Three Wallowa County girls achieved a milestone in horsemanship at the Wallowa County Fair last week.
Sarah Aschenbrenner, 16, of Enterprise, Lauren Makin, 16, of Lostine, and Taylor Grote 16, of Joseph, were each awarded an E.L. “Dad” Potter 3-Step award for horsemanship. The last Wallowa County winner of the 3-Step was Cody Arbogast in 2012. The last Wallowa County winner of the coveted 10-step E.L. “Dad” Potter Pin was way back in 1980 when Carolyn Brennan won it.
The Dad Potter awards are given only when a perfectly groomed and attired 4-H rider performs extremely precise movements on a horse he/she has trained for at least six months. The horse must also be perfectly groomed and tacked up. Riders cannot receive awards for one portion of the requirements, but must be perfect in all three areas.
The trial is a test of finished horsemanship for horse and rider. The movements required of the horse (stops and turns and gaits) are to be performed so precisely that the horse may not deviate from the exact position required by the judge by so much as half a hoof-measure.
Winning the Potter is a goal that requires persistence and dedication.
Sarah Aschenbrenner, for instance, has competed 14 times in four years in her journey to the top. Her horse came to her “green” (barely started) and she has brought him through many trials.
Last year, Sarah passed the precision but didn’t get the win because the judge determined her hair was not perfectly neat.
“It has been quite a journey,” said Aschenbrenner. “It’s a bittersweet moment when you don’t win because you know you’re good enough to compete. It gives me more determination.”
Lauren Makin started with a well-trained horse but still had to spend plenty of time developing their partnership. “As soon as it’s warm enough that your nose hairs don’t freeze, we’re out riding,” Makin said. The work paid off. Her 14-year-old Quarter Horse, Rusty, helped her to win her award in two years with four tries at the Potter.
“The win — oh my gosh, it was amazing,” she said.
Taylor Grote said it took “five or six tries” on her 23-year-old Paint mare. The mare was well broke when Taylor got her, but had no experience with that kind of precision, Grote said.
“We had to practice a lot,” she said. “It’s frustrating when you know you didn’t get it, but you also think you get it right and then the judge tells you it was wrong. I went in there (this year) and was expecting to just do my best and not get it. (The win) was amazing. When I won it didn’t feel like it was real.”
The three girls can still try for the Dad Potter Pin, awarded to riders to compete in the 10-Step. Their next chance for that is at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show in Union in June 2016.
They will probably try for that, they say.
“I have aspiration to do the 10-Step,” Aschenbrenner said. “When I won the 3-Step it was a sigh of relief. I felt really, really good because the people who congratulated me knew how hard it was. I can tell whoever asks that I have trained my own horse to do the Dad Potter.”
But the three girls have another aspiration in common: all are trying out for the Chief Joseph Days Court.
Lauren Makin, who is on the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show Court this year, credits the Potter for her new ambitions. “I’ve really got my confidence up with winning that Dad Potter,” she said.
E.L. “Dad” Potter was an early pioneer in Oregon agricultural education. In 1908, he became an instructor in Animal Husbandry at OSU. He was deeply involved in the development of the Oregon 4-H Horse program and established the E.L. “Dad” Potter Award for horsemanship in 1956.