“The mission of the Ultimate Horsemen’s Challenge Association is to provide a forum to unite all breeds, disciplines, and skill levels in a competitive obstacle course setting that emphasizes and rewards good horsemanship while encouraging sportsmanship, camaraderie, and above all, fun and enjoyment with horses.”
That’s the printed purpose, but also exactly the instantly-adrenaline-inflated-response of Scott Simms to question answering first telephone ring before sunrise.
“I’ve worked with horses and cattle all of my life, and after going to Craig Cameron’s, June 2007, Extreme Cowboy Race at the Saddle & Sirloin in Kansas City, I left there hooked. Great event, great horse people wanting to ride and enjoy their horses to the ultimate,” continued Simms, never taking a breath.
Formerly working as a feedlot cowboy in Colorado, Simms, who’s headquartered his livestock operations at Butler, Missouri, since 1988, said, “I came home, talked to my horseshoer and some other horse people. We set up some obstacles, had a fun competition among ourselves, and then had an event at the county fair.
“Everybody had such a good time working their horses, with other horse people and their families. The comradery was so apparent,” Simms insisted.
Mind began turning as the horseman thought about how “like-minded” horsemen might join together to have a few such events a year. “They’d have fun challenging their horse’s abilities and their horsemanship skills with others, and maybe even have a yearend awards gathering.” Simms remembered his “brainchild.”
The Extreme Cowboy Races Finals that year were also at Saddle & Sirloin. “Several of us went, and it really got things rolling. We had so much fun that we wanted to share such opportunities with others. We discussed having a similar organization, more local, yet a regional circuit-of-sort, so we didn’t have to be gone so long, and it wouldn’t cost so much to travel to participate,” Simms said.
The Ultimate Horsemen’s Challenge Association was formed as a family organization in 2008, with the first event in May.
“We have great people aboard, and it’s been rolling full steam ahead ever since,” Simms informed. “That first year featured seven competitions and multiple clinics aimed at exposing horses and riders to different obstacles.”
Initially, there were only four divisions. “Today, eight divisions offer riders of every age, level of ability and discipline the opportunity to compete and demonstrate their skills and strengthen their relationship with their horse, no matter the breed, mules, whatever,” according to Simms.
“It’s all in fun; family, friends and their horses always trying to improve their horsemanship, their horses, helping each other, wanting to do their own personal best with their horse. Nobody has a personal agenda like some groups, but it’s for the good of the family, horse and rider,” Simms said.
“Even when a family member doesn’t ride, they often follow along to support their spouse, children, grandchildren, sometimes nieces, nephews, neighbors’ family,” he insisted.
While it’s regional group, riders and their horses have proven to be among the best in the country. “Every year, several UHCA riders participate in the Extreme Cowboy Race Finals,” Simms said. “Last year, it was at the Calgary Stampede, and five out the top 10 were UHCA competitors.”
Although obstacles are designed to test ability of horses and riders through a variety of challenges, Simms emphasized, “My goal is never to scare a horse, or make an obstacle that will be dangerous for a horse or a rider. I want every rider to be brave, trust their horse, and sometimes even bypass an obstacle if necessary, but always finish the course, instead of being eliminated.”
With that initiative, Simms admitted, “There have been revisions in our guidelines through the years, so obstacles are more realistic to what a rider would encounter on a trail or when riding their horse for pleasure. Two directors always walk courses ahead of time to make sure it’s doable and completely safe.”
However, Simms emphasized, “Every day is a new day. That’s what makes this event more fun and a challenge. There are so many variables, weather, course conditions, rider and horse attitude. Just because a horse and rider win one time sure doesn’t mean they’ll be the best the next time, even when the course is quite similar.”
Among the 50 obstacles listed in the rulebook with stipulations for each are backing, spinning riding bareback, jumping, carrying items, cattle work, ditches, carrying flags, putting on slickers, roping, shooting, curtains, sprinklers, trailer loading, bridges, water holes, etc.
Divisions include buckaroo, youth, novice, classic, intermediate, colt, amateur and open.
“There are entry stipulations based on rider and horse abilities, but a team can sometimes compete in more than one category. Certain obstacles are not permitted for specific divisions,” clarified Rex Buchman, Cottonwood Falls, an original UHCA board member and open competitor.
“Still, events are to challenge both horse and rider to maneuver through a series of obstacles, routinely experienced while trail riding or working on a ranch while demonstrating skill, finesse, horsemanship and speed,” reiterated Simms.
A score is given for each obstacle on the course, and riders are judged on overall horsemanship. UHCA races are timed events, however, time accounts for less than 10 percent of available points.
“The best scores are earned by negotiating each obstacle with accuracy and speed; truly demonstrating a level of trust and partnership with your mount,” Buchman explained.
About nine competitions from central Missouri to central Kansas are conducted each year, starting in April through October. “We don’t intend to expand the area, in order to keep travel expenses and time away from home at a minimal. Participants can make it a one day affair, often on Saturday but sometimes Sunday, even though many do go the day before and camp out,” Simms said.
“We don’t want any more events in a year, or one every weekend, so that participants get burned out. There are other things beside horses for families. This way, riders can compete, then go home and work on improving what they did wrong, and be ready to travel and try again in a few weeks,” he added.”
“Everybody has a desire to win, we understand that, but we don’t want our events to be a ‘trailer race,’ so you have to be at every competition in order to get yearend awards. We only count the top five placings from nine events,” Simms explained.
“There’s only payback in three divisions, while the other categories get ribbons, but we do have some real nice yearend awards worth riding for,” Buchman inserted.
Simms has been a regular competitor since formation of the group, but heart procedures have kept him off horseback this season, although he never misses an event. “I’m getting well, and anxious to get back in the saddle and participate,” he informed.
Founding directors include Simms, Buchman, Kate Fowler, Chris Mensch, Josh Rushing, Paul Rasmussen, Jason Stahl, Debra Taylor, Rex Buchman, Jo Turner, and Sharon Baux.
Now, a non-profit corporation registered in the State of Kansas, UHCA is governed by an elected Board of Directors. Officers this year are Kate Fowler, past president; Greg Schuetz, president; Rick Sandness, president-elect; Ashley Purdin, secretary; Jim Ochs, treasurer.
Additional board members include Simms, Melanie Dolechek, Jennifer Forge, Pat Glidewell and Matthew Romero.
One more UHCA event is slated this year, according to Schuetz from Paola. “It’s Saturday, Oct. 3, at Benton beginning at7:30, with registration. Walk through will be at 8 o’clock, for several divisions, and competitions begin at 9 o’clock. Spectators are welcome, but we advise folks to bring your own lawn chair,” he welcomed.
“Our yearend awards banquet and general membership meeting is Saturday evening, Nov. 14, at 5 o’clock, at the Circle S Ranch near Lawrence,” Schuetz advised.
“The UHCA welcomes entire families as a great way to have fun while improving your horsemanship and communication. By competing at and preparing for events, the results will be increased responsiveness, acceptance, and trust. You’ll be developing a willing partner while competing for cash, prizes, year-end awards, and of course, bragging rights,” Schuetz invited.
“You need to come ride with us,” Simms verified.