Family competes at horse shows

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kavan VanHal, 7, examines the belt buckle he won for showing his horse Higgins. During the 2011 showing season, VanHal won Paint Congress champion, Minnesota Paint Horse champion and Iowa Paint Horse champion leadline. -- Brandi Hagen/Albert Lea Tribune

Seven-year-old Kavan VanHal was recently presented three awards for showing his horse Higgins. Kavan was Congress champion and Iowa and Minnesota State champion for 2011.

Over the past year, Kavan has traveled and shown horses with his mother, Jen VanHal, and his two grandmothers, Ann Herman and Shawn VanHal, at eight different horse shows in front of about 31 judges.

Brandi Hagen/Albert Lea Tribune Kavan VanHal, 7, is in charge of his 11-year-old horse, Higgins, when going to Paint Horse shows.

For winning Congress champion, he brought home a belt buckle with his name engraved on it.

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“It feels awesome,” Kavan said. “I don’t know why, I’m just happy.”

He said he’s most proud of his horse and his mom.

“They helped me,” Kavan said. “I would never have got this belt buckle if it weren’t for her and Higgins.”

Jen started Kavan in horses when he was 18 months old.

She said it’s a gradual process that starts with having the child feel comfortable sitting still on a horse. As they grow older more skills are added.

At age 32, Jen said she can’t remember a life without horses. She started working with horses when she was 12-years-old. Her dad didn’t like the idea of having a horse on the farm but as she continued to beg he gave her a proposition.

If she could take care of a horse through the 4-H horseless horse project, then she would be allowed to have her own.

“She did that with flying colors,” Herman said.

As Jen got older, she started to compete in patterns doing specific maneuvers in front of judges. The maneuvers had to be done without hesitation and in a specific order.

“It’s basically like memorizing a basketball play or a football play,” Jen said.

The maneuvers would change for every show and at age 16 Jen said she occasionally would forget them.

“My mom would go, ‘How could you forget that? It’s all right there on paper. How easy can this be?’”

She said once Herman started doing them herself in 1999, she found out it wasn’t as easy as it looked and there was room to forget maneuvers once in a while. Herman didn’t show again until 2011.

“She never did tease me about forgetting a pattern ever again,” Jen said.

Jen’s mother-in-law, Shawn, also started competing in 2011 at the horse shows after 35 years of not doing so. Jen said she had to relearn everything she previously knew and adjust for changes.

Jen said even though she still shows, she is more proud, excited and nervous for the other three to be showing than herself.

Especially Kavan.

“I don’t know any other kid who has it so lucky,” Jen said. “He gets to go to a show where both grandmas are there watching and competing and mommy’s there, too. It’s an activity we can all do at once. It’s been an amazing year, and I’m really excited we all decided to show next year.”

Between the four of them, they won almost 20 awards throughout last year’s season. At the last show of the season, Kavan didn’t win. Jen said she had to brace herself because he had been unstoppable and didn’t know how he would react.

She said he came out to her, politely tipped his hat and asked what he could have done better.

“That moment made me know it was the right thing for him to do,” Jen said.

The next show season will start in March and last until November or December.

Kavan has graduated to a new skills level and will be controlling Higgins by himself with Jen walking beside holding on to the reins for safety.