A Passion for Horses

Byers Compete at 2021 Pinto World Championship Show
Growing up on the family farm, mares and foals were a part of daily life. Karen’s love for horses grew as she helped with chores and showed them in arenas like at the Clay County Fair.

“I grew up in the Royal area and my parents raised American Quarter Horses. I showed them in Northwest Iowa Horse Show Association events during the summers and in 4-H at the Clay County Fair.” She remembered, “I always had horses around—all the way through college. It’s in my blood.”

Karen’s passion for horses has only grown through the years—it’s a love she has passed onto her children and community.

“I think I’ve been on a horse since birth,” Karen’s daughter Josie commented. “I was riding horses before I could walk. I love working with them and showing them.”

Most recently, Karen, Josie, and Keith Byers all competed at the 2021 Pinto World Championship Show in Tulsa, OK in June. With two of their horses, Ruby and Hallie, the family came home with four top five placings, five top 10’s, and a Reserve World Champion.

“It was initially intimidating to go to the World Show, but it was a great experience and one we want to go to again,” Karen said.

Starting Young
Like their mother, Keith, Josie, and Rian all started riding early, being led around in lead line and costume classes. As they grew older, all three first started competing at the Clay County Fair. Once they could join 4-H in fourth grade, they participated in the Dickinson County Fair and then the Iowa State Fair.

The family also competes in different shows like Iowa Pinto at Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids and Ellsworth in Iowa Falls, as well as local shows like Iowa Color Breed and Sioux Valley Appaloosa Club.

“Many of the horse shows are on county fairgrounds or college campuses with indoor arenas,” Karen said. “Moving up to the World Show level was quite different.”

The 2021 Pinto World Show had over 85,000 entries in 768 novice, amateur, and open classes, with a variety of 2,383 equines including entries with horses, miniature horses, mules, donkeys and miniature donkeys.

Both Karen and Josie competed in the amateur division in their specific age categories, while Keith showed Josie’s yearling horse in the Open Division in Halter, In-Hand Trail, and Longeline since he is a professional horse trainer.

Competitions took place in Western Pleasure Classes, as well as Trail and English. The Novice competitor is one who is just beginning the show process and hasn’t earned many points. The amateur has competed before and doesn’t earn money in the profession, while the open divisions are filled with trainers, judges, and other horse professionals who are paid in some form.

Josie’s horse, Ruby, is a yearling filly that she raised and trained herself. It is too young to ride yet, so she led her in amateur halter, in-hand trail and longeline. Keith showed her in the same classes in the Open Division. Ruby was in the top five in each of those classes and was the Reserve World Champion in the Open Yearling Solid Pinto Longe Line Class. Josie plans to start training her for riding classes next year.

Karen’s horse, Hallie, is a four-year-old APHA/PtHA mare that she purchased in January. She showed her in amateur halter, color, and walk/trot riding classes. Keith showed Hallie in the Open Division riding classes and was top ten in each of those events.

While not helping his family, Keith is currently working as a trainer at Tommy Sheets Show Horses in New Albany, Indiana. They go to two-three shows a month, sometimes gone 5-12 days at a time.

“As a trainer, our goal isn’t to just work a horse, but rather work the horse so you put them in the position and a program to succeed in the long term,” he said. “Everyday, I learn different techniques on why a horse might act a certain way. It’s a balance on how hard to push a horse.”

Josie also works closely with horses on a daily basis. She’s a veterinarian technician at Siouxland Equine out of Sioux Center. She graduated with a vet tech degree from Iowa Lakes Community College.

“We visit a lot of farms and I assist with everything, especially ambulatory work,” she said. “We generally just work out of a truck and make calls.”

Rian also enjoys showing horses and donkeys but wasn’t able to attend the World’s competition this year, so he stayed home and managed the remaining farm chores. He is attending South Dakota State University in Agricultural Engineering.

“He will be the one building the horse arenas for future shows,” Karen said.

Rian won the Senior Pleasure Class in 2019 at the Iowa State Fair, which includes a western saddle, bridle, and equipment and having the horse walk, trot, and lope.

“It’s fun to watch all three kids continue to showcase their love for horses in different ways,” Karen shared. “However, their success didn’t come overnight.”

All of them spend considerable time with their horses, teaching them new skills and building trust amongst the animal and themselves. The Byers have an indoor horse arena which is ideal in the colder months.

“Doing well at a horse show is greatly impacted by how much time is spent with them during the off months; you can’t expect everything to come together the week before,” Karen said.

Giving back is another way Karen enjoys sharing her love for horses. Most recently, she helped at the Dickinson County Fair during the Horse Show. Her kids are too old to compete in 4-H in Spirit Lake, but Karen was still involved by announcing at the horse show.

“I really enjoy horses and appreciate the opportunities I’ve had through the years, as well as ones my family has gotten,” she added.

Falling in love with horses as a young girl has definitely impacted Karen, allowing her to share her passion with her family and others in the community.