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You Always Remember Your First: Exhibitors Reminisce About Their First AQHYA World Championship

GoHorseShow took a trip down memory lane to talk to some past AQHYA World Champions to find out what they remember about their first world championship.

For the younger generations who may not be aware, The American Quarter Horse Youth Association (formerly American Junior Quarter Horse Association) World Championship Show debuted in 1972 in Amarillo, Texas. The show eventually moved to Tulsa, Fort Worth, and then to its current location, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The event has drastically changed over the years, but most past exhibitors would agree that their youth years were some of the best times of their lives. They have memorable moments to cherish, and they have lifelong friends they met at the show.

We asked them to share what they remember about this special moment when they were the last one called and came home the highly coveted gold globe.

Danielle Long – In 2009, I won the AQHYA World Show in Youth Horsemanship. I was 16, and it was my first time making it back to the Top 15. My horse at the time was Big Leaguer All Star, aka “Bob.” My only goal that year was to make it to a finals. So that year, when Bob and I got called back for the horsemanship, I was already on cloud 9.

I remember the day of the horsemanship finals. I did not feel very nervous or anxious. I had already achieved my goal and was excited just competing in the same pen with the top 15 most talented riders in the world. I was early in the draw, so I didn’t get to watch any of the others go. I still was not nervous about the pattern; I felt comfortable enough with where my marks were while practicing. Even though Bob was being a little stubborn about wanting to warm up, I knew he would be there for me.

I will never forget that pattern. I remember every moment. From walking down the tunnel and approaching the cone, beginning with an extended trot up the center of the pen, the whole thing was surreal. I remember coming around from a large fast circle on the right lead, changing leads and collecting to a small left lead lope circle, and having the biggest genuine grin on my face. Bob was there with me every stride, and everything just felt right. I was having an absolute blast. The whole way back up through the tunnel, I was crying. I didn’t care what I’d placed. At that point, I had never had a pattern that felt that good, and I couldn’t believe it happened.

When they began the countdown for the placings, I figured I’d done pretty well. As I mentioned, I’d never made it back to the top 15 and hadn’t watched anyone else, so I didn’t know what to expect. My mom sat across from me in the stands, I remember looking at her wide-eyed when they called 10th place, and she was mouthing back in excitement, “YOU’RE GOING TO GET A PATCH.”

Then, they continued and called 7, then 6, then 5…by then, I was so overwhelmed, I thought they’d forgotten to call my name. I was all prepared to walk out of the arena without my name called awkwardly. When I finally did realize that there was no mistake, and third place was walking out of the arena, I was a crying mess. There was no way this was happening.

I remember sitting there with Katy Krshka, prepared myself to walk out because there’s no way some random girl from Anchorage, Alaska, could be here at this moment. But then the announcer took a long pause, and then began to announce Katy’s horse, “RRRRRROCKIN ZIP” and the rest was a blur.

We all work so hard for this moment, especially as a youth. The years are limited to compete as a youth, and that just makes every moment that much more meaningful. Of course, we all want to walk away with the coveted globe, but it’s not an easy thing to do. That moment will forever be with me, but more importantly, I think about the friends I made and the support of the horse show family that I will forever be a part of.

Taylor Searles – I won my first youth world championship with Flashy Attraction in the western riding in 2012. Ryder and I were reserve the year before behind Theresa and Lucy, so I can honestly say I was the most nervous I’d ever been going into the finals. Ryder was not an easy horse and always made me work for it, but that day, he knew his job and was there for me.

I don’t remember much about my go, but Iremember that he about bucked me off when the reserve was called. I could hear my mom yell, “don’t get bucked off,” as I went to do my victory lap. It was a typicalRyder moment for sure. He was the type that always taught whoever swung their leg over something new. His talent, heart, and orneriness were what made him so special. I am so blessed to be able to not only have owned him but to say that he won me my first trophy.

Joetta Meredith Bell – The first time I saw him was in 1994 at the Youth World. Bobbi Pullin called my dad and said he’s kind of bay…which meant he was a buckskin. Jetson was so unique in many ways, from his fancy buckskin color to his backward ears. I honestly believe he was the first horsemanship horse with “foot buttons” and could spin faster than other horses.

I started riding with Bruce Vickery and Sue Ellen in 1996. I won the Showmanship in 1997 with him. Back then, we waited for callbacks for the finals and learned the pattern at the back gate. There was almost zero practice time. I remember thinking, oh my goodness, I hope I can remember this pattern. I won the next two years in a row in showmanship with Dont Ya Just Love It in 1998 and Jetson again in 1999.

