On The Cart With Compton: Troy Compton’s Exclusive Interview With Gerri Leigh Pratt
GoHorseShow.com brings you the latest installment of “On The Cart With Compton” as Troy sits down with renowned owner and exhibitor, Gerri Leigh Pratt. A life-long, active horse show enthusiast, the often outspoken Gerri Leigh started her time on the golf cart with Troy by announcing, “I’ll do my best to limit my profanity, but you guys will probably have to edit the s*** out of this thing.”
Although sometimes controversial, you may be surprised at Gerri Leigh’s deep passion for great horses and longtime love for the world of horse shows. One thing is for certain, when a personality like Troy Compton gets together with someone like Gerri Leigh Pratt, their high level of lifetime accomplishments and historic roots within the horse industry are sure to leave you entertained. We present to you the latest “On The Cart With Compton.”
TC: So, Gerri Leigh, tell me a little bit about your background. Where’s your love for the horses come from?
GLP: My mother and father passed away when I was eight years old so I was raised by my grandmother. My parents were into race horses and fortunately I never got in to that, but I think you’re born with it in your blood. I was a little girl, my grandmother didn’t want anything to do with horses, but I was horse obsessed. I got a pony named Candy but I didn’t have a saddle or a bridle, just a halter. She had me figured out real good. There was a tree in our backyard and every day she would rub me off on the tree, run down the drive way and run like a mile to a church that was out in the middle of a field. I would have to walk all the way to go get her and it would take me an hour and a half…and then we’d do it all over again. But I was just obsessed. My mother, in her will, left me a Grand Prix jumper and again, I didn’t have a saddle. We were going down the road one day and a motorcycle spooked him and he tears off and we’re heading for a fence and it’s almost 5 feet tall. He goes boing, right over the thing and I stayed on! How I stayed on, I have no idea.
I was horseless until I was 15 and begged my grandmother so much to get me a horse. He was $5,000 and my grandmother said ‘I will buy him but I will never watch you ride him.’ She said she didn’t want to see me get killed. I won some big stuff in the Grand Prix circuit with him and I eventually sold him to the Puerto Rican Olympic team. Then there was a girl I knew who had a Quarter Horse. But when she rode him, he never went anywhere, his head was down and he was so quiet. I was used to going fast with the jumpers and one day I asked her if I could ride him. Well that was it! I rode this thing around and he was amazing and so quiet and I tell her ‘I’ll be having this!’ I end up buying him for $5,000 which was ridiculous but I had to have him! I had a blast and I started going to all the open shows and I won everything at the Friday night, Saturday night shows. Then I had a hunter who was a Quarter Horse so I decided I would take him down to the Gold Coast in Florida. While I’m there, I saw a horse that I really like and his name was Reward’s Choice and he was a Reserve World Champion halter horse but he did all the events back when they used to do that. Well, I had to have this horse so I bought him and I won everything with him and that’s pretty much how I got started.
TC: So tell us more about your background…you grew up in North Carolina and your family was in the tobacco industry, right?
GLP: My grandfather was one of the guys that was with the group that started it. He wasn’t one of the founders, but he was involved. By the time I was born everyone in my family was deceased except for my grandmother. I’m an only child, my mother was an only child, and my grandmother was an only child.
TC: So you basically raised yourself?
GLP: No, my grandmother raised me. I loved her more than a mother, father, sister and brother all combined. She never watched me do the horses because I was doing the jumpers. She was hit by a car and in a coma for five years before she passed away. I kept her at home and at that point I started showing Quarter Horses and she never saw me show Quarter Horses. The only thing she ever knew I did was jumpers and that was the one thing she did not want me to do. So that’s really sad. But I feel like she’s up there watching me now.
TC: Does your difficult childhood help you persevere in the horse industry?
GLP: Probably so. I was 22 when she passed away in 1980 and it was like ‘Okay, Charles in charge.’ I was smart enough at that age to figure out not to let anybody screw with me because they all ran at me and I didn’t let them.
TC: So even at that early of an age, you had it figured out?
