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Small Fry Exhibitor Performs Dance Tribute to Honor Fallen Show Horse

The excitement and pride were written all over seven-year-old Amelia Bidwell’s face as she emerged from the show pen with a showmanship win at her first show of the season last April. In tow was her trusty teammate, Oh This Zippo (known as Otis), a been-there, done-that 18-year-old gelding owned by Rebecca Adams.

The pair was quite the sight: the 3’3” tall showman, clad in purple and sparkles, led a beautiful, big bodied, long-legged 16’2 hand bay gelding through a flawless pattern.

On her face was the anticipation of what Amelia had planned to be a season full of small fry competition at AQHA shows; on his was a look of loving tolerance at best.

“Otis didn’t like anybody, so the fact that he got along with a seven-year-old was precious to me. He was just all business and not a super loving horse, but he wanted to do his job and do it very well,” says Adams, who purchased Otis in 2010 as her own AQHA show horse.

Amelia’s mother, Amanda, agrees. “He had the biggest heart and a bold personality. He wasn’t very patient, but when it came to him and the girls, he just naturally had a different personality. It was like he decided, ‘Oh, okay – I got the little one.’ He’d stand there and let her do whatever she wanted. His personality would instantly change with Amelia. It was so sweet.”

It was Adams, a close friend of the Bidwell family, who started Amelia in the saddle, remembering her aboard a different horse as early as just six months old. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, Amelia began showing Otis here and there in classes like leadline or halter, but 2018 was going to be the year where they would start to hit it hard, and when Amelia would be Otis’s primary pilot.

But those plans would never come to fruition. Just two weeks after that premiere show, Otis colicked and passed away. The Bidwells were at Amelia’s last dance competition of the dance season and would not make it in time to say goodbye to Otis.

“We all cried for a long time when I got the text from Rebecca that said she was losing Otis. I felt just lost. And it was heartbreaking that Amelia couldn’t leave the competition to go to the barn right then,” Amanda recalls.

Amelia, who turned eight in January, has been dancing since she was three and competes at an elite level of dance, the highest level in her age category. She is trained in tap, jazz, hip hop and lyrical. She has been a member of her studio’s prestigious competition team since age five, an impressive accomplishment for someone so young.

Dance and horses are her passions. Often, Amelia would smell a little “horsey” when she would head into dance class, having gone to the studio directly after a lesson at Adams’s barn, or she would appear at the barn in her dance shoes having come directly from the studio. Her dance teacher, Heather Campbell, had even visited the barn because she knew it was an important aspect of Amelia’s life.

Amidst the sorrow and tears of losing Otis last May, Amelia’s brain had already started hatching ideas of how she could say her final goodbye and, through her skill in dance, pay tribute to a horse that had been her best friend. Without the knowledge of her mom or Rebecca, Amelia approached Campbell with an idea for her dance solo – she would dance for Otis.

“I loved Otis very much and I also really love dance, so I decided to dance to honor him,” Amelia says. And she had many of the details already decided.  She wanted tilts, leg holds and a triple turn, she was insistent that she wore an angelic, white outfit while performing and, near center stage, would be her show saddle, her purple pad and sparkly showmanship jacket, and a big, framed picture of that dopey-eyed gelding she loved so much.

Though Amelia says her most significant accomplishment in the show pen is conquering showmanship maneuvers with Otis, this dance was going to be an accomplishment in itself, requiring a whole new level of poise, commitment, and practice.

“I choreographed with Heather’s help, then practiced and memorized for six months,” Amelia says. She debuted the dance, performed to “Sad Song” by We The Kings, in front of an audience of about 250 at a competition January 17, the same weekend of her eighth birthday.

By then, Adams had learned of the dance and its meaning but had not yet seen it performed. “I was crying big, happy purple tears while watching,” she says.

“Amelia is a perfectionist. She is serious, eager to please and easily teachable. I think her experiences in dance and showmanship have helped each other because she’s confident on stage and in the saddle. She is just very poised,” Adams says.

Amelia will take to the show pen again this year, this time aboard a leased white gelding known as Dobbin (Just My Cash), an opportunity afforded to her by a friend of Adams. But Otis will always hold a special place in the hearts of the entire Bidwell family and Adams.

When she talks about Otis, Amelia’s smile is evident in her voice. “He had his days where he was a little sassy, but I still called him a prince.”

Watch her beautiful tribute performance to Otis right here.

About the Author: Megan Ulrich is an avid horsewoman, judge and exhibitor; when she can’t be in the show pen or writing about it, she’s a high school English teacher.