Horsing around no easy ride for sister act

Leanne Beck cringes when she brings up the subject of her equine pastime to her high school friends.
“Someone always asks, ‘So, you’re going to go run around the barrels?’” sighed Beck, 16, who has carved an impressive niche on the competitive quarter horse circuit along with her 14-year-old sister Michelle.
The siblings came away from the Minnesota Masters Quarter Horse Shows on Oct. 4-6 in Verndale, Mn. with several noteworthy accomplishments.
While Michelle earned a first and a second-place finish in separate categories at the event with her nine-year-old mount, Kat Dancing Lady, who usually goes by the moniker of Kitty, Leanne took home championships in three different divisions.
Her performance gave Leanne and her five-year-old horse, Hot Red Rodder, nicknamed Rosie, enough points to have her certified for the first time as an American Quarter Horse Youth Champion.
Riders need to use the same horse over the period of time it takes to achieve a minimum of 15 points in the Halter class, and at least five points in each of at least two other categories.
If a rider changes horses, they have to start from scratch when it comes to their point total.
“Having never done it before, it was pretty exciting,” said Leanne. “You need points in so many different categories, it’s difficult.”
The commitment of the Beck sisters—who were encouraged by their parents, Gary and Mildred, to get started in the quarter horse circuit—is unquestionable.
The girls spend one-three hours a day (weather permitting) training their horses to prepare for the seven shows they attend in an average year.
“I thought it was going to be easy,” said Leanne, who started working with quarter horses when she was six years old. “I had no idea how much work goes into it.”
Michelle followed in her sister’s footsteps, beginning when she was eight, and the two have become each other’s biggest supporters.
“She tells me how to correct myself, and I like that—sometimes,” Michelle teased good-naturedly.
“It’s better having Michelle there,” said Leanne. “Because if she wasn’t, it wouldn’t nearly be as fun to be part of a show.”
The Becks usually attend shows in the company of the Caul and Wielinga families of Emo, who also have teenaged daughters taking part in the competitions.
It’s a small fraternity in a sport which is far from high-profile—a problem Leanne said is difficult to overcome.
“Not many people around here are doing quarter horse competitions,” she explained. “Around here, it’s all hockey.”
Meanwhile, the sisters said working with a variety of horses helps better the chances of discovering a mount with more potential for competitive success.
“You want a horse that is quiet and laid back, and willing to do what you want,” Leanne noted. “I’ve had a few that I’ve had to fight with.”
Quarter horse competitions, like figure skating, are directly tied into the subjective nature of the judging panel that evaluates the participants.
That can lead to frustration on days when a competitor feels he or she was robbed of a better result because of the fickle preferences of the judges.
But the sisters have adopted the principle of keeping a stuff upper lip on those occasions.
“I don’t think about it too much,” said Michelle, who was all-around novice champion at a show in Thunder Bay earlier this summer. “You shouldn’t quit what you like to do because one judge didn’t like you or your horse on a certain day.”