You don't beat a horse into pulling a carriage through an obstacle course. It takes a soft hand and a lot of patience, Nile Mason said.
On Friday, competitors gathered for the Beverly Mason Memorial Carriage Driving Show, organized by Beverly's husband, Nile Mason.
Beverly Mason, 58, passed away unexpectedly last December after 24 years of changing the face of horsemanship in Routt County. Beverly Mason was a horse breeder and trainer who helped introduce the sport of combined driving, a type of carriage driving, to the Western Slope. She organized carriage-driving competitions at the Mason family's Thorpe Mountain Horse Ranch, at the Steamboat Ski Area, Perry-Mansfield and the Flying Horse Ranch.
Friday's carriage-driving show was less about competition and more about introducing fair-goers to the sport.
"Once you get started, it's got you," Nile Mason said.
Fourteen novice drivers and 10 green horses competed in the Routt County Fair & Rodeo, Nile Mason said.
The Masons' 9-year-old granddaughter, Tiana Mihalich, competed in the show for her second year.
Mihalich remembers her grandmother fondly as a woman who loved to talk to people and loved horses.
Days after Beverly Mason's death, Tiana Mihalich's mother, Shani Mihalich, said, "Mom said that horses were like potato chips. You can't have just one."
And horses were at the center of what Tiana remembered of her grandmother.
"She loved to drive (a carriage)," Mihalich said. "And she was a very good driver."
Mihalich is following in her mother's footsteps, who followed in her mother's footsteps.
"My mom is a former world champion driver," Mihalich said.
The youngest Mihalich will be traveling to Parker next weekend to watch her mother and uncle compete in the 2003 USA Equestrian National Combined Driving Singles Championship.
Mihalich drove her pony, "Missy," in the scurry and reinsmanship competitions.
In the scurry competition, drivers pick their own route through 10 cones. They are judged by their speed and accuracy. A tennis ball is balanced on the tip of each cone, and if it gets knocked off by a too-close carriage, the driver loses five seconds from his or her time.
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Wolf, who works at the Thorpe Mountain Ranch, competed for the second year. She chose a small pony named "Splash" who lives at Thorpe Mountain. She lives in Oak Creek and only recently started participating in 4-H.
She competed in three classes. In one of those classes, the gambler's choice, drivers attempt to amass points in a prescribed time by navigating obstacles of various difficulties. The riders can choose their own course through the obstacles, picking more difficult ones to earn more points. No points are awarded for disturbed obstacles.
"You have to go as fast as you can, without cantering," Wolf said.
At press time, Wolf had yet to find out how well she did in the competition, but, she said, "I don't care what place I get. It's about learning and having fun."