GLP: I believe that whatever they throw at you, if you’re by yourself, you can figure it out. It’s like riding a horse. A person can tell you and tell you and tell you, but until you get on and you do it yourself, it’s not going to work. I don’t care how many books you read, until you practice it, it’s not going to work. When life threw that at me that hard, I had to take charge.
TC: Where does the income to play this game come from?
GLP: Oh, commercial real estate and old stocks that have turned out to be good investments.
TC: I’m an 18 year old kid when I go out to California to work for Doug Lilly, and that’s where I met you. I don’t know if you remember this but we used to load up in that old semi with the cab over, Dar and you and the dog named Tuesday would sit in that sleeper and I would sit in the passenger seat and there was no air conditioning and…
GLP: (Interrupts) And it was so hot without the air conditioning and we would drive over the grapevine with the heater running to keep the engine cool!
TC: Yeah, and I didn’t really know you, but they told me that you are this well-heeled lady. The whole time I’m wondering what in the world are you doing driving with us in the truck sweating like crazy?
GLP: And don’t forget the dog that would eat you alive every time Doug would turn the signal on. This thing would go ballistic every time it would hear the blinker and would attack one of us.
TC: I remember thinking that you could have rented a car or had a driver or whatever but you chose to be so hands on. I knew you loved the horses and all my career, I knew I really wanted to ride for you. One day I found a horse that I knew you would love, Zips White Chip, and you bought the horse sight unseen.
GLP: I knew you so well, so when you called me and told me you had found a horse and he was magnificent, and that he was drop dead gorgeous, I trusted you enough to buy the horse because normally I wouldn’t do that.
TC: It’s been over 25 years since those days with Doug and during that time we have seen many people come and go. Why have you lasted this long?
GLP: Well, I think I’ve paid my dues. I have some sense, I take the knocks and the gifts, and I have improved my knowledge as I’ve gone along. There are people who jump into this thing and think ‘I’ve got a lot of money, I can dominate this deal for fun.’ That’s not how this deal works. This is about camaraderie and respect, great animals and being an appreciative person and I think there are people who jump in who just think they can buy their way in. It’s not about money in this deal. It’s certainly nice to have money so you can buy a nice horse, but if you’re ignorant about it, you can still buy the best horse there is, but you’re screwed because you’ve acted ignorant.
TC: And you’re still sticking around. You still go to all of the horse shows. Why?
GLP: I love competition and I love my horses and I love all the people. This is my family because I have no family.
TC: This is your adopted family?
GLP: This is my family! I just really enjoy the competition and the fun. This is my life. I love it.
TC: Speaking of family, how is your son, Camden?
GLP: You don’t want to go there. I fought it for the last 15 years and I have released it to Jesus. That’s all I can do and that’s really all I can say about that. It’s in his hands now.
TC: Okay, so let’s talk about the horse that really started it all for you, Chicks Son.
TC: Wow, that put a smile on your face!
GLP: Yeah, Chicks Son was my first all-around horse. Doug called me one day in 1983 and said he found a horse. So we flew to Bakersfield, California, and went out in the middle of nowhere to see a horse this old farmer had. He was five years old and a pretty horse. Bear in mind I know a good mover because I’ve come from the hunters. And he clips around there and I’m like ‘Hello!’ So anyway, we go in the house to do the deal, and I completely over-pay, but in the end it was worth it. Whenever I think of that story, I can’t help but remember that the house rattled what seemed like the whole time we were there! The people just kept talking away and they didn’t seem to care that they were having an earthquake. They said they had tremors all the time.
So anyway, we buy Chicks Son and I fly from North Carolina to Pomona (California) the first time to show him. And they didn’t know me from Adam. Doug didn’t know me really either. So I fly in there and I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘Here comes this dingbat blonde from North Carolina to show this horse.’ So I get out there and win every class! At that show, every time you won they gave you a bottle of champagne and twenty dollars!
TC: That was the Champagne Circuit. That was a blast.
GLP: So much fun!
TC: So have we lost the fun in the horse deal now?
GLP: Well, YEAH! I mean do you see anything fun happening around here?
TC: What do we need to do to get that back?
GLP: I really don’t know. I wish I did.
TC: You said you know you over paid for Chicks Son, was it worth it?
