“Last year went very well and I hope to do just as well if not better,” Cochran said, pictured here.

Show Ring Tips: Prepping for Level 1 Championships

The American Quarter Horse Association hosts three Level One Championship shows each year (Las Vegas, Nevada, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Raleigh, North Carolina) to give Level One exhibitors and horses the opportunity to showcase their talents on a grand stage.

For Level One riders, competing at one of these shows is one of the toughest and most exciting experiences for their show careers to date. A lot of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears goes into preparing for the event, and of course, everyone hopes to bring home the trophy.

Between the qualification process and the practicing leading up the show, competing at this prestigious event can seem like a daunting task.

GoHorseShow was interested in finding out some advice from some of this year’s exhibitors and how they are preparing for the show.

Let’s find out what they had to say.

Gracie Cochran

Gracie Cochran is an amateur rider from Lapeer, Michigan, and trains with Kari Fritsch. She will be attending the North Carolina show.

“I’ve been practicing a lot more than usual,” Cochran said. “We’ve put my horse back in full-time training since December 1st. We’ve been trying to get a flying lead change just in case they ask for one. I’ve been doing a lot of no stirrup work.”

Cochran is hoping to give ranch riding a try for the first time.

“I’ve been watching a lot of AQHA videos on past world champions and trying to get a feel for how that class is going to run,” Cochran said.

“Immy” or Only Immortal, is Cochran’s horse and she said Immy has a lot of personality.

“She has got a very weird personality, to be honest,” Cochran said. “She takes everything personally and she tries. I’ve never had a horse that tries as hard as she does.”

Cochran is a big believer in treats, and she likes to reward and encourage her horse.

“The more you show her she is doing it right, the harder she tries,” Cochran said. “So we just really try to encourage her and give her cookies when she is right and try to communicate with her.”

“Last year went very well and I hope to do just as well if not better,” Cochran said. “I’m going to be doing hunter under saddle, horsemanship, trail and ranch riding. I’ll be in Level 1 for everything except trail and ranch riding, which will be the rookie.”

Personal exercise has been essential to Cochran as well.

“I’ve been trying to up my exercise,” Cochran said. “I know last year was a lot of work, so I’m trying to prepare myself as well.”

As for mental preparation, Cochran believes she is ready.

“Last year, for the equitation, I was the first draw, and I was so terrified,” Cochran recalls. “But one of the AQHA leaders who was working the show walked me right up to the start cone and wished me luck. They were just so helpful, so I know going into it this year I don’t need to be so nervous. Everybody there is also going through the same thing.”

Megan D’Andrea

Megan D’Andrea is a sophomore nursing student in college from Fowler, Ohio. She and her horse, Jelly Dunnit, or “Willow,” have had only a month off this winter trying to make sure they are in shape and are ready to compete. Willow and D’Andrea are planning to go to North Carolina and do Rookie Amateur Reining and Rookie Amateur Ranch Riding.

“For me, I try to get some workout in each day,” D’Andrea said.

With a busy class schedule, this can be hard to accomplish at times and might only be 30 minutes.

“On the weekend, I can get like an hour work out and run or use the elliptical,” D’Andrea said. “I also try to get in ab workouts. I try to stay on top of that for myself.”

To get Willow back in shape, D’Andrea has started lunging and riding over poles.

“I have a couple of trails around my woods and I’ve been riding them to help desensitize her,” D’Andrea said. “She is only three so she needs a lot of preparation.”

D’Andrea does most work on her own.

“I was in the youth development program with her in 2014,” D’Andrea said. “So, I did a lot of desensitizing with her as a baby. It’s cool because I had gotten to watch her from when she was just a baby and raising her. She is the second horse I have started under saddle.”

Since Willow is so young, D’Andrea has to be able to keep calm in the show pen.

“The first time she went to a show, she did get a little funny when she saw all the other horses,” D’Andrea said. “I’ve just got to try to stay calm in the show pen and to be ready for anything.”

Kyla Jeffries

Kyla Jeffries is a youth from Olean, Indiana and balances her horse career while also keeping up her 4.0 in high school.

Along with Cochran, she also had a scary first big show but at the Congress in 2015. Jeffries believes it helped give her confidence to show at Level 1 for the first time.

“At Congress, I was first out of like 45 to go in my showmanship class,” Jeffries said. “That gets me thinking if I can do that at Congress, then I can do this.”

Jeffries gave her horse, Impulsive Ben, or “Ben,” a two-month break this winter.

“But we started showing in February, so that was the earliest start of the season we have ever done,” Bonnie Jeffries, Kyla’s mother, said. “We went to Gordyville, Illinois and she had an excellent, successful show there being the 13 &U All-Around for that show. So, we thought, let’s go ahead and send in our entry fees and give it a shot this year.”

Currently, Jeffries is doing a lot of lunging and conditioning and she is practicing more horsemanship maneuvers.

“Mostly at shows, we work with Kristi Sharp, our trainer,” Bonnie said. “She lives three hours away and she gives Kyla things to work on while we are at the shows and she works on that by herself at home. Then, we will go back to the show and see if we have made any improvements and try it again.”

“I’m just practicing a lot,” Kyla said. “Practicing with Ben to make sure we’re on the same page with everything that we do.”

Jeffries signed up in many all-around classes, but she plans to have the most success in hunter under saddle and equitation. Jeffries is currently 3rd in the AQHA Level 1 Youth 13 & Under Hunter Under Saddle and 14th in Rookie Youth Amateur Equitation.

Jeffries said she is in this position because of Ben.

“He has made my dreams come true and he is the sweetest, most cooperative horse,” Kyla said. “He always tries to please. We ask so much and he always gives. He knows when he hits the pen and he turns it on. We wouldn’t be able to compete with just any horse. He made this possible.”

Photos © Sarah Brandt Photography, Shane Rux


GoHorseShow writer, Kristi Sanders, graduated from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in journalism. Kristi has been riding since age five and was a 10-year member for her local 4-H. She now competes in rookie and level 1 AQHA with her horse, Best Hot One. Kristi has started working as an equine sports massage therapist after receiving certification through Midwest Natural Healing of Animals. Along with this, she runs a small equine related blog, the Small Town Cowgirl Blog.