November 19, 2013
By Alexis BennettThe American Quarter Horse Association
The American Quarter Horse is versatile, athletic and talented.
The prevalence of the breed and the success of racing, showing, ranching and riding attests to the high acclaim that this horse has achieved, but who knew that Quarter Horse fever would spread worldwide?
This is exactly what has happened. Horsemen from Latin America, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Italy and across Europe are dedicated fans, but now the Quarter Horse pride has lit in China.
The appearance of 2009 bay gelding, The Roostin Spot, on November 19, under exhibitor An Tao marked a pivotal day in AQHA history.
It is the very first time that a competitor from China competed at the AQHA World Championship Show.
An Tao, inspired by the horses and horsemen he works with is tirelessly trying to expand both the interest and availability of quality horses in China.
He says, “The horses are like a baby in China. We need nurturing and care.”
The gelding is owned by David Snodgrass also from China, but was qualified for the World Show by AQHA Professional Horseman Bennie Sargent in ranch horse pleasure.
“I qualified the horse,” Bennie said. “It is owned by a friend of ours in China, David Snodgrass. I thought, ‘An Tao is riding very well. I’ll have An Tao come and show the horse. He’ll be the first Chinese owned and shown horse.’ ”
An Tao has been riding horses for 10 years, but it has only been in the last five years that he has really focused on developing his horsemanship.
“In China, there are a lot of riders who really love the cowboy lifestyle from Hollywood. We wear the hat, boots, jeans, chaps and ride the horses out on the plains – the Hollywood way. We think that is cowboy style,” An Tao laughed.
Many riders mimicked the riding and horsemanship that they saw in Western movies, even if it meant running wide open through a field, hooping, hollering, arms pumping through the air and legs kicking in a frenzy.
An Tao said, this is “crazy, crazy riding.”
His friendship with trainer David Snodgrass and his careful study of showing in the United States convinced him that there was another way to ride a horse.
“I thought, ‘I have to come to America to really know what it is like,’ ” An Tao said. “So, for 5 years, I came to California to meet some cowboys. Step-by-step, I learned how to use the leg, how to use the body, I use the information to work the horse.”
Now that he has the horsemanship and skills to accompany his passion, he plans to share it with his friends and neighbors back home.
“I really want to tell and take this information to China, back to my friends who love the cowboy lifestyle,” he said. "I want them to know the ‘cowboy, western riding way,’ (the) exact way to do it. That is my goal.”
Already, An Tao and David are making strides.
“We have a ranch and we keep some Quarter Horses,” An Tao said proudly. “We brought them from America last year. And train them a very certain way to let them give the Chinese rider a different feeling to western riding.”
Bennie was quick to point out the pair’s success.
“This year, David Snodgrass put on three AQHA special events for barrels and poles,” Bennie explained. “An Tao developed two more classes. One class, ranch working, is a pattern against the clock, like a trail pattern, and every time they knock over a pole or something, it’s a five-second penalty. Then they have the western riding, which is a pattern that he developed where a rider and a horse are judged on their ability to take their gates, change gait, that type of thing.”
Even though the ranch is about an hour and a half drive from Beijing, people are traveling increasingly out for lessons and clinics. In just three show events, numbers have expanded from only a handful to over 20 people. The clinics have also grown. At first, they only had a few attendees, and now have over 35 people attending.
An Tao: “I came here because I really wanted to do something for the horses, but others have different jobs and no time,” An Tao said. “They aren’t like me that so love this way and so love the horse riding, but they also need to know it. So my mission should be to take (it) back and show them.”
Since barrel racing has become so popular in China, many people think that the Quarter Horses are synonymous with the event.
“They say that Quarter Horses are barrel horses,” An Tao said. “I say, ‘Yes, they are barrel horses,’ but not only a barrel horse.”
Just An Tao’s presence here in the ranch horse pleasure at the World Show has shown his fellow horsemen back home that the American Quarter Horse is more than just a speed-event horse.
Bennie said An Tao has a huge support group here to watch his run in the preliminaries.
“His wife, his brother-in-law and friends came. There are seven or eight who came over from Beijing just to watch him. They all have the horse interest. They’re here, not just because of An Tao, but because of the horse. To see what it’s all about. It just takes time.”