Taressa Rankin of rural Lebanon, Mo., is a young wife and mother, who refers to herself as an aspiring horsewoman.
While she may not have been born on horseback, she was there soon afterwards, riding as an infant and toddler with her mother. By age 6, she was sporting her very own half a dozen stitches, courtesy of a riding accident, but even then, like a true competitor, she climbed right back on her horse.
By age 16, Taressa, who grew up in Galena, Mo., where her parents, Vicki and Terry May still reside, was working a summer job in Branson, Mo., as a trail guide and ranch hand. In 2012, she became a riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl) at Horses of Hopes therapeutic riding center in Buffalo, Mo. Completing her bachelor’s of science in animal science in 2013, Taressa has continued to trail ride and work around horses.
A few years ago, she was introduced to the field of horse obstacle competition, but it was this fall before she did any obstacle competition training.
“I’d attended a weekend clinic with Tim Brock at BC Tables and Training Center in Fair Grove, (Mo.) about a year ago,” Taressa said. “That’s where I really began to learn so much more about horsemanship. That was a whole new turning point for me toward natural horsemanship.”
Taressa explained that natural horsemanship is using communication, understanding and psychology to train a horse instead of the traditional training methods of mechanics, fear and intimidation. The general public tends to call it “horse whispering.”
“I do not consider myself a horse whisperer,” she said. “Groundwork plays a big part in fundamental training to get a horse to be confident in you. Going to clinics, working with and learning from other great horsemen in the field like Pat Parelli and John Lyons. Even watching videos on YouTube, with discretion, of course, can teach you something new and helpful.
In October, Taressa attended her first American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) event at the Von Holten Ranch in Mora, Mo., near Sedalia.
“I did surprisingly well,” she said of her first experience. “I was hooked.”
From there, she registered to ride, albeit somewhat nervously, for their 2015 Great American Trail Horse Festival in November, which was also at the Von Holten Ranch in Benton County, Mo.
She explained that there are two different kinds of obstacle contests, CTCs or Competitive Trail
Courses and AOCs, originally Arena Obstacle Courses, now ACTHA Obstacle Courses, which include eight obstacles arranged in a specific pattern in an indoor centralized location. Obstacles include a variety of designs such as a tilted bridge, a tarp being shot with a water pistol and something on the ground for the horse to walk over.
“I’ve even seen a gorilla costume with a bar through it to move it,” Taressa added. “The obstacles are pretty much anything that might spook your horse on a normal basis and you hope your good training prevails.
“Both the horse and the rider are evaluated on a 10-point system, and you can also get pluses for finesse. Of course, it looks bad if the horse scores higher than the rider, so you really have to work on your own horsemanship skills as well as good training for your horse.”
Taressa’s horse, CM Lucy’s Baby Girl, aka Baby Girl, is an 11-year-old Quarter horse, raised by her in-laws, Curt and Dawn Rankin. Taressa has had her for a year.
“I was pretty intimidated to compete in such a big event, the Great American Trail Horse Festival, especially in a competition style where I am so new,” Taressa said.
Participation in the new venue did not deter this young horsewoman, however, who won the Overall High Point award at the ACTHA’s biggest competition, which included close to 100 riders each day in a three-day event.
“It was really exciting to hear my name announced as the Overall High Point winner, especially since it was only my second ACTHA event ever,” Taressa said. “I’ve really enjoyed the training involved, for me in horsemanship as well as the training for my horse. I’ve also been surprised at how many people are interested in what I do. A video that ACTHA shared on Facebook of my son demonstrating a come-over cue with his pony has received more than 23,000 views, and led to several new friend requests, encouraging me to create a separate Facebook page.”
Taressa looks forward to participating in more horse competitions in the future. She lives with her husband, Chais and her two sons, Cuylar and Camden, on their family farm, which includes land in both Dallas and Laclede counties.
They have about 30 head of commercial cattle and four horses, including a Welsh pony for Cuylar.