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EWD Participants and Professional Horsemen Come Full Circle at Congress

Editor’s Note: The author of this article, Hollie Byers runs Reins of Life, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted activities therapeutic riding center. Byers shares her story of how several AQHA Professional Horsemen came together by helping and donating horses for Equestrian with Disabilities riders to show at the Congress. Please read their inspiring story below.

Like many others, I will never forget the first time I jogged into the Celeste Arena and heard the announcer call out my number. The excitement of getting fit for your first Congress coat, or the congratulations that you are met with walking to get your photo taken, are feelings that never leave us as exhibitors. The 50th anniversary of the All American Quarter Horse Congress offers the opportunity for a new group of equestrians to experience these amazing emotional moments with the addition of both Equestrian with Disabilities Western and English events.

We saw these new classes as an opportunity for me to switch roles from the nervous exhibitor to the calm and confident (at least on the outside) instructor, and take my very first Equestrian with Disabilities (EWD) rider in the Independent Walk-Trot Hunter Under Saddle. However, it quickly became apparent to me that this was not something I could do on my own.

My therapeutic riding center, Reins of Life, Inc, like many centers, has few AQHA-papered horses, and the cost involved with hauling a horse to the Congress was more than we were prepared to spend. I began to think that this was a dream I just could not make happen.

Not knowing the response I would be met with, I contacted a few AQHA Professionals to see if there was someone out there who could help me make this happen. Much to my happiness, the response was overwhelming! Everyone wanted to help. I had trainers offering to donate their time and horses, braiders offering their services for free, outfits were offered, everything! The actions of my fellow AQHA members definitely brought a tear to my eye and reminded me that I did not simply show horses…I was part of a family.

braelyn-and-skips-midnight-rider-courtsey-holly-byersMy experiences leading up to Congress made me wonder what competing a the Congress meant to EWD participants and to those who made this possible for them. I got the chance to do a Q&A with three of the entrants who will show at the Congress; Suzanne Kobb and her daughter, Braelyn Troup (pictured right), who will be making her AQHA debut in the Independent Walk/Trot Hunter Under Saddle on Skips Midnight Rider; Dawn Gunn and her son, Keifer Gunn, who will be showing in the Supported Walk/Trot Western Pleasure on KM Boshotinvestment and in the trail riding Zippos Gold N Sonnet, and Jane McComas and her son, Forrest Terry who will be showing Lopin On Easy Street in the Independent Walk/Trot Western Pleasure, Horsemanship and Trail.

Suzanne Kobb – Braelyn has been riding for five years with Hollie Byers at Reins of Life Therapeutic Riding Center in South Bend, Indiana. She normally shows dressage and jumps her pony. She has come a long way in five years, from being a supported rider to independent walk, trot, canter work.

keifer-gunn-with-reid-thomas-and-charlene-thomas-nsba-2014-courtsey-holly-byersDawn Gunn: Keifer has been riding for nine years. He (pictured left) rides with Charlene Thomas out of Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center. They are amazing there. That’s where we first met Reid (Thomas). They are some of the best people we have ever met, and have supported Keifer so much in his journey. Without Glenoak and Charlene none of this would be possible.

Jane McComas: Forrest has been riding since age five, so 23 riding, years! He has ridden at G.R.E.A.T in Greenwood, LA, Double Rainbow in Haughton, LA, Horses of Hope in Baxter Springs, KS, and is currently riding with Stable Strides Farm in Flower Mound, TX.

What does it mean to have the opportunity to show at the All American Quarter Horse Congress?

Suzanne Kobb: Braelyn is incredibly excited to be given this opportunity. She is bragging to her friends and fellow riders about it constantly. She has been to Congress one time as a visitor but doesn’t quite have a grasp of the total prestige of the show. More than anything, it is great to see this level of excitement from Braelyn. She is not a kid that gets excited over much, so to see her talking to people about it and working so hard is really the best part.

Dawn Gunn: Having the opportunity for Keifer to ride at the Congress is an honor. He has been wanting to attend this event since we first heard about it 2 years ago. It’s the next goal that he wants to achieve and succeed at. He has a competitive soul!!!

Jane McComas: It means everything for Forrest and other EWD riders to be invited and included at the 50th Golden Anniversary for Congress. I mean, wow!  It is, after all, the largest single breed horse show in the entire world. This is major progress for people with disabilities and inclusion!

What do you guys love most about showing?

Braelyn Troup: I like having people watch me and getting first place and I like getting better.

Dawn Gunn: Keifer is very competitive! He loves to set goals and accomplish them. If he doesn’t succeed the first time he will try again until he does. He never gives up and “can’t” is not in our vocabulary! He is a natural on the back of a horse…if he were allowed I am sure he would have them in our backyard.

forrest-terry-in-ewd-pleasure-courtsey-of-jane-mccomasJane McComas: Forrest and I love everything about showing: road trips to new places, making and maintain friendships (equines and humans) striving to improve riding, becoming independent, the list goes on. Truly, it is an amazing journey and we are very blessed to be on it! (pictured right Forrest)

Hollie Byers : What has riding done for them physically and emotionally?

