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October 7, 2012

Down the Al-Can to the SmartPak West Novice Championship Show

One family planned 4,500 miles and two months to get to the SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal

The Brindle family from Wasilla, Alaska, at their stalls at the 2012 SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship in Las Vegas.

The Brindle family

When John Brindle got back from his second deployment to Iraq last October, his wife, Chris, and daughter, Shannon, told him about the new AQHA Novice Championship Show a year away.

The Air Force actually sent John home to Wasilla, Alaska, two weeks earlier than originally planned so he could make a very important Alaska State Quarter Horse Association awards banquet: Shannon had won the state Novice youth all-around.

Which also meant she was already qualified for the new AQHA Novice Championships with her 2003 gelding, Kruger Andy Clu (Kids Second Clu-Mia Kruger Ann by Krugerrands; bred by David Aasand, Grafton, North Dakota).

For this military family, it was a chance that might not come again, depending on where they might be sent next and how that would affect Shannon’s showing opportunities. They already knew they would have to move in 2013 in the middle of Alaska’s very short summer show season.

To get “Andy” from Wasilla, north of Anchorage, to Las Vegas for the SmartPak West Novice Championship Show before the snows hit, they planned to haul down two-and-a-half months before the show’s October start.

“We went down the AL-Can, the Alaska-Canada highway,” Shannon, 15, told the Journal. “That’s pretty much the only road you can take out with a horse trailer.”

They first went to Krista and Shawn Montgomery’s MonteRay Ranch in Manvel, North Dakota, where Shannon got into showing horses when John was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The challenging drive to North Dakota took five days; the first leg to White Horse in Yukon Territory was 17 hours.

“The roads were fairly good in Alaska, but when we crossed into Canada the maximum we could do was about 20 or 30 miles per hour, from all the bumps from the frost heaves,” John said. “But we had to get him out while the roads were still open and we had a short window to be able to do that. And it would be easier on him to split the trip up.”

Chris and Shannon stayed with the Montgomerys – Shannon’s been home-schooled since third grade – and John went home until show time. Then the Brindles hauled to Las Vegas.

Shannon showed in halter, hunt seat equitation, hunter under saddle and showmanship.

“In the halter, we got eighth,” Shannon said, “and I was really pleased with that. Showmanship was a little bit of a disaster. You practice right before you go in and it was perfect and then you go in and what just happened?!

“I was proud of him in our hunt seat equitation pattern; it tested both of our abilities. We didn’t make the cut to the 20, but sometimes you have to be your own judge and take away that you’re happy with your pattern.

“In hunter under saddle, well, we don’t do the best in the rail classes because naturally he’s not the best mover and he’s small. We have to push a little extra to make sure that we’re seen.”

But she doesn’t regret coming, and John and Chris are proud of her: Shannon has done most of the work of training Andy since they bought him as a 3-year-old in 2006, getting help from various trainers along the way.

“I originally just wanted to go on trail rides and have fun with Andy,” Shannon said. “(Krista) got me into showing.”

“She started at local shows (in North Dakota) and it built up enough confidence in her to go to an AQHA state show and she did a great job,” Chris said. “She was a reserve all-around in North Dakota. And then we went to the Region Two Championship (in 2008 and 2009).”

Shannon has tried just about everything with Andy, from AQHA all-around classes to jumping and French classical dressage in Alaska. She likes taking lessons from different people “because you can always take something from everyone.”

The Brindles have enjoyed the camaraderie of the Alaska horse community – her ASQHA friends made her a stall sign for the SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show.

“The best thing about Alaska has been the horse community,” Chris said. “I don’t think we could have done (the horses) on our own.”

After the show, the Brindles head back to North Dakota where they’ll park Andy and the trailer until next summer – they can’t get the horse back to Alaska now. When the Brindles know where they’ll be stationed next, they’ll come back to get him and Shannon will find a new horse community.

“I’m incredibly proud of her, her humility and sportsmanship,” John said. “She will be the first one to say good luck to her competitors and, more importantly to me, when it’s all over, to be the first one to say good job to them."