KSD Students Earn National Horse-Riding Awards

Marshal Johnson and Tristen Holt return from competition loaded with ribbons

Kearney, Mo., November 9, 2022: Kearney School District students Marshal Johnson and Tristen Holt have demonstrated authoritatively that Bulldogs play well with horses.

Mr. Johnson, a sixth grader at Kearney Middle School, and Ms. Holt, a ninth grader at Kearney Junior High School, each walked away with national awards after participating in the United Professional Horsemen’s Association’s Exceptional Challenge Cup on Tuesday, Nov. 8 during the American Royal Horse Show at Hale Arena.

The UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup was established in 1998 for physically and mentally handicapped riders. The first National Championship was held at the 1999 American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City, according to the association.

Johnson earned the Reserve Champion award in the level three division, among several other honors. Holt garnered the same award in the level five division. This was the first time either rider had competed in any equestrian event.

Marshal Johnson

A soft-spoken though clearly proud Johnson reflected for a couple of seconds when asked how it felt to be a national champion. He brought his ribbons and trophies to school that day to share the good news with his KMS classmates.

“It feels good because it takes a lot of work to learn how to handle a horse like that,” he said. “It’s helped me learn to be a lot more confident in other areas of my life. That feels important.”

Tristen Holt

Holt was similarly humble during her interview at KJH.

“I know this is important, but I do it because I really enjoy it,” she said. “When the award was announced, I could hear my family clapping and yelling. They made a big deal out of it.”

This accomplishment is indeed a big deal. The competition involves mounting an American Saddlebred horse that can reach several feet tall and weigh about 1200 pounds and then guiding these animals through a series of maneuvers in front of judges in the arena.

Both Johnson and Holt said their favorite thing to do with the horse is “trotting.” This requires the students to prompt the horse with verbal clicks and gentle kicks to canter at a lively though controlled pace while demonstrating excellent riding technique.

“I like trotting because I like the speed and running,” Holt said. “I got involved in horse riding five years ago because I just love getting together with friends and going on long rides together with my horse, Rusty. The best part is when you can let your horse run.”

Johnson has only been riding for about a year, but is already hooked. He always looks forward to spending time with Zep, the horse he typically works with.

“My little sister rode horses. I saw her ride and thought it looked fun,” Johnson said. “This is definitely something that I would encourage other students like me to get involved with.”

Johnson and Holt are part of the competition team that represented the Northland Therapeutic Riding Center at the UPHA event. The center is located in Holt and is focused on improving the quality of life for persons with special needs through equine-assisted activities and therapies. Learn more at www.ntrcmo.org.