"It is so humbling to see an old horse learn new tricks, and even more humbling to see his success against the industry’s best," Ambrose states. Photo © Emily Ambrose

Transformation Tuesday: From Yellow Underdog Pasture Pony to Congress

In the Spring of 2011, on about the tenth page of a random equine advertising website, my mom came across a hairy, dirty, little palomino Quarter Horse. “Super Yellow Doc,” a.k.a. Doc was a 15-year-old gelding who had been living in a pasture with a herd of mares for five years. To this day, I am not sure why this scrawny horse intrigued me enough to test ride him, let alone purchase him.  

His foundation can be credited to Lawrence Bishop, which is marked by the “LB” brand on his hindquarters. From my understanding, Doc had spent a short amount of time in training as a young horse, and his reining foundation was the only work put into him in the 15 years before I owned him. Throughout his life, he bounced around different owners for occasional leisure riding.

A month after we purchased him for a mere $3,000, I distinctly remember crying to my mom in the kitchen that I wanted to sell Doc because he was so misbehaved. He lacked all ground manners; he would turn himself around in the cross ties, he would not load in any trailer and he would escape from the pasture every day. My mom simply told me to give him some time to see how he progressed throughout the year, before I decide to keep him or not.

During the first year of owning him, I worked hard on teaching him poles, barrels, keyhole and other contesting classes. I only showed 4H at the time, but when he rapidly started to progress in speed events, I started taking him to open shows and won a decent amount of money over the years.

Aside from showing, Doc was my “fun pony” at the barn. As a kid who spent every single day at the barn with friends, I put Doc through some wild stuff, so to say he has seen it all would be a colossal understatement. We used to go swimming in the pond, run under tarps, pretend to joust with pool noodles, hula-hooped while standing in his saddle, walk through baby pools and the list goes on.

(Pictures – Left – Doc when he was first purchased to – Right – present day)

I continued to show him at 4H and open shows until he was 20, with a focus in contesting classes. During fair week, I would show him in everything just for fun. However, I never put much time into performance events except for the week or two before fair. I always focused on contesting classes and would typically wing it in all-around events.

During the summer of 2016, when doc turned 20, I decided it was time to retire him from barrel racing, as it was a big risk at his age despite his sturdy legs. Thankfully, AQHA had the perfect class for him: Ranch Riding. I talked to my trainers, Seth and Amber Clark, started taking ranch lessons and impulsively decided to enter him in the Ranch Riding at the Congress, along with two barrel classes as one last time running him.

Starting in August, when I decided to take him to the Congress, the pressure was on because I had two months to teach Doc to make crisp transitions, hustle in his extended trot without loping, spin quickly but correctly, and to enter the arena calmly.  We debuted in the Ranch Riding at a small show in Pennsylvania and then headed to the Congress, where I managed to squeeze into the top 15 in the Youth Ranch Riding, which I was thrilled about considering the short amount of time I had to prepare.

Towards the end of the Congress, I ran him in two barrel classes and got a good time that was a little above average compared to the other exhibitors. I primarily ran him because it was an absolute blast, so a medallion was not even a thought in my mind. The only downfall is that Doc remembers every arena he has ever run in, which is a disadvantage when I have to show in the Coliseum. It has taken many shows for him to walk through that chute calmly. 

After the Congress, at the beginning of 2017, my all-around horse, “Play for a Minute,” aka Ralph, unfortunately, suffered an injury that put him on stall rest and hand walking for over a year. I was devastated that I would not be able to compete in the all-around classes, especially my favorites, showmanship and hunt seat equitation.

Once summer shows were in full swing, I could not bear watching the all-around classes because it was killing me not to be out there. Thus, I approached my trainer with the idea of showing Doc in the showmanship, and we decided to give it a try, even though the extent of his knowledge was a 90-degree pivot that I taught him a few years prior. At the same time, we switched his grain to a unique blend that my trainers use and increased the amount he eats to build his topline and body, which was especially crucial for presentation points in the showmanship.

Showing a tiny yellow horse with a long mane puts a lot of pressure on me in all-around events. People chuckle and point fingers saying, “What’s a ranch pony doing in this class?”  It means that I have to perform even harder to earn the respect of the judges and spectators to prove Doc’s talent, which has been my biggest motivator the past year and a half. 

Doc took absolutely everyone by surprise in the showmanship, primarily because he was a green horse in a Level 3 event, which many can agree is a difficult undertaking. However, Doc was excelling quickly and earning many points, so I was confident going to the Congress in the 15-18 Showmanship, where I ended up eleventh in my split when I needed to be tenth to make it to the semi-finals.

This year, Doc exceeded all expectations. He earned his Showmanship Superior, qualified for the Level 3 Showmanship at the Youth World Show, won numerous Circuit Champions in the Showmanship and Ranch Riding, and placed top 15 in a tough 15-18 Showmanship class at the Congress, along with top 10 placings in both youth ranch classes. He also earned points throughout the year in the Level 3 Hunt Seat Equitation and the Horsemanship.

Doc and I know one another inside and out, mainly because I keep my horses at home, so he sees me every single day except for when I am at college. I have spent so many years with him, and I firmly believe this is the key behind our success together in the show pen.

This article does not even begin to summarize my love for this horse.  It is so humbling to see an old horse learn new tricks, and even more humbling to see his success against the industry’s best. I am forever grateful that my parents did not let me sell him just a month after purchasing him. Doc is my “super” pony, my once-in-a-lifetime, my underdog, my inspiration, the absolute best little horse I could ever ask for who will forever hold my entire heart.

About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Emily Ambrose of Chardon, Ohio is a sophomore at Kent State University. She trains under the guidance of Seth and Amber Clark from Pierpont, Ohio. Emily avidly shows her horses, Play for A Minute, known as Ralphie, who is a 12-year-old all arounder, and Super Yellow Doc, known as Doc, who is a 22-year-old ranch horse. Her love of showing has been strengthened with the support of all of her friends in the Quarter Horse community and will continue her passion through and following the completion of her college career.