Successful and Fearless Sprouts

These youngsters are growing up with horses.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Kyrah Bowker and A Sassy Red Zipper competed at the 2018 AQHA West Level 1 Championships. (Journal photo)

You’ve been at the horse shows where the tiny little girl leads a huge halter horse into the arena or there’s a petite princess aboard her trusty American Quarter Horse in an equitation class, trying to sit as tall in the saddle as she can.

You can just hear the crowd in a collective, “Awwww …” when these sprouts enter the show pen. These kiddos – the future of our industry – have outgrown leadline and small-fry, they’re a little more independent about getting themselves and even their horses ready to show, but they’re still fun to watch.

I had that experience at the 2018 AQHA West Level 1 Championships last week when I watched Kyrah Bowker of Moriarty, New Mexico; Elly Bageant of Davenport, Washington; and Max Santos of Auburn, California, make their way into the show pen.

Orphan ‘Annie’

Kyrah Bowker and A Sassy Red Zipper showed in equitation, showmanship and horsemanship. (Journal photo)

“She was an orphan, so she grew up with people, so she pretty much thinks she’s a human,” is the first thing Kyrah Bowker, 10, says of her mare, 17-year-old “Annie.” “She eats about everything – anything human, pretty much.”

Looking out across the 13-&-Under hunter under saddle class at the AQHA West Level 1, it was hard to miss the petite, cherub-faced girl on the stocky little mare.

A Sassy Red Zipper is Annie’s registered name, and she is by Nicka Lee Pine and out of Likums Sassy Sally by Likum Gold. Kyrah might only be 10, but she has been horse-crazy since birth. Because she has been going to horse shows most of her life, she readily carries on a conversation with an adult better than most girls her age.

Annie and Kyrah have a connection. So when Annie started rubbing on Kyrah after their class, Kyrah knew immediately that it was Annie body language for, “I need to potty,” and not Annie being pushy. So back to the stall we went, so Annie could do her business, and Kyrah and I could finish our interview.

Annie and Kyrah were entered in Rookie and Level 1 youth showmanship, horsemanship and equitation.

Toward the end of our interview, Kyrah nods to the tall palomino in the stall across from Annie and says quietly, “I’m going to graduate to that horse, and my little sister (3-year-old Klairah) will get Annie.”

“(Annie) can drink out of a straw!” Klairah loudly interjects.

Sounds like Annie has a good partner in the wings.

Elly and ‘Hank’

Elly Bageant showed FG Unforgettable to the youth champion of champions win. (Journal photo)

As they entered the youth 3-year-old geldings class, they were a study in contrasts – FG Unforgettable, a beefy sorrel halter gelding, and 9-year-old Elly Grace Bageant, the tiny, bejeweled girl at the end of his lead shank.

Elly, 9, walked and trotted as fast as her little legs would carry her; “Hank” trotted alongside, careful not to step on Elly. In the end, they walked out as the champions of youth 3-year-old geldings and, when youth halter was all said and done, they were pronounced the youth halter champion of champions.

Elly’s trainer, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Colleen Riedle of Hayden, Idaho, actually found Hank for Elly’s aunt, Jennifer Larson. But because Hank had previously been shown by two Select-age exhibitors, Colleen thought he might work for Elly.

“I asked (AQHA Professional Horseman) Jason Smith, who had Hank, if he thought Elly could show him,” Colleen says. “Jason thought Hank would be fine for Elly, as long as we kept riding him.”

Wait. Ride a halter horse? Yes, Hank is broke to ride. And he likes it.

“He’s very quiet and so laid back,” Colleen says. “We need to give these halter horses another job, and riding seems to work well for Hank. We plan to show him in performance classes next year. Riding him has been so good for his brain. He’s just so happy.”

But for now, he’s just Elly’s halter horse.

“I love that he’s like my retired halter horse, Mattlock,” Elly says of Hank. “He’s really nice, and sometimes he’s really quiet, but when you go into his stall, he always nickers at you.”

Elly also shows in showmanship, western pleasure and equitation classes on her horse “Rainy.”

Max and ‘Blackie’

Max Santos showed Heza Dark Agent to the win in yearling geldings. (Journal photo)

Halter usually does not require audience participation. But because Max Santos had a little trouble getting his laid-back yearling, Heza Dark Agent, to trot for the judges, everyone in the South Point arena started clucking to get “Blackie” to trot.

They made quite a pair – 9-year-old Max in a suit, tie and brown felt hat, and the ever-patient Blackie strolling right alongside him.

“He will spend an hour bathing that horse,” says Max’s aunt, Rose Santos of Auburn, California. “And Blackie just lets him crawl all over him and do whatever he wants.”

Blackie, by Heza Secret Agent and out of the Telusive mare Dark Brown Chocolate, was bred by Mark Williams of Cottonwood, California.

“Mark showed Blackie last fall, and then we picked the horse up at Kathy Smallwood’s in November,” Rose says. “He is sooooo laid back, you would think he’s drugged. Because of his demeanor, I told my mom that Blackie might make a good halter horse for Max to show at the West Level 1. I went ahead and entered them, even though we weren’t sure we were going.”

But Max made up their minds for them.

“We picked him up from school one afternoon and he said, ‘Well, I’ve told all my friends I’m going to Vegas to show!’ ” Rose says, laughing. “My mom said, ‘Well, what if I haven’t decided we’re going?’ and Max said, ‘Well, I can’t go back now, we have to go show in Vegas.’ ”     

After winning the youth yearling geldings class at the West Level 1, Max was barely out of the arena when he asked Rose and her mom, Donel, whether he could go show in Texas next.

“He has been to the Select World with us a couple of times in Amarillo and he knows some of the other trainers who are from Texas, so I guess he thinks showing in Texas is the big-time,” Rose says.

Rose and Donel officially adopted Max, whose mother is Rose’s sister and Donel’s daughter, a couple of years ago, but they’ve had the precocious boy off and on since birth.

“I had him at the barn with me this past weekend … and I get nothing done because he wants to ride his walk-trot horse,” Rose says. “And then he wants to know if he can pony Blackie on his walk-trot horse … and I said, ‘Absolutely, not.’ ”

But Rose laughs. This is what life with kids and horses is all about.