Andrea Kail – My first world championship was in 1999 in the Youth Trail on Zippo LTD. It was special because LT had gotten hurt the first night on the fairgrounds in ’98. We won the prelims under all five and the finals under all five judges. I remember it was a super tough and fun pattern; it had four lead changes and lots of high poles. We had struggled a lot the night before with the very first obstacle (eight-pole trot over fan while doing the gate), so I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the finals, but the next morning we had our game faces on and nailed it.

It just goes to show that no matter how bad your warmup is, if you can find a way to shake it off and reset, you can do something incredible, just don’t give up.

LT was such a special animal, he had a huge heart and just wanted to make his human happy. I was lucky enough to call him mine for eight wonderful years. We achieved so much together, but the things I remember most are him and drinking from the hose, sleeping in his stall, or riding around bareback. He was no doubt my once-in-a-lifetime horse, and I thank God every day that he brought him into my life.

Shelby Ratliff – I won the 2008 Youth World in the hunter under saddle on A Big Secret. I was 14 at the time, so making it back to the finals with all the older kids after multiple splits and semis was an accomplishment on its own.

I vividly remember trotting down the center and having all my friends there, literally screaming for me. Secret just did his thing like he knew it was his time to shine.

Secret was a fantastic horse who never really knew his size. He was a gentle giant who packed me around and stood out. I mean, he was a 17.3 solid black gelding, and I’m not the tallest, so it was kind of hard to miss.

I will never forget being the last one in the arena with him and walking up to have one of my best friends, Rebekah Kazakevicius, hand me my trophy. Then walking out of the arena to all my friends waiting for me who were just as excited as I was. That’s a memory I’ll never forget and the horse I will cherish forever.

Liz Barnard Long – My first Youth World Championship was in 1988, back when the Youth World was in Tulsa. My horse was Impressivell Do, also known as “Clown,” and I showed in western pleasure. I remember I was sitting second going into the finals; this was when they posted the preliminary results and I knew I had to step it up for the finals.

The Missouri Youth team (my home state) had five or six in the finals, and if I remember correctly, we had four in the Top 5 and all in the Top 10. My fellow Missouri team member, Eric Lindsey was Reserve on Zippomite, and I just remember thinking how cool it was for our team to dominate the class. We were all great friends, and all celebrated together.

Peter Briggs I was the 1990 World Champion in Trail at the AJQHA World Championship show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Mr Bueno Dial Bar. I was 15 years old at the time. 

Mr. Bueno Dial Bar, Bueno, as we called him, was a 1976 Buckskin gelding that we had purchased for my older brother, John to show in youth. John had many wins on Bueno, including the 1986 Youth World Championship in Trail, the 1986 Reserve World Championship in Senior Trail at the AQHA World Show, and the 1988 Youth World Championship in Western Riding. Bueno also had numerous wins at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. After 1988, we decided to retire Bueno from showing. After many hours of convincing, my brother agreed to let me show him in 1990.

If I remember correctly, the prelims for trail back then was on Wednesday, and the finals were on Saturday. I had an excellent prelim go and was sitting fourth going into the finals. On the day of the finals, I did not school well and was nervous. I drew tenth in the finals working order. The pattern called for a ground tie in the middle of the pattern. I remember talking with John about the proper way to dismount and remount.

My pattern went very well, and when I walked out, I recall fellow competitor Nancy Alto-Renfro telling me that I just won myself a buckle. I barely remember the placings, and when it got down to the final three, I was just sitting there with my head down. Once I realized that I was either reserve or world champ, I started to tear up. When they announced my name for a world champ, I thought Bueno was going to buck me off. Winning the trail that year was extra special since we had brought him out of retirement for one last Youth World. It is a memory that I will never forget. If anyone has a video of that 1990 AJQHA World Show Trail, I sure would love a copy.

Carla Wennberg – I went to two world shows as a youth, the first in 1975, with a horse named Step Leedy, I made the finals of horsemanship only. No big placing made me really hungry to win.

Step Leedy was my first registered Quarter Horse, all-around horse, Supreme Youth Champion. I had five Superiors with him, great teacher for me.

In 1977, I came back to Tulsa, called back then the AJQHA World Championships. I showed Tom Raffles and won the showmanship, horsemanship, and hunt seat equitation on the flat. I was also sixth in the hunter under saddle. Obviously, my most special partner.