GLP: I paid $40,000 which way back then was a lot of money, especially for a gelding. A lot of money! But the horse turned out to be incredible. I think I’m the only person to ever have won the Congress, the World and the Nation in the all-around in the same year.
TC: That’s incredible if you really are the only one to do that. How did Lilly find him?
GLP: I’m not exactly sure. He was a former race horse and had a good speed index. Remember when we’d have to cross that track in Del Mar to get to the show pen? He’d go nuts, remember that? We’d have to plug his ears because he got all amped up to run. Then he’d settle down and go kick their butts in the show pen.
TC: Let’s talk about Doug Lilly.
GLP: I miss him, oh I miss him. We maintained a relationship ever since I had a horse with him, even through all his marriages. He would call me about once a month and we had a little thing; he would call me and say, ‘Miss Pratt?’ and I would say, ‘Yes?,’ and he would say, ‘Mister Lilly.’ And if I called him I would say ‘Mister Lilly?…Miss Pratt.’ I was with him when he passed away. It was so sad. Right before he was completely gone I walked in and said ‘Mister Lilly!’ and he smiled.
TC: Was he your best friend?
GLP: I don’t know if he was my best friend, but he was a very, very good friend. I know Doug’s record and all of that but he was a great horse trainer. He taught me everything I know.
TC: That says a lot.
GLP: He was an unbelievable horse trainer.
TC: Yes he was. You really seem like someone who appreciates the greatness in horses and in this business. What is greatness to you?
GLP: You’ve been one of my trainers so you know. First of all, the horse has to hit me like BAM! I want one that I say to myself ‘I’ll be having that!’ As far as the trainers, I’ve just been real fortunate to pick really good trainers and people I respect in the business. And they have to be fun people! I think it’s real important to do this and do it really correctly but there’s also got to be time for fun.
TC: So you’ve been with some of the greatest trainers and had some of the greatest horses. You’re probably about as old school as it comes. Do you feel like we’ve lost our heritage compared to where we were like 10 or 20 years ago?
GLP: We’ve lost a lot. I think we’ve progressed a lot, but while progressing, we’ve lost a lot of players. We’ve gotten so sophisticated and so competitive that a lot of people can’t do it. In my opinion, in this business, it’s either all or nothing. Either you’ve got the winner, then you want to play, and if you don’t, then go bye-bye. And I think a lot of people have gotten to that point. And I think the price range for these horses has gotten a lot of people discouraged but unfortunately I think the trainers, and Troy I’m going to say this and I know you’re a trainer, but the trainers make it a lot worse. I can only say this from my experience and I’m not going to name names. But, I had a horse that won the Congress and the World and I wanted $35,000 for him and by the time the trainer had added commissions, the horse was priced to people for $55,000! That horse wasn’t worth $55,000, so needless to say, I couldn’t get him sold. I think there’s a lot of greed and I think that needs to be curtailed some.
TC: Do you think the economy has taken care of some of that?
GLP: I do. We’re in a cleansing process and I think we kind of needed it. I had 28 horses at the beginning of the year and if I show a horse and win the Congress or the World, I won’t show them back the next year. I was the proud owner of quite a few major Congress and World Champions. Well, it was just costing me way too much to say I owned them. I sold them to a really good friend of mine, the stud and everything, and I’m down to three horses. And three horses that I absolutely, positively love!
TC: I’ve heard that when you decided to scale back, you had just received a big bill from one of your trainers. How did that go down?
GLP: This is how I feel. You can buy a horse, pay a lot of money for it, win hopefully, go out the gate and hand it to the gateman and you’d be ahead of the game. You have no maintenance, no bills, no nothing. But I’ve been thinking that way for a while before I actually did it.
TC: So, when did you decide to do it?
GLP: At least a year before I actuallly did it. It was just too expensive and a lot of these horses I really appreciated, but I didn’t love. The three that I kept, I just want to kiss on them all the time and every time I see them, they just make me smile.
TC: I want the names of the three horses you kept.
GLP: Secrets, which is a yearling stud colt who just won the Jerry Wells futurity at the Redbud. It was really neat to be the first winner of that. I kept The Krymsun Kruzer who is an all-around horse with Vicky Holt. And I kept one of my mares, Kids Keeping Cool, which to me, is the most beautiful mare in the world. I won a ton of stuff with her. Those are the three I kept.
