by Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse Journal
Amber Cunningham of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and her bay gelding, HF Bentley, faced the arena first in the showmanship finals early November 11, at the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show.
It’s tough to be first: Other contestants lining the Coliseum walkway, watching to see how you lay down a challenging pattern in the unmarked, freshly drug arena.
But Amber was smiling because her battle had been won. She and “Willie” had made the finals in an event that she says “is not his class.”
“We practiced a little bit about 3:30 a.m. this morning, and he was being really good so we decided to quit,” Amber says. “He got longed a little, ate his breakfast, and we just came out and tried to have the best go we could.
“This pattern was tough because of the circle lines in the middle you had to be real straight,” she continues. “You had to walk up there on the diagonal and find that straight line both times. To be straight to turn and back and watch the judge was going to be tough. But he was very good.”
Good enough to earn a first world championship for himself and his handler.
“It’s not real!” Amber says. “When (I knew) we were in the top 10, I was so stoked! I was so proud. I just couldn’t believe it. (The win) still doesn’t feel real; not even kind of!”
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Amber’s mother, Lisa Cunningham, bought Willie as a 3-year-old from Kenny and Ashley Lakins. Bred by Robert Wolf of Okemos, Michigan, the gelding is by One Hot Krymsun and is out of the great mare, Tahnee Zippo by Zippo Pine Bar, making him a half-brother to a couple of world champions, including leading sire Blazing Hot.
“He’s a great horse: crazy talented, very smart,” Amber continues. “(He) almost tries too hard; if anything, that’s his biggest fault…. Like I said, this hasn’t always been his best class, I’m so proud of him, he was great today.”
Amber started showing in 4-H as a young girl, after falling in love with the horse her grandfather had on his farm.
“It’s not something my parents did or my siblings,” she says. “I just loved it to death, I kept working at it. Everybody always said, she’ll grow up, she’ll grow out of it, and I never did. I just kept going and never quit. I can’t give it up.”
A recent college graduate, Amber is back at her mother’s place in Glenwood Springs for now. Her mom, her family and AQHA Professional Horseman Chad Evans and his wife, Barbie, are first on the list of people she wants to thank for this world championship.
“My mom has always sacrificed everything she’s had or wanted so that I could do this,” Amber says. “It’s always meant the world to me. I’m more grateful than I could ever express.”
And how are they all going to celebrate?
“I don’t know! I can’t honestly believe it still happened.”
Amber Cunningham and HF Bentley win the 2011 showmanship world championship. (Journal photo)