Clay MacLeod – My first and only Youth World Champion was in Western Horsemanship in 1975. I rode Bar Jays Image. He was a son of Bar Jay Bee who was a very successful racehorse.

My gelding started out on the track so he could be quite fractious on occasion, although extremely talented. I also placed sixth on him that year in reining.

He went on to be an AQHA Champion, earned multiple Superiors and earned another Youth World Championship in Western Riding for Laura Gossage. I was honored to have him inducted into the PCQHA Hall of Fame two years ago.

Tate Oakley – I remember it like it was yesterday. During that time, Matt Baker worked for my dad and had hauled me all over the country. We had a very successful year and going into the Youth World, I didn’t have any huge expectations because I usually showed against the 13&U crowd unless we showed in a Non-Pro Maturity class. So, I went into it just hoping to make it out of each split. The Youth World was the one time that I showed against the 13&U and 14-18 competitors during the year.

Between Matt and my dad, they always had Faith prepared very well for me, and as long as I did my job, she would do hers. The night of the finals, I remember she was flawless. She showed the best she ever had. When we were in line for the placings, I was so nervous. As they dwindled to the top six or seven, I was the only guy left, and each girl that got called out would ride by and hug me. The crowd was laughing and hooping and hollering. Being 12 yrs old at the time, I didn’t know what to think.

When they called out third, I was stunned that it was just me and “Boo” (Brynne Tincher) left. Brynne was always somebody I looked up to and is a sheer talent on the back of a horse, which she comes by honestly being Brent’s daughter. She was a force to be reckoned with in the show pen with Shes Invited. So with it being just us two, I was prepared for that reserve buckle just knowing how good Boo always got her horse showed. But when they called her out second, I thought that hell had just frozen over!

It is one of my most prized wins to this date, not because of the title, but the field of competitors in those days was second to none. We would have multiple splits and semis, and literally, 80% of the horses were open caliber and could win on any given day. It was a day I will never forget. I owe it to my mom and dad for the opportunity to show such beautiful horses and a huge thank you to Matt Baker for being my big brother and hauling me around that year and having Faith so prepared.

Now, more than winning any title, buckle, or award with Faith, the most special moment was in about 2014. I was working for Butch and Patty Campbell, and I got a phone call. It was Marissa Dalton (Faith’s current owner at the time), she told me that her family was slowly transitioning out of the horses, and they wanted to give Faith back to me. There is no doubt that Marissa loved her as much as I did. I was floored, I broke down in the Campbell’s arena in tears. So, the following weekend, I loaded my dad up, and we drove to Bret and Candy Parrish’s in Pavo, Ga, to pick her up.

I brought her back to Texas, and she lived in Whitesboro at mine and Jamie’s ranch until she passed in May 2019. We buried her underneath a giant Oak tree down by my pond, where I get to look at her every day from my arena.

Gracie Himes – I won the Showmanship at the 2018 AQHA Youth World Show alongside Essentially Good. Before winning my first globe, I had competed at the World Show for two years without making a final. The same year, I made it back to the finals in three of my classes. Getting a call back at the Youth World show had been a goal of mine and winning a globe had been my dream.

The patterns, competitors, and the Jim Norick arena itself were intimidating but the excitement of it displaced my emotions entirely. The energy in the warmup pen and arena was different than that of the Prelims and the Semifinals. Everyone was about to give it their all.

That year, they did something different for the Showmanship finals. They lined up all the competitors at the end of the arena for a final inspection once all the patterns were completed. I remember standing in the lineup and just feeling so proud and so blessed to have made it to this level. It had all come together and Rico couldn’t have been better. We jived perfectly that day and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

I remember the announcer calling out the placings and waiting for my name to be called. Then, they announced that second and first were placed unanimously. I couldn’t believe that Rico and I were the last one’s standing.

I always say that the memory of that day feels like a dream, but it was a dream come true. I was surprised by my feeling of relief after I was announced as a world champion. I think as youth competitors, there’s a different amount of pressure we put on ourselves. There’s only so many World Shows that you can compete at before you age out and the gold globe is the most prestigious award you can win in this association. You put so much time and effort into the hopes that one day you’ll get a shot at that title. I remember saying to my mom, “Wow we did it, we actually did it.” We had dreamt of this moment for so long and couldn’t believe that it had turned into a reality.