Standing tall in the saddle
Ashle Steffenhagen of Punta Gorda has been riding horses since she was 10. For the past 11 years, she has practiced and trained four to six days every week, before and after school. She’s attended the World Paint Horse Championships since 2007, and came close to winning several times.
Finally, all her years of hard work paid off at the American Paint Horse Association World Championship Paint Horse Show, held over 10 days last month in Fort Worth, Texas.
Steffenhagen, 21, captured not one, not two, but three championship titles while riding two different horses.
Riding Shez Wicked Fancy, a 2-year-old mare owned by her aunt, Gene Ann Gage, Steffenhagen won the 2-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle Slot. In this class, judges evaluate the horse’s smoothness of gait and response to the rider at a flat-footed walk, a brisk trot and a smooth canter, under traditional English tack.
For her second win, Steffenhagen clinched the Non-Pro Hunter Under Saddle Limited championship title, again on Shez Wicked Fancy. The class required judging the horse’s responsiveness as the rider guided the horse from a trot to a walk and jumped two fences.
“It’s very hard to control a horse that’s only 2 years old because that’s their first year competing,” explained Laura Stevens, associate editor of the Paint Horse Journal.
Steffenhagen’s third win came in the Novice Amateur Equitation Over Fences competition riding her own horse, Charismaticreflection, a 10-year-old gelding.
In this competition, riders were judged on their ability to control and guide the horse, as well as their posture in the saddle, while jumping eight fences. Steffenhagen handily won a unanimous judges’ decision.
Novice amateurs are competitors who are at least 19, do not train horses or compete professionally, and have not earned a specified number of points in APHA-approved events. The horses must be owned by the rider or a family member.
“It was a surprise to win because you never know what the judges are thinking,” Steffenhagen said in response to her championship titles. “After riding Shez Wicked Fancy, I knew I’d had my best ride ever, and she couldn’t have done better.
“Two-year-olds are just babies, and it’s hard for them to concentrate. She showed so well that whether I won or not, I was really happy.”
American Paint Horses can be identified by their stocky bodies and the white hair they sport — the “paint” — in addition to combining any of the other common horse colors. To be registered with the American Paint Horse Association, however, one of the horse’s parents must be registered with the APHA, and the other with either the APHA, the American Quarterhorse Association or the Jockey Club of thoroughbreds.
Steffenhagen is a 2009 Charlotte High School graduate. She’s currently a junior in the nursing program at Florida Gulf Coast University, and is engaged to marry her high school sweetheart.