Vincennes was represented among the finalists at the American Quarter Horses Association's world show last month.
Vanessa Heinz and her four-year-old bay quarter horse, Bennett, spent a week in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show. They emerged victorious from the experience, placing in the Top 15 for their performance in Level 2 and Level 3 hunter under saddle.
Hunter under saddle is a category of English-style riding that focuses on the graceful movement and gait of the horse.
Those ribbons were hard-earned. The time leading up to the World Show was plagued with problems, but somehow, Heinz and Bennett overcame them.
“We had one problem after another,” Heinz said.
Those problems included an abscess, a corroded shoe that began to eat away at Bennett's hoof, and a torn neck muscle kept him out of the training field for eight weeks.
“We only had about two weeks before [Quarter Horse Congress, another competition] and then two weeks before the world show,” Heinz said. “Really, in all, we only had six weeks to prepare.”
She explained that once he was well enough to start training again, she was careful not to push Bennett too hard.
“The doctor was actually surprised that he got well as soon as he did,” Heinz said.
Heinz describes Bennett as a big softy who likes to have his mane scratched. He will often hold his head underneath Heinz arm so she can do so.
He also tries to eat things he shouldn't. Bennett's muzzle would wander over to his striped lead rope as Heinz spoke, and he would take hold of it as if he wanted to walk himself around the pasture.
Heinz has been riding horses and competing in competitions since the first grade. She has been riding and training with Bennett for two years.
She joined at the World Show by fellow qualifiers in her family. Her cousin, Melanie Heinz, and horse Manny competed in Level 1 and 2 horsemanship; her uncle, Mark Heinz, placed fifth in Level 3 halter with horse Elvis; and her cousin, Amber Fowler, and Ricki competed in amateur trail Level 2 and 3.
They are all 10-year 4-H members who spent many summers in the Horse and Pony Club and provide leadership.
The Heinz family operates Whisper Pines Stables in Vincennes, and Heinz said the small handprints of her father and his siblings can be found in the long-dried concrete at one of the stables.
Her grandfather, who started the horse-craze in the Heinz family, passed away when Heinz was a freshman in college.
Kristi Hays has been Heinz's trainer for three years and has known Heinz for 15 years and has been training horses for around 22 years.
“She is extremely easygoing, willing and talented,” Hays said of her pupil. “She just gets it.”
After Bennett recovered from a series of strange conditions, Hays said Heinz worked with him every day.
When asked about her trainer, Heinz said, “Kristi is super supportive, and she adjusts to each of her clients' needs. Sometimes I can be sassy, but she can deal with me.”
Heinz will have to leave her partner in crime — Bennett, that is — behind for a couple of years.
She will soon be heading off to the University of Evansville to study to become a physicians assistant. She did her undergraduate studies in health administration at the University of Southern Indiana.
She has already arranged to lease Bennett to another one of Hays' clients. When she comes back from school in two years, she reassured, she and Bennett will be reunited.