Exhibitors can learn a lot from Small Fry competitors, like remembering to have fun with friends. Photo © Jessica Gilliam

Four Lessons Learned from Small Fry Competitors

Watching adorable kids ride around on a 1,200 pound horse is usually the best part of a horse show. Maybe not if you are their parent, but for everyone else, it’s fun to see. Small Fry exhibitors always enter the show pen with an infectious smile and look like they are having the time of their life.

We talked with past and current small fry exhibitors Emma Gore, Alee Foss, Logan Starnes and Shayne Gilliam. Each of them shared a tip they have learned from their Small Fry experiences.

Make sure you smile when you enter the show pen

First impressions are everything regardless of the age division you are showing in. Judges want to see a confident rider who is enjoying themselves. Watching a cute Small Fry exhibitor come into the arena with a big grin on their face is priceless. It’s a good tactic to have for the riders.

Emma Gore recently transitioned out of the Small Fry division. She left behind a very impressive footprint with Hes Suddenly Handsome. In 2017, Gore was the OQHA All-Around Small Fry Champion, All-Around Small Fry Champion at the All American Quarter Horse Congress and won numerous champion and reserve champion titles at the NSBA World Show. She knows that having fun is important and hears about it every time she shows.

“My mom and dad always say smile and have fun before I show,” Gore said. “My trainers Judd and Jennifer Paul tell me to bump, bump, tap, tap and smile.”

Have fun

It may sound plain and simple, but it’s true. As we get older, we may lose sight of why we are showing in the first place. In case you forgot, we do it becausewe love it.

If you catch yourself feeling sad and upset at a horse show, try tagging along with a Small Fry. They are probably busy running around the facility with either a best friend they met yesterday or a group of buddies they always compete with. When they are sitting around before or after classes, they are most likely giggling and telling each other stories about their horses.

Starnes Quarter Horses has produced multiple champions over the 10 plus years. Jay and Kristy also brought a future champion of their own into this world in 2010. Logan Starnes loves showing and is currently riding Certainly A Classic in the small fry events. “My favorite thing about showing is riding Cici,” Starnes said. “I have had her for five years. I think I will keep showing when I grow up.”

Make the most of your downtime at shows

Small Fry classes usually don’t take too long at shows, which leaves plenty of downtime for the kids. Shayne Gilliam recently started up her own little business of shoe shining at the horse shows she travels to with her parents, Jessica and Jason Gilliam. Shayne is showing Motion by Pro this season.

“I do shoe shining and I made $190 already,” Gilliam said. “We used to have these wipes, but I won this boot shining kit at a show and use it. It has the black and white stuff, a little brush and a little rag. I like to put it in my bike and ride around to people. Sometimes I also like to longe my horse and the older safe ones at shows.”

Love to Travel

For trainers and parents, hauling all across the United States is no easy task. It involves hard work and dedication, but if you want to be one of the best, that is what it takes.

Journeying around the country is one of Alee Foss’s favorite parts about showing horses. Foss is new to the small fry division, and she is showing Imma American Made.

“I love traveling to new places and I like going to different horse shows,” Foss said. “My favorite show is The Madness in Ohio because I love staying in the cabin. Sometimes, I get to share a room with my friend Ella Peskin, and it’s really fun. I just met a new friend, Addison Meilleur, in Florida too.”


These Small Fry exhibitors made sure to mention that they have made lots of friends while showing horses. They also try to tell other riders good luck, great job and give out high fives after classes. We can learn many lessons from our small fry exhibitors. Next time you are about to enter the arena, try to remember their simple little tips.


About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Courtney Hall is a graduate student at Missouri State University. She is obtaining a Master’s Degree in Agriculture with research in agricultural communications. She started showing the APHA & AQHA all-around circuit as a youth and continues today as an amateur.