Horse, rider sweep championship awards

Tibbs’ win is a family, grassroots partnership

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Laurie Tibbs and her half-Arabian horse, Mani, rode against better-funded and well-staffed competitors to win top honors in the recent 10th Annual Arabian Horse Association’s Sport Horse Nationals in Nampa. (Photo by DAVID GUNTER)

SANDPOINT — Every once in a very great while, an individual comes along who changes your whole life. In this story, that individual just happens to be a horse.

Tall dark and handsome, he goes by the name of G.S. Manitou, but you can call him “Mani.”

Last month, local rider Laurie Tibbs joined forces with Mani to bring home enough hardware to fill the back of her vehicle — trophies, ribbons and garlands galore — as the pair swept the awards at the Arabian Horse Association’s 10th annual Sport Horse Nationals competition, held Sept. 19-22 in Nampa, Idaho.

A fifth-grade teacher at Farmin Stidwell Elementary during the school year, she spends her summers competing in regional horse shows. This year, the results were far beyond her expectations. She went into the recent show hoping for a top 10 placement in at least one category and was pleased when she earned a pair of them.

“At that point in the competition, I decided to step it up a notch and really go for it,” the rider said.

Keep in mind that Mani was surrounded by horses that came to this show with the kind of entourages that one usually associates with rock stars on tour. Before and after every ride, a flurry of paid groomers, coaches and trainers would descend, brushing out tail and mane and giving pointers on how to win the next round. In most cases, the support crew was funded through corporate sponsorships.

And then here comes Laurie Tibbs, from little old Sandpoint, Idaho. Her brother, Kevin Brown, came along as volunteer groomer. No corporate logos were stitched on her jacket and when she rode out of the ring, there was no professional staff to greet her.

“We’ve always been proud of the fact that we’re the little guy that doesn’t do all of that,” she said, adding that she has watched the “fly-in set” jet into other shows for years and decided long ago that the lifestyle didn’t suit her. “We’d rather groom them and take care of their feet and clean the stalls ourselves — it’s more rewarding.”

There was no trainer in sight at the Tibbs stall, but, behind the scenes, Laurie had a secret weapon. Watching from back home, her sister, Barbara, put her experience as a riding instructor and horse show judge to work, using technology as the link for long-distance training sessions.

“That was fun,” Laurie said. “Barbara would go to the high school and watch the ride from there. As soon as I stepped off Mani, I’d get the phone call.”

Viewing the competition live via streaming video, Barbara — an English teacher at Sandpoint High School — and sister Marianne Love, who is yet another of the Tibbs girls who grew up riding and went into the education field, took in every move. Barbara was frustrated by her sister’s first ride and let her know it when she completed the round.

“I told her, ‘You rode like an amateur,’” she said, pointing out that Laurie “rode the rail” the whole time and obscured Mani from the judge’s view by doing so. “I said, ‘Bring that horse right down the middle of the arena, like you’re presenting the king to his subjects.’”

This was the moment Mani had been waiting for. In their next showing, horse and rider entered like royalty.

“I could feel that he was on,” said Laurie. “He made it easy to feel elegant — I really was riding on the king.”

The horse has a presence and a personality, she explained. He doesn’t trot, he floats. When the chips are down and all eyes are on him, Mani rises to the occasion.

“His ears are up the whole time and he’s out there like, ‘Look at me — I’m cool,’ ” his rider said.

Barbara’s advice started to pay off as the judges’ scores began to add up to the kind of figures Laurie had never earned before in her riding career. At local shows, competitors are generally thrilled to pull down a combined score between 60-65 after they have ridden all their classes. During a warm-up show on Aug. 11, Laurie earned a 72 with Mani — her highest score ever to that point.

“At the championship, I got a 75.8, which is just huge,” she said.

Even Barbara was impressed by how well the two worked together after that initial, somewhat scathing, phone call. Less prone to give high scores than the judges, her positive remarks meant as much to Laurie as any trophy ever could.

“You don’t get too many perfect scores out of Barbara,” her sister said. “She has a very good critical eye. If she says it was OK, you know it was really good.”

Laurie views the partnership with Mani as that of two athletes working toward the same goal. They train together, they warm up and work out together and their success in the arena depends on both of them being in top form. With the rider in her best English togs and Mani groomed to perfection, the pair reached for a pinnacle neither of them had found before and managed to reach it.

They had to overcome adversity to get there, since Laurie spent half the summer unable to ride due to a broken leg and Mani was plagued by foot problems. By the end of last month’s show, they emerged as the comeback kids, having amassed trophies for both champion and reserve champion, as well as a stack of Top 10 ribbons.

“Most of the winners come from Washington and Oregon,” Laurie noted. “When the announcer said, ‘And the winner is … Laurie Tibbs from Sandpoint, Idaho,’ it was a proud moment, because it’s not just me — we ride for Idaho.”

The win carries on a family tradition at Tibbs Arabians, started in the 1940s when the sisters’ dad hauled in several riding awards of his own and continued by Barbara, who has earned honors for teams she trained.

Now that 13-year-old G.S. Manitou is back in the corral with the eight other horses that know him on a first-name basis, his celebrity status is a thing of the past.

“The rest of them aren’t impressed by him at all,” said Laurie. “There’s a 28-year-old and another 13-year-old that keep him in his place. He’s not the king any more.”

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