Ride 'em, cowboy

Editor's note: This corrects the cost of attending the Family Fun Fair.

When the contestants hit the course at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center this weekend, there won't be any grapevines dangling from trees, rivers or fallen logs.

But to the horses and their riders, it will be close enough.

For the second straight year, the center is hosting the Surf City Cowboy Challenge, a competition that seeks to recreate the challenges a rider would face on the trail. Maybe the grapevines are made of rope or torn shower curtains, and maybe the river comes out of a hose. But real or not, it's still tough for a rider to guide his horse through the dozen-some obstacles on the track.

"The horse that hesitates or shies or spooks, you're going to take some points off," said Bill Hull, the president of the Extreme Cowboy Assn., which sanctions the event and others like it around the country.

The Texas-based association started in November 2008 with the goal of promoting good horsemanship throughout the United States and Canada. For Hull and the contests' certified judges, good horsemanship means speed plus accuracy. Riders and their horses earn scores between 1 and 10 for each obstacle on the course, with the top finishers going on to compete in the championships in Topeka, Kansas in November.

The event in Huntington Beach is part of the Family Fun Fair organized by Red Bucket Equine Rescue, a nonprofit that saves and rehabilitates starved, abused and neglected horses. All proceeds from the two-day event will go to Red Bucket.

In addition to the races, the event will feature pony rides, games, food, vendor booths and a silent auction, along with a barbecue and hoedown Saturday evening.

"This is old-fashioned, real old-fashioned cowboy tradition stuff," said Susan Peirce, the president of Red Bucket. "We say the Pledge of Allegiance. We say a prayer. It's good, old-fashioned American entertainment."

She noted that the course will be kept a secret until the races begin Saturday and Sunday. Last year's competition, Peirce said, drew about 40 competitors, with some coming from as far away as Temecula and Norco — and she advised that people reserve tickets in advance, as she expects a bigger crowd this year.

The maximum score in a single contest, Hull said, is 145 points — 10 for each of the 13 obstacles, plus 10 for horsemanship and five for speed. Still, he said, contestants shouldn't feel bad if they score quite a bit lower than that, given the judges' high standards.

"If they reach a score as high as 8 from me, they've hit a home run," he said. "Nines and 10s are almost unheard of."

If You Go

What: Second annual Surf City Cowboy Challenge

Where: Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, 18381 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with a barbecue and hoedown from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $5 adult admission for the Family Fun Fair, children 12 and younger admitted for free; barbecue and hoedown is $15 presale only

Information: (714) 848-6565

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