A Bond Like No Other – Shea Graham & Lets Talk About AOK
No greater bond exists than that between a horse and his person. Shea Graham and Lets Talk About AOK, affectionately known as Albert, are no exception.From Cave Creek, Arizona, Graham has been riding and showing horses for as long as she can remember. She has been a fixture in the all-around classes throughout her youth career, as well as competing in speed events and reining. Now, Shea is preparing to attend her final Youth World Championship Show with the same horse that began her journey when she was just nine years old.
“Albert is twenty now and has been retired for a few years. Shea came to me and asked if I thought she could take Albert to the World Show this year,” said Shea’s mother, Karen Graham. “When I asked why, my daughter told me it was because it was her last year. She said she had started her youth career on him, and she wanted to end it with him, as well. I almost started crying when she said that to me because it was the cutest thing I had ever heard.”
Shea said the decision to take Albert to the World Show one more time was easy for her. “I learned so much from him throughout my youth career. He taught me the value of bonding with a horse. It felt right to take him to the World Show one more time,” said Shea. “The last time I took him, we ended up placing fifth in the trail, and that is what I plan on showing him in this year. He loves the trail and is super serious when he does it.”
Shea and Albert’s journey together began when Karen purchased Albert from a client in her barn. “My client, Joyce Widner bought him as a stallion. When she got sick and could no longer ride, she wanted Albert to go to a good home. She believed that Albert and Shea would be perfect for each other. I am so thankful for her because she was right. The horse just loves that kid. It’s an incredible bond,” said Karen.
“When I first got him, his nickname was Pufferfish because he acted like one. If you got into him and tried to ride him hard and school him, then his chin would go to the chest, and he would puff up and just try to buck you off. I learned quickly that keeping his mind slow would make him perform better in the pen. He has taught me more about riding and training a horse than any other horse I have ever owned,” said Shea. “It has always been fun for me to ride him because the more effort and time I put into him, the more he would give back to me. All of the time I spend with him makes it feel like home when we show together.”
Shea and Albert have had quite the show career together, winning all-around titles at theCongress, placing at the Youth World Show, and even winning the trail at the Congress their first trip together. “I think one of my favorite memories of showing with him was at the Youth World Show six years ago when we won the freestyle horsemanship (see video below),” said Shea. “My mom is the freestyle queen, and she had created this elaborate routine for us that included riding bareback, bridle-less, and me running barefoot through the arena with Albert following me. We got that idea because I would do that all the time at home just playing with him.”
Shea remembers being nervous before the freestyle horsemanship that year, “At the last minute, I did not want to do it. I thought he wouldn’t follow me out in the arena. Mom told me to go out there and trust him to do his job, and she was right. He did it. There was this cute moment at the end of the pattern where I had to make Albert bow, and then I was to run on foot out of the pen with him following me. He ran right behind me, bucking until he passed me and then just stopped to wait on me. People asked if I was scared when that happened, but I wasn’t scared at all because I knew he would never hurt me. He was just playing along with me. He is my once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
Shea’s plans include attending Texas Christian University to pursue her degree and compete on the TCU Equestrian team. “I am so thankful to the coaching staff at TCU for recruiting me and being so incredibly welcoming. They are the most amazing people I have ever met. It feels like home there,” said Shea. “I want to make the people who have helped me along the way proud. I want to show them all the hard work they put into me will continue to help me for the rest of my life.”
When asked about the best lesson she has learned from her time showing Albert, Shea said, “The bond that Albert and I share is something he taught me always to try to have with other horses. The more time you spend with a horse and the more you bond with a horse, then the more that horse will try for you. Horses truly don’t know why we do this. They don’t know when they are competing for a world title or at a weekend show. If you care for them and are kind to them, then they will do anything you ask because they love you. They will try their heart out for you every time. I will never forget that lesson.”
Good luck to Shea and Albert at their final AQHYA World Championship Show.