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News

Former Congress Champ, Carla Townsley, Returns to Cooper Arena to Compete After 40-Year Absence

October 16th, 2016

By: Brittany Bevis - The Equine Chronicle

The last time Select exhibitor, Carla Townsley, competed at the All American Quarter Horse Congress was more than 40 years ago, when she led a mare named Louann Steel to win the Youth 14 and 15 Showmanship. That was back in 1970 in the Cooper Arena.

A lot of things have changed since then, but the Cooper Arena still remains, as does Carla’s love of the American Quarter Horse. This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Congress, Carla will head to the Cooper Arena once more, this time to compete in Novice Select and Select Showmanship.

Carla, originally a Michigan resident, is now enjoying life in McKinney, Texas, where she can be close to her horse, UF Certainly A Priss, and horse trainers, Will and Elizabeth Knabenshue. When Carla won the Congress, at the age of 16, her brother, Glenn Berenes, served as her “horse trainer.”

“My brother was going to the shows with his Halter horses, and I just tagged along,” she says. “My ticket to the horse show was being his groom. We mostly did Halter, and Showmanship was probably what I was best at, as a kid.”

“Things were different in 1970. First of all, there were no patterns in Showmanship. It was more like a Halter class. Everyone went into the pen at the same time. The judge went down the line and had each exhibitor either walk or trot out to present his/her horse. Then, you turned and left, or sometimes backed into line, but there weren’t any pivots like there are now. I’d never done an actual pattern until I bought Priss in 2015!”

That was only last year, but in a short period of time, Carla and Priss have grown by leaps and bounds. Most recently, the pair placed fourth in Performance Halter Mares, 6th in Showmanship, and third in Level 2 Showmanship at the AQHA Select World Show. Here at the Congress, Carla and Priss will show in Novice Select and Select Showmanship, Novice Select and Select Horsemanship, Amateur Performance Halter Mares, and Novice Select and Select Trail.

When Carla decided she wanted to get back into the show pen, she approached Will Knabenshue with a request. “I said to Will, ‘I haven’t been on a horse in 15 years. Do you think I can still show one?’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t know. Let’s put you on one and we’ll see!’ Then, he found Priss for me, and it’s been a great combination. I just think she’s the best horse ever. She’s got a sweet personality, and she’s kind enough to let me learn on her.”

According to Carla, many things have changed about the horse industry since she was named a Congress Champion. Of course, the fashion choices and show ring trends have come and gone, but the Congress has remained largely the same.

“When I was a kid, we did weekend horse shows where you did the whole show on Saturday and the whole show on Sunday. Now, you have five judges, four rings going at a time, and you stay there for a week. Also, the emphasis now is more on Trail and Western Riding. I’ve basically had to learn everything all over again.”

“But still, the Congress was the biggest show you’d ever been to. There were horses everywhere and rings running at the same time. There were 7o kids in my class, and we were all in the Cooper Arena at the same time! Everybody came from everywhere. It was where you’d see all the people you only saw in the magazines. It was the place to go back then, but I guess it still is today!”

Carla is excited and appreciative that the Congress has decided to add Novice Select classes to the schedule this year. She feels it gives competitors like her a chance to get their feet wet before jumping back into the regular Select division with more seasoned riders.

“Everything is the same, but it’s still different. It takes a while to get in that flow of how it goes, but people have been great. The select folks are absolutely wonderful, and there is more camaraderie. I’m just really happy, at this point in my life, to be doing this. I consider myself to be very fortunate.”

“Showmanship is still my favorite class; although, when I started back doing these patterns, I was so bad that whole first year. I didn’t know if I could get the hang of it. It seemed like I had two left feet, and I couldn’t figure out the turns. I didn’t think I was ever going to be that good at it. But, somewhere along the way, things have kicked in a bit and everything has come around. This year, I want to do the best I can and feel like I belong in the competition. If I could win another Congress title, that would be really good too!”

Before we let Carla go, we had to ask about the show outfit she wore when she was named a 1970 Congress Champion in Youth Showmanship. “I know I have a black and white picture somewhere that someone took when I walked out of the pen. I don’t even know if they did win pictures back then. It’s a shame it’s not in color, because you can’t see my lime green hat! I wore navy blue pants, a white shirt, my lime green hat, and a navy blue, plaid jacket that wasn’t subtle!”

Keep an eye out for Carla and Priss this year in Select Showmanship classes, but don’t count on the lime green hat making an appearance. Carla will be wearing classic black with hints of copper, that perfectly match Miss Priss’s coat.