Suzanne Kobb: Riding has helped Braelyn learn to control her emotions better. She uses her horse to connect with people. She used to not be able to hold a conversation with new people or communicate her emotions. Her horses give her someone to talk to that understand her at a level that people don’t. Riding has helped her to open up a lot and has given her a confident area of her life.

Dawn Gunn: In all the years of having physical therapy this is now the ONLY “therapy” he will do. When he gets on the back of a horse he says it is fun, he loves it. It doesn’t feel like therapy to him. It has really brought him out so much and boosted his spirits about his disability even though he nor we see him with any disability. He is super caring, loving, giving, and spiritual kiddo. He is never without a smile on his face. He is a charmer and not afraid to tell you.

Do you have an AQHA Professional help getting to the show pen? If so who?

Suzanne Kobb: Jessica Johnson of Sweet Shop Performance Horses helped make this happen. Braelyn normally rides a Haflinger pony named Ace. She can’t show him at the Congress because he isn’t a Quarter Horse and even if she could mentally it would probably be too much for him. Jessica offered right away to let us borrow one of her hunter horses. It was really nice because Jessica is close to us and offered to give her a few lessons ahead of time. She has really taken Braelyn’s disability into consideration and asked a lot of questions to make sure that she is doing everything to help this be a positive experience for Braelyn. I can’t thank her enough for making this happen!

Dawn Gunn: Reid Thomas of Reid Thomas Performance Horses made Congress possible. Keifer is totally mesmerized by Reid. He looks up to him and wants to be just like him. Reid is so patient and kind with Keifer. He works with him as hard as he does his clients. That really shows how much he cares about Keifer succeeding. He and Keifer have had a great friendship since the start. We are truly blessed to have him in our lives.

Jane McComas: Forrest has received direction from AQHA Professional, Jenny Frid of Robin Frid Show Horses, and Terry Cross and Stephen Stephens of Dry River Ranch. They have graciously given their time and talents to help maximize Forrest’s riding potential and I thank them from the bottom of my heart!

Jane, can you tell me about Forrest’s horse and who donated him?

Forrest is showing Lopin On Easy Street. He is a 2005 Gelding that was donated to the center by Teresa Fletcher. He has numerous AQHA points and Superiors under his belt.

braelyn-and-jessica-johnson-at-sweet-shop-performance-horses-courtsey-suzanne-kobb1Jessica Johnson, what horse did you pick for Braelyn to use and why?
I picked the horse Skips Midnight Ride, “Ryder” (Pictured left). He is a 2011 Dont Skip Zip gelding. He is just really laid back, what you see is what you get with him. He has no spook and his favorite gait is the halt. Hollie told me her student could kick a horse forward but had trouble with frame and keeping their necks down. Ryder wants to be there he just hangs his head nice all the time but Braelyn will definitely have to work to keep him trotting which is a good challenge for her. Brooke Bradley owns him and she was excited to help Braelyn out!

Reid Thomas, what horse did you pick for Keifer to use and why?
Keifer is showing Zippos Gold N Sonnet in the Trail & KM Boshotinvestment in the western pleasure. I tried to pair him with horses that have an honest, kind personality and will do well in those events. The Crenwelge family owns both of these horses. Their daughters, Peyton and Cameron compete in the all-around events with me. They’re a great family and are always quick to offer their horses to any EWD riders

What made you want to get involved with the EWD?
My mom Charlene Thomas started a therapeutic riding center called Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center back in 2002. Watching what she does for her students really inspires me to do my part. She and I have been showing in the EWD classes on and off since 2002. I have had the privilege of leading a few riders to their first world championship and that’s something that really grounds me. Training and showing gets chaotic and sometimes stressful. There is a lot of pressure but helping with the EWD classes really brings what we do full circle. It’s rewarding to see what we do as trainers help make these participants’ goals and dreams come true.

Fun Fact- Reid won the GoHorseShow Trainer Bowl in 2010, which helped raise $40,000 for his Mom’s therapeutic riding center!

Stephen Stephens, what made you get started with the EWD classes?

forrest-terry-with-stephen-stephens-and-terry-cross-courtsey-jane-mccomasForrest Terry did! (pictured right with Terry Cross and Stephen Stephens) He was the first EWD participant that I helped. His instructor at the time needed someone to spot for him in the showmanship and they just threw me right on in there. That’s the moment the passion for this class started. I along with everyone at NSBA started the EWD Foundation in 2009 and it has been amazing to watch the program grow.

Watching these classes inspires me. It takes the glitz and money out of showing and really brings everything into perspective. I remember watching the EWD showmanship at the NSBA World Show and they got to Reserve and the young lady was so excited she was jumping up and down and it was wonderful to watch, but as I got closer I realized she wasn’t excited that she got reserve she was cheering for Forrest because he won the world. She came out of the arena yelling, “Forrest Won Forrest Won!” It was enough to bring a tear to my eye. To watch the unconditional love that these participants have for each other and everyone around them is absolutely wonderful.

Thank you again to AQHA and the Ohio Quarter Horse Association for offering the EWD classes at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.