What risk have you taken in your horse show career that paid off in the end? Let is know! Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

Taking Chances: Exhibitors Share a Risk They Took that Paid Off

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk” is a well-known quote said by American internet entrepreneur and computer programmer, Mark Zuckerberg. This statement rings true; whether it be in or out of the show pen.

Taking risks is what sets an exhibitor apart from the rest of the class. Weighing the possible outcomes of any scenario can be a daunting task. Some of those decisions lead to greatness and prosperity.

It could be putting it all out there in the show pen and going for it and being gutsy in your horsemanship pattern even though it may not pay off in the end. Or, it could, and you could be the last one standing in the pen holding a golden globe or congress bronze. Even buying a new horse is a risk no matter its record or reputation.

We asked several people in all aspects of the industry what risks they may have taken that paid off and helped get them to where they are today.

Kamiah McGrath -The most significant risk I took was deciding with my mom that we should put the lead change on my horse, Jake. Jake was ten-years-old. I was eleven-years-old, and my mom at the time did not have very much experience with lead changes. We decided that my mom would coach me from the ground while I taught Jake to do the lead changes. For Christmas that year, my grandparents got us the Jason and Charlie’s Lead Change videos. After watching the videos, we were enthusiastic and confident to begin. Little did we know that there would be many questions along the way. Along with the questions, there were tears and many times were I just wanted to send him to have his lead change finished. Many hours and years were spent working to perfect the lead change. Thank you to the following people who helped with their advice during this journey: Jason Martin, Charlie Cole, Mark Dunham, Brad Kearns and Robin Frid. After six years of perfecting his lead change, I was blessed to win the AQHYA World Show in the Western Riding in 2017.

Julian Harris – The most significant risk that I’ve taken that paid off has been going out on my own. Just about every horse I’ve had has been exceptional to work with. The most outstanding accomplishment for me is the fact that I’ve been very successful with some problematic horses. Every day I️ take a risk by making my business work and for following a dream I’ve had since I️ was a kid.





John Pauluzzi – I came back after 30 years and bought a two-year-old, Certainly Flatlined, from Jay and Kristy Starnes. There was a feeling in my gut that I had when I saw him. A year later as a three-year-old and my first year back showing, we won the NSBA World and Congress. Jay and Kristy Starnes were my blessings and by some luck of faith, our paths crossed.





Joan Schroeder – My most significant risk was buying out precious partners on Blazing Hot and then, as a woman, showing in western pleasure back when not many did. Another considerable risk was when I decided to show Blazing Hot at the 1996 World Show. I was the only female to make it to the finals in the Junior Western Pleasure, and we won.





Debby Brehm – Probably the most prominent risk I took was in deciding to move our show horses from Nebraska to the trainers in Texas. My daughter Morgan wanted us to make a move even though we knew it would be hard to ride as often as she could when the horses were an hour away. The risk was worth it though. Morgan has won both trail and western riding at two Level One Championship shows as well as several circuit champions. It paid off for me because I started to show Select Pleasure after our move to Texas and have been successful as well. We are both pleased with the choice we made to move our horses, and I can say the risk was worth it.

Elizabeth “Spike” Brewer – Early winter of 2005, my good friend Shannon Paxton (now Shannon Hannasch) drove to Wisconsin to Tina Langness’ farm. I had a yearling with me I was going to trade and look at two horses. One was a three-year-old red gelding, and the other was a bay, loud four-year-old Fleet Machine mare. We rode both, and of course, we both loved the mare, In Good Company, or “Flora” was her barn name. Ironically, Flora tried to buck us both off and was not broke at all at four-years-old, so it was a substantial risk since the world show was in five months. She had been living in the pasture with broodmares and missed a lot of training, but I just had this feeling she was unique, so I dropped her off right away at my trainer, Steve Sauder’s to get broke. Five months later, we were Reserve World Champions in the Amateur Junior Hunter Under Saddle at the APHA World Show, and I showed her for many years. She has about 700 lifetime hunter under saddle points. So, to say she has outproduced herself is an understatement, and she was a significant risk that paid off not only in the show pen but also as an excellent broodmare. Sometimes, you just have to trust your eye and gut.