TC: So, tell us the story about how you bought Kids Keeping Cool.
GLP: Oh wow. Keith Whistle and I are at the Congress walking down the aisle, drunker than drunk. We are holding on to each other to keep from falling down. So I see this horse standing out in the aisle and people are looking at her and she is gorgeous! And I say ‘I need to buy that horse!’ And they tell me she’s not for sale. I had no idea who owned her and Keith and I are so drunk we have to go to the end of the aisle and sit down, we couldn’t even stand up. So it turns out that Luke Castle has the horse and he comes down to talk to us. He prices her to me for $250,000. I guess the woman really needs to sell her but she tells Luke she’s not for sale. They talk her into selling her and now I have to write the check right then because I’m afraid the woman is going to change her mind. So I write out the check, and trust me, it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t even see straight. But the woman doesn’t want to give me the papers because she doesn’t think the check is going to clear. So I’m like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ I’m having to beg this woman to let me give her $250,000. So anyway, enough people vouch for me and I get the papers, she gets the check, and I go to bed. The next morning I call Keith and tell him ‘We need to go out there and see what we bought because I remember she’s gorgeous and I remember writing a check for $250,000, but other than that, I mean, we’ve got to go see what we’ve done!’ So we go out to the show and the woman is in the stall with her. So we’re like ‘Hi! Um, remember us? Would it be okay if we take a look at her?’ (Laughs.) Once I see her I feel a lot better. She turned out to be a great one. We were Grand Amateur Mare at the Congress and then Ross (Roark) was Grand at the Congress, and then she was World Champion in the Amateur and Open. She’s retired now and I love just going out and hugging and kissing on her. She is like my pet.
TC: You have a little bit of a reputation for being an outlaw owner.
TC: Yeah, you do whatever it takes.
GLP: An outlaw owner? I’ve been called a high maintenance client! (Laughs)
TC: You speak your mind.
GLP: Why BS people? If somebody asks you something, I tell the truth. I don’t tell people what they want to hear.
TC: Do you think you get taken advantage of more than other people?
GLP: Probably not. I think everybody gets taken advantage of. I probably don’t get it as much as a lot of people because I’ve been around the block. Most people get injected with horses that don’t work. Knock on wood, fortunately I haven’t fallen into that trap.
TC: Do you think that has something to do with why the new people are getting scared away?
GLP: Yeah, and the economy. AQHA ought to make concessions during this economic time. I think that’s why our classes are smaller. They need to do some things to entice people to come show.
TC: Has there ever been a time where you thought about getting out completely?
GLP: No! Never. I couldn’t. What would I do? But here’s the deal, if I ever got out, I would become a professional fisherman.
TC: You like to fish?
GLP: I LOVE to fish!!!! Game fishing, marlin…please! I caught a 210 pound striped marlin that hangs in my office. I pulled him in myself. I’ve got pictures of him laying on my lap and he was bleeding all over. It was horrible. My mother was a big fisherman so it runs in my blood. Why wouldn’t I love to fish, I guess? But I just want to do the big game fishing.
TC: Wow, that’s pretty cool. I didn’t know that about you. I’m sure we could talk fishing all day, but let’s get back to talking about horses. I want you to name your favorite horses of all time.
GLP: Chicks Son, Telusive, of course, and I really love the stud I have now, The Krymsun Kruzer. In my opinion he is a lot greater than Chick was, but it’s a different time. My other two favorites are Secrets and Kids Keeping Cool.
TC: Tell us about Telusive…
GLP: He’s sitting on my desk. I had him cremated.
TC: I remember when he passed, you called me and you were really upset.
GLP: Yeah, I loved that horse.
TC: How did you end up with him?
GLP: I knew Ted (Turner) and I had showed a little bit of halter at that point. I would go and stay with Ted and Dar but I would never walk through his barn and look at his horses. It didn’t matter to me because I just wasn’t that into it. But, I was out there one day and Dar tell Ted, ‘Show her Telusive.’ They bring him out and I am like, ‘I will be having that!’ He was two years old, like 16.3 but not very wide, I could have put a hunt seat saddle on him and ridden him that day. After I bought him, everybody told me that everyone in the country had looked at this horse and asked me what I was going to do with him. I told them I didn’t care and that he was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
TC: So you really didn’t care if he turned out to be famous?
