by Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse Journal
"Not bad for a 19-year-old gelding!" Jessica Gilliam of Greensburg, Indiana, laughed as she said that coming out of the Jim Norick Arena, leading Design By Leaguer. Her husband, Jason, had just ridden the horse to the 2012 senior trail world championship at the AQHA World Championship Show.
It was Jason’s first world championship title, although he has trained and coached several amateur and youth riders to their own successes. Out of 97 entered, 22 made it back to the finals. Jason’s winning score of 233 earned him the $10,600 winner’s share of the purse.
“It’s very overwhelming; unbelievable,” Jason said in his Journal Winning Run interview. “It’s been a long year with a great horse, and it’s paid off at the end. He’s a special horse. My sister-in-law (Caroline Gunn) showed him to win the amateur a week ago … he gives it all every time.”
Jason’s mother-in-law, Janet Gunn, bought the horse for her husband, Steve, back in February, and the family has enjoyed the 2012 show season showing the seasoned gelding; Steve showed him at the 2012 Adequan Select World Championship Show, just missing the finals. An old trail campaigner, Design By Leaguer’s successes include the 2011 senior trail world championship and reserve in the class in 2008.
“He’s tough as nails; he’s an individual – (with) a lot of expression, a lot of try, and so talented,” Jason said. “He makes you work for it, and when you need it, he’s there to give it. He’s a World Show horse.”
The Tim Kimura-designed course featured elevation in lope-overs, trot-overs, serpentines and walk-overs, in addition to a back-through with two water boxes.
“This pattern suited this horse to a ‘T,’ ” Jason said. “The poles were really high, and this horse is a technical horse who’s very talented at the poles. Coming into it, I felt like I had as good a shot as ever. I got through the whole course and I had one rub.
“Then I got to the back-through and I had a bad mistake and I kind of let myself down and kind of gave up a little bit. When I rode out, I thought I had beaten myself but I overcame it with some plusses along the way to make up for it.
Based in Greensburg, Indiana, Jason worked with Nancy Sue Ryan, Brent Tincher and Troy Oakley before setting out on his own. Jessica is also an AQHA judge, and they have a daughter, Rebecca Shayne.
“I’d have to thank, first of all, God,” Jason said. “And then my mother-in-law, my wife and my sister-in-law, she’s worked her rear off to get the horse ready here.
“It takes a team to do this at this level; no one person can do it. My curtains say Gilliam Show Horses, but it’s really a team effort. We have a lot of really great people who work together."
He added, “My mother-in-law, I’ve had some good horses for her in the past and not done well, and this year has been her year. I won at the (All American Quarter Horse) Congress on her young horse and won this, so it means a lot. She’s probably my No. 1 fan, next to my wife. She’s been supportive from the beginning.”
Design By Leager has been sold and is headed to be a youth horse. Jason said to look for him at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show.
“I would like to thank AQHA for putting on such a good horse show,” he added. “The atmosphere (at the World Show) is so wonderful here after coming off of Congress – this is laid back. It’s my favorite horse show of the year. I look forward to it every year.”
Jason nodded to the riders and horses gathered at K.C. Montgomery’s booth for their photos.
“The 20 of us out there (in the finals), we all clap for one another, it’s just a close-knit group. I just feel like it’s a great atmosphere. Our horse-trainer friends who we show against, we can still root for one another. It’s a great feeling."
Jason Gilliam guides Design By Leaguer to the senior trail world championship November 13 at the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show. (Journal photo)