership must work together to solve the issues in front of them, gaining a maximum of 10 points per manoeuvre.
Riders start off in rookie for the over 18s and youth for the younger riders (although beginner style "Have a Go" classes are often run alongside an event in order for newcomers to have a turn without fully committing to the sport).
Youth riders compete in this division until the season that they turn 18, whereas rookie riders earn points for each placing they receive at points approved competitions.
Once 15 points is reached, that combination finishes the season and steps up to intermediate the following year. Once 15 points are achieved in intermediate ranks the combination step up to compete open.
Guest and her purebred Arabian mount stand out on the Cowboy Challenge field.
A discipline dominated by stationbred and quarter horse mounts, Arabian horses (who have a reputation for being flighty and hot blooded) are more often seen on the endurance field or dancing around in the show ring.
However, Guest said Arahi Tahi is consistently out there, proving not only that you don't need a traditional bred horse to succeed at this sport, but also that Arabian horses are versatile, calm and sensible.
It was a daunting task entering their first intermediate level competition, however. Guest and her mount nervously lined up with the group at 7am on the Monday to compete the required pre-competition course walk.
"I was really nervous. It was my first time up against the big guns so I was pretty concerned that I was going to look foolish if it all came apart," Guest said.
"I nearly pulled the pin on the whole weekend but the 'fear of missing out' took over."
The first round included some tough obstacles such as backing between a line of large tyres, performing some western performance moves and even completing one obstacle without reins.
"Tahi never wavered. He was super calm and approached every obstacle with enthusiasm and curiosity," Guest said.
After round two the top three were announced, with Guest shocked to find herself sitting in the top spot.
New Zealand Cowboy Challenge rules dictate the second round is completed in reverse order, with the lowest scoring rider going first and the current leader taking the final ride.
Matamata rider Larissa Thyne and her Quarter Horse mare, Dillans Di Bar headed out first, completing a quiet round and increasing their first round score drastically.
Well rounded duo Tauranga's Verily Boulton and her paint mare Chocolate Kiss were up next, also competing a higher scoring round on their second go.
However, Guest and her mount didn't waver, calmly completing each obstacle till the last and also earning themselves a higher score than their first round attempt and securing the top spot.
"I was really pleased. We have recently started training with Richelle Marsh at Walnut Ridge Equestrian and I was desperate not to let her down," Guest said.
"We made a few mistakes out there but nothing major and we came away with not only a red ribbon but also a few things to work on."
Results. Intermediate: Natasha Guest/Arahi Tahi TWS (Te Awamutu), 1; Verily Boulton/Chocolate Kiss (Tauranga), 2; Larissa Thyne/Dillons Di Bar (Matamata), 3.
Rookie: Rae O'Hara/Chrissy (Matamata), 1; Dianne Burns/Brisket (Hinuera), 2; Tina Fagan/Starlight Dorado (Tuakau), 3; Lisa Ritchie/Apache (Auckland), 4; Hayleigh Bird/Pocket Rocket (Rangitoto), 5; Daph Ngamoto/Indy (Kawerau), 6.
Youth: Maia-Rose Bennet/Flyby (Kawerau), 1; Cole Mitchell/Bo (Te Kowhai), 2; Cole Mitchell/MegaDude (Te Kowhai), 3; Eleanor Flintoff-Baker/KH Arjay (Hamilton), 4.
Cowboy Challenge Waikato continues to host events throughout the Waikato for the 2019-2020 season.
• For more information follow the Cowboy Challenge Waikato Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org or do to sporty.co.nz/cowboychallengewaikato