That horse created himself. I am the worst promoter on earth. People would come to me and tell me they wanted to breed to him and I’d say ‘Thank you very much,’ and I would walk off. I’m the worst! I’m just not a very good pimp. He created himself and now he’s done incredible – his babies, the mares, it was just luck. But like I said earlier, when I see one that I can’t live without, I always say ‘I will be having that!’ They have to hit me like BOOM and he sure did!
TC: What is your favorite memory of Telusive?
GLP: Telusive won the Congress, he was Grand at the Congress and the next year they decided that I should show him in the amateur. You must understand, I have this thing about women showing studs, I don’t think they should be involved with studs. I think it’s stupid and dangerous. But they told me ‘too bad!’ So I said ‘Here’s what I’ll do. When I try to qualify him, if he scares me at all, I’m out and I’m going to let go. I said I am not going to get hurt or killed.’ We went to a show in Oregon and Ted won and got him qualified in the open the first night. The next night, I told Ted I would show him. It came time to show him and I don’t get nervous at all, I just don’t. I get up there and I’m a little nervous but I will never let anybody see me sweat. I knew all the ring stewards and I’d pass by each of them and they would tell me, ‘You’re doing good Gerri Leigh!’ So we go to line up and Telusive stood up and BAM he showed! He never moved. Even the judges were smiling. He was like ‘Mom, I’m gonna do it for ya.’ (Laughs) We won and it was just fabulous. I loved him to death.
TC: Is that your favorite showing memory, or if not, what is?
GLP: (Pauses) That is my favorite showing memory. I’ve had a lot of memories, Grand at the Congress and winning the World as many times as I have, it’s breath taking. But I do think that was my greatest moment.
TC: Everybody thinks you’re successful and that you have the Midas touch. But you take your lumps as good as everyone else out there and I think that’s true sportsmanship.
GLP: I do enjoy my victories, but I’m not one of those people where if I get beat, I’m going to go out there and have a complete come apart. If you’re beat, you’re beat. I’m the first one to know if I’m beat. And I’ll go to the person and tell them I’m beat!
Rita (Crundwell) and I are competitors and we have a great time. If I’m not showing, I go and cheer for her and she’s happy for me. I went to the World Show last year and I got there in the middle of the amateur week and she had already won seven classes. So I say to her ‘You’ve sure done it alright!’ and her response was, ‘Because you weren’t in there!’ We like to have a lot of fun. People sometimes think we don’t get along but it is all in fun, we’re just messing with each other.
I’m really happy for people who win. One thing I don’t like at all is people who are barn blind and all they can do is criticize other people’s horses. I think a true horseman needs to be able to recognize a great horse. I don’t care whose it is, yours, mine, his hers. If it’s great, it’s great. And you need to have the wherewithal to be able to say to the person ‘That’s a nice horse!’ I’ve always tried to be like that.
TC: Let’s talk about the Reichert. They basically cancelled all the halter classes at the Reichert because of you.
GLP: I understand that. They had four classes that paid $50,000 each and we won three of them and we didn’t have a horse in the fourth. But, the horses we took were the best horses…they were supposed to win. And after that happened, I went to J.R. (Reichert) and said ‘I won’t show any more.’ And he basically said ‘Well, that’s BS. You’ve got the best horses and nobody is complaining about you showing. Your horses deserved to win that.’
TC: Yeah, J.R. told me the same thing.
GLP: And I appreciate that and I believe that to be true. But still, nobody would come back and show the next year because of it.
TC: Those were maiden classes. Those horses had never shown before, so you didn’t go out there and buy the most famous horse to compete in these classes. Don’t you think that’s kind of funny?
GLP: No, I don’t think it’s funny! But, I really don’t worry about it. We were very fortunate to have the best horses and be able to win what we won. I had no intention of ruining the halter part of that show, but I guess I did.
TC: So, where are we in the halter horse industry?
