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Trail horse TV show is a chance for Western Slope horse to shine

By Bob Silbernagel

From The Daily Sentinel Horseplay section, Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rita Tupa hopes her friend will soon become a reality television star. There’s no doubt that Tupa and her trail-riding companion — a paint mare officially named R Trail Callie, but called Callie for short — will be on a reality show. They will be part of a program on HRTV called “America’s Favorite Trail Horse,” which was organized by the American Competitive Trail Horse Association.

The show begins airing this month, and Tupa said she and Callie will be among the horseand- rider teams featured in the second episode, which is scheduled to be broadcast Sept. 20.

The question, for Tupa and all the other riders, is whether her horse can win enough viewer support to be one of the cash-winning finalists. If she is, Tupa said, most of the money she wins will be donated to an organization that helps finacially strapped horse owners provide feed for their horses, and a spay clinic for cats.

Tupa and Callie live near Almont in Gunnison County, where husband John manages a horse development known as Danni Ranch. She has also ridden in this area, such as at the annual Trail Horse Trials in Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. (See upcoming events, below.) Tupa, 52, has been riding horses her entire life, and is a former horse trainer. Most of her working life has involved jobs in which she rode horses, including working from horseback in feedlots and sales barns in Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas, and working as a wrangler on a horse ranch.

Recreationally, she used to compete in trail classes in conventional horse shows. She also has participated in sanctioned American Competitive Trail Horse Association trail rides and in ranch competition.

Tupa acquired Callie, who is now 15, when she was an unbroke three-year-old. She used her at a sales barn in Texas and on numerous trail rides since the family moved to Colorado three years ago. She also learned that the quiet little mare would do almost anything asked of her. She has won in trail competition and been a lead-line winner with Tupa’s young grandson aboard.

Tupa learned of the competition for America’s Favorite Trail Horse back in February, through an email that announced auditions throughout the country. The closest, for her, were in Denver or Pueblo.

She and Callie made the trip to Pueblo last April, and on a chilly, windy day, they competed with roughly 100 other horses to become one of seven horses chosen to go to the finals in Austin, Texas, in May.

Colorado was well-represented at those finals. Of the 100 finalists, nine are from Colorado. Western Slope finalists include Tupa, Francine Acord Brown of Rifle and Rheta Strong of Aspen.

That Texas competition involved three days of difficult and varied trail work at the Franklin Family Ranch near Austin. It included a six-mile trail ride with obstacles such as jumps, creek crossings, steep hills and backing the horse through a narrow, L-shaped opening in the trees. Wellknown horse trainers from around the country, including Aaron Ralston of Silt, were on hand to offer tips to riders after they completed each section.

There were more obstacles and difficult maneuvers in a different trail area the second day, and some horses failed to complete all of the requirements. Callie did, however.

The final day was a freestyle trail presentation, and Tupa knew she had to do something different to win the attention of judges and the television viewers.

Several riders had attempted to take their horses up a lengthy staircase made of earth and logs, with varying degrees of success. Tupa and Callie easily made it to the top, and then descended. Near the bottom they stopped and, with Callie’s hindquarters one step higher than her front legs, they sidepassed easily across the wide stairs. It was a maneuver that caught the attention of several observers. Ralston told her, “Your horse looked like it had been doing it forever.”

She hopes television viewers will be equally impressed. But, Tupa noted, the competition isn’t called “America’s Best Trail Horse.” It’s “America’s Favorite Trail Horse.” So equine personality is also important, and Tupa believes she has an advantage there.

“My little mare is a sweetheart,” she said. “All the clinicians loved her. The spectators were attracted to her and children love to pet her. She is very willing and very calm.”

Whether that translates into enough votes for Callie to be one of the horses that wins $5,000 or $10,000 won’t be known until later this fall.

“Please vote for Callie, No.

211,” Tupa said.

Viewers can watch the program beginning at 6 p.m. MDT on the cable channel HRTV.

They can also view the program, and vote for Callie, at beginning that evening.


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