Shannon Vroegh – I showed a very loud colored, tobiano paint in the Junior Trail at the NSBA World against all of the quarter horses. I know that there shouldn’t be, but I still feel like there is a stigma against showing a loud colored horse against all of the quarter horses, and we ended up third out of 94. That was a fun thing to do.





Bella Rosa – A risk I’ve taken that has paid off would probably be going all out in a pattern. By this, I mean pushing my horse to perform his best as much as I can, and me being confident. One time at a show, I was first in the draw out of a lot of horses. I pushed my horse as much as I could and tried to be as confident as possible, to make a good impression, and it paid off.




Emma Brown – I would say the most significant risk I took was giving up specific activities and things with my friends at school to be at a horse show. Showing horses is my passion and has been ever since I was a little girl. As I grew older, it became difficult to do things with friends at home and school activities. I knew the minute we bought my horse, Some Hot Potential (Brett) that he was going to come before anything else. I gave up playing basketball at school so that I could spend more time in the barn. I gave up a party with friends for late night trail practice. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The horse industry and the people I have met are incredible. My absolute best friends show with me, and I am so blessed to have those people in my life. I am so thankful l took the risk of giving up school events and other things to be able to now do what I love, with the people I love, and a horse I love even more.



Abigail Hardy – I think my most significant risk would be buying my all-time favorite horse, My Secret Past (Kam). When I first got him, I was tiny; we would get into pulling matches, and, of course, he always won. He was always so nervous around me, and he would throw his head straight up in the air because I was too short to get his halter on. Worst of all, he would run off with me, and I wasn’t big enough to slow him down. After a while, we created an unbreakable bond. He went from the horse running off with me to a 7-time Congress champion and 3-time NSBA World Champion. If I hadn’t taken a risk with My Secret Past, I never would have been so successful. He’s genuinely my once-in-a-lifetime horse and my best friend.


Jenna Dempze
– My biggest gamble that paid off was the virtual sight unseen purchase of Heating Up The Chips. Gil Galyean came to me at the Congress the day before the 3-year-old non-pro and said he had found me a horse but had to act quickly. I knew which horse he was talking about, but I never rode her or watched her at the Congress. I trusted the Galyean Team and bought her that day. I showed the 3-year-old non-pro the next day, made the finals, and a few days later finished third. “Julia” was a great show partner for me for a few years and now she’s having babies for me.


Amy Groefsema– I took a risk by going to NSBA World last year, after only having my horse for four months. We ended up winning Novice Amateur Showmanship and placed in the Top Ten in Novice Amateur Trail. I remember thinking to myself, thank God for the support from family and friends, and the push from my trainers to take a risk. It was one of my greatest achievements and I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity.




Missy Thyfault – As a horse trainer, it is difficult to get ahead financially. My training income basically keeps the business running and there isn’t much money left after all the bills are paid. I chose this profession and love it but I was always wanting to find a way to be more profitable. Years ago, I started buying prospects that I felt would be good investments for resale. I will buy one and train it up, buying older started prospects or picking out babies in the field from reputable breeders. I usually personally own up to five at any given time. It felt like a big risk when I finally saved up enough money to make my first purchase, and luckily more times than not, it has paid off. I have bought prospects with the hope that it could improve in a certain capacity and that feels risky for sure. Every time there is the risk that it won’t work out and there has definitely been a couple times it has not been in my favor. But, on the whole, it has been a risk that has paid off financially and that I enjoy. I feel like it is also an investment in myself and my business in that I get to show it until it sells.


Whether it be purchasing a new equine show partner or attacking a pattern in the show pen, taking risks can pay off. Everyone makes mistakes and encounters challenges along the way, but throwing caution to the wind is a courageously good act that ultimately leads to success both in and out of the show pen.

About the Author – Cat Guenther of White Lake, Michigan is in the 11th grade at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. She has ridden horses for eight years. When Cat is not at the barn, she focuses on her small businesses “Behind the Bit Tack Sales” and “Tack to Dye for.” She hopes to one day attend Michigan State University and study to become an equine veterinarian. Cat is extremely excited for the 2018 show season with her horse, Royal Invite.