GLP: We’re struggling! We’re having a really hard time. The economy and these horses…either they are the best or they’re not. If they’re not, we have no middle market. There are players in this business but we don’t have one hundred players! It has hurt the business a lot because there is no middle place for these horses to go. If you can’t compete, or at least you don’t think you can compete, they don’t try. In some of the other events, you know who is going to be in the top. If you don’t feel as though you can be in the top, why spend $100,000 or $200,000 to compete? I think, especially during this economy, people are asking why they should do that.
TC: You’ve been outspoken about catch leading. What are your thoughts about it?
GLP: Here’s the deal on that. I’m going to have a biased opinion on that… if it doesn’t involve me or my horses, I don’t care. But, if I have a trainer and I have a really great horse, I feel like the trainer needs to be cautious about what he shows before he shows my horse. I think that’s out of respect for me as a client. I understand there’s a lot of money involved in catch leading, but I would like the trainer to be more loyal and cautious for their owner than they are just for the money. If there’s any chance of harm resulting from him catch leading before they show my horse, basically if they’re going to use up their stroke before they show mine, they should use some discretion.
TC: Where do you think we are with AQHA right now? What’s your feel on Amarillo and what’s going on out there?
GLP: Fortunately I have not had to go to Amarillo (laughs) so I don’t really know.
TC: Is our breed association where it needs to be?
GLP: That’s a very hard question because the association has been very good to me. People like to complain about this and that, but I’ve been very fortunate.
TC: Is all of the whining and complaining justified?
GLP: I think some of it is.
TC: Do you feel like we’re at a changing of the guard and people don’t really know where we’re at right now?
GLP: I do. I think it’s really sad that they let go all of our guys.
TC: Yeah, I haven’t talked to one person in this industry who thought that was a good decision.
GLP: I don’t know Amarillo without Billy Steele, Cam Foreman and Larry Myerscough. Larry’s out here at this show and he’s wearing an AQHA shirt and I said to him ‘They just can’t get rid of you, can they?’ And he laughed. I guess they gave them all their (judge’s) cards back. They got let go right before their retirement and that’s wrong. This was their life. Now what are they going to do? I think that’s very wrong. We need those guys.
TC: Is there anything else you want to tell us?
GLP: You want to hear my very favorite story?
TC: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know, do I? (laughs)
GLP: In 1984, the year I won the all-around with Chicks Son, Doug is done at the show and leaves me with the trailer I won. It’s me, Chicks Son, his blanket, his halter, his bucket and that’s it. I have to call and get a truck to take the trailer home. I go out there the next morning and it’s freezing in Oklahoma City and Chick is nude. His buckets are gone, his feed is gone, and his halter is gone. I mean It’s nothing but him standing there. So they bring the truck, I hook it up to the trailer and figure I’ll drive to Jim Swank’s in Little Rock and I’ll stop there and get him blankets and food. I take a hay string and use it like a halter and lead him into the trailer and off we go. Dusk comes and I realize the trailer doesn’t have lights, it hasn’t been wired and I can’t drive all that way with no lights. So, I stop at a Holiday Inn and there’s nobody else there. So I leave Chick in the trailer in the parking lot but it is freezing and he’s shaking. I go in the hotel room and turn up the heater and take the sheets and blanket off the bed and put them on Chick. I take the trash can and fill it up with water and about 15 minutes later I check on him and he’s shaking so bad from the cold. So I open the hotel room door, lead him by his little hay string and into the room we go. I put the table on top of the sofa and partition off part of the room like a stall for him and he stood there all night! The most amazing part is he never went to the bathroom! I slept in the bed next to him and at 5:00 in the morning I woke up and led him by his little hay string out to the trailer and out we go!
TC: That’s awesome.
GLP: He was so cool, I took him into my house to do pictures one time. He and my son were born on the same day and I wanted a picture of them together. We took pictures of him standing in my den in front of the fire place with a roaring fire and they’ve got professional lights set up and the whole deal and my son is on his back. It didn’t faze him. That was after I had him in the hotel room so I knew it would work… and it did.
TC: That’s an incredible story, Gerri Leigh. Thanks for spending time with me today, this was fun.
GLP: Thank you, Troy. I enjoyed it.