News EditorWhen she was 11 years old, Cammi Benson told The Nugget she planned to win the Pinto World Championship at age 14.
Most high aspirations of pre-teen kids are pleasant dreams that fall by the wayside. Not for Benson. Last month, she did, in fact, win the world at the Pinto Horse World Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Benson, the daughter of Julie and Benny Benson of Sisters, won several prestigious honors: the All-Around Junior Youth High Point (13/under – qualified for age as of January 2012); Youth (18/under) Gymkhana High Point; Youth (18/under) Driving High Point; and as a team, Cammi and her horse “Image On The Rocks” won World Show Super Horse High Point (out of more than 2,000 horses).
Pinto is a color registry where a wide variety of breeds compete together in the Pinto World Championships. “When I first started riding and competing in shows, I dreamed of going to the World Show,” Benson told The Nugget. “Last year I went to the World Show, and came in sixth overall. That’s when I noticed what it takes to win the All-Around title. I had to be able to place in more disciplines than just performance.”
It’s a competition that rewards versatility. Points are scored for the top six placings in each event. Points are added up, and the highest total points achieved at the World Show are awarded the High Point designation.
“She was in the top six in 16 events, and was World Champion in eight of them, all pattern classes,” Julie explained.
Cammi’s horse, a 9-year-old paint – best known as “Tigger” – has versatility in spades.
“Horses have gotten really specialized,” Julie said. “Tigger is not a specialty-bred horse. If you saw him out in the pasture, you’d think he was a cow horse. What he is, though, is steady and willing. He has a heart of gold. Whatever Cammi asks him to do, he gives his all.”
Tigger might not be the very best at any particular event when going up against a horse bred for, say, jumping. But he’s really good at a lot of different things, which gave Cammi an edge in building her overall point total.
Getting that edge, however, took a lot of work. After the 2011 show, Benson and trainer Carolyn Horning determined what it would take to win.
“She and her trainer really set out a plan a year ago – and they worked on it every day,” Julie said.
Working the plan meant bringing her performance classes up to a more competitive level, as well as adding new disciplines like driving the cart, jumping, dressage, reining, and gymkhana, which Benson had not done before.
“There are basically two kinds of classes,” explains Cammi. “There are the ones where the movement, conformation, and color of the horses are judged, such as Pleasure, Hunter Under Saddle, and Halter. Horses are specially bred and trained for these events, and that’s all they do. We don’t even enter those classes, since Tigger has no chance at placing.”
The other kinds of classes are pattern classes, where the rider and horse are judged on how well they execute a given pattern. There are many different kinds of patterns, including showmanship, dressage, reining, equitation, driving the cart, and gymkhana. This is where Cammi and Tigger shine.
For Cammi and Tigger to be able to place in the top six in such a diverse range of events is exceptional. It’s not just the horse that’s exceptional, it’s the partnership, the Bensons note. Add Horning’s expert instruction in these multiple disciplines, and that completed the winning combination. Horning has achieved many world titles in her own career showing horses, and now trains others in her lifelong passion.
Cammi had to get more comfortable with speed events to prevail in gymkhana, which includes timed events such as barrel racing, keyhole race, flag race, stake (a figure-eight pattern) and pole bending.
She now acknowledges that she likes the speed, but the precision of pattern work is still her forte.
Her schedule when Tigger is at home is to ride him twice a day, focusing on two different disciplines. When Tigger is at Horning’s barn, Horning and Benson each ride him once a day.
Competition at this elite level brings a lot of pressure to bear.
“I was competing with 300 of the best kids and horses in the U.S. and Canada. I was so nervous, I had to get all the butterflies in my stomach to fly in formation,” Cammi said.
Performing under pressure is not new for Benson, who is also an elite pianist. She performed a major National Piano Guild test the week before leaving for the World Show.
“I think her music study helps her in memorizing patterns,” says Julie. “At the World Show, some days she had to execute nine different patterns, all from memory.”
To perform at the level to which she aspires, Benson must be disciplined – and have a flexible schedule.
“This year I did an online school – ORVA (Oregon Virtual Academy),” Cammi explained.
She can do her work on her own schedule, mostly at night after the riding and chores are done.
Equestrian sports demand a high degree of responsibility.
“Unlike other sports, you can’t just throw the ball in the closet and go on about your day. You have your horse to take care of, too. When other kids are home watching TV, Cammi is out cleaning the barn and caring for her horses and other animals,” said Benny.
Cammi notes that her success is a team effort. She gives credit to her trainer, Carolyn Horning, and to her vet, Tim Phillips, and farrier and equine chiropractor Abe Stills, and also to Sisters’ “Hands-on-the-Horse Guy” Bill Turner.
“To compete at that level, you have to have the horse as good as he can be,” Julie said. “And all those people had a part in that.”
Julie herself earns credit as the literal driving force behind her daughter’s success. When Cammi started riding in shows, her mom was hauling her horses around in a bumper-pull trailer. She’s since advanced to a big rig and cross-country treks.
“Six years ago she was scared to death,” Cammi said. “And now she’s driving a semi-truck and a 40-foot trailer through drive-up coffee shops.”
Cammi’s grandparents, Marvin and Trine Benson, and Ruthie White, all pitch in to keep the Bensons’ farm running while they’re away at horse shows.
“I couldn’t do this without their support,” Cammi said.
Cammi says she doesn’t know what the next step is for her and Tigger. She may “age up” and continue in the kind of competition she dominated last month. Or, there may be other equestrian activities to explore.
And if you ask where all this is pointing in terms of a future career, Cammi will smile and say, “I have no idea.”
But whatever path she chooses, she’s already shown that she has the discipline, drive and passion to win the world.
For more information on the Pinto World Championship, visit www.pintoworld.com.