angle-left Heroes on Horses at the All American Quarter Horse Congress

Heroes on Horses at the All American Quarter Horse Congress

Two first-time exhibitors earn wins during the special patriotic event.

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By Larri Jo Starkey for The American Quarter Horse Journal


Two first-time exhibitors won trophies October 11 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.

Matthew Ray and Jeff Harris earned first place in the two categories of the  the Heroes on Horses event, presented by Angela Wade, at the 2019 Congress in Columbus, Ohio.

An opening ceremony began with a grand entry of flags and exhibitors, followed by a presentation of the colors.

All of the riders in the event had served, including Matt, who left the U.S. Army this year then started riding.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “I started having more time with my wife. She said, ‘You can (ride), so I said, ‘Maybe I can.’ She was into horses, so I guess I married into them.”

For the ride, Matt was on Achieved By Grayce, a gray mare he calls “Grayce.”

“I’ve fallen from Grayce a couple of times,” he admitted with a chuckle, “especially when I was learning to trot.”

Achieved By Grayce is a 2003 gray mare by Achieva and out of Lucky Meg (TB) by Megaturn. She was bred by the John Bridwell Estate of Edmond, Oklahoma, and is owned by Matt’s wife, Lauren Ray, who led him during the supported class.

“She is a hunter, so this (class) is a change for her,” Lauren said. “She likes to go over fences and not go slow. But she really does love my husband and she tries hard for him.”

Lauren earned her own Congress trophy in 2005.

“We love doing stuff together,” she said. “He always supported me when I wanted to ride, and it was so fun when he said, ‘I’ll get on.’ He was a little tentative about coming, because this is his first horse show, ever.”

The moment became real, Lauren said, when Matt’s name was called in the show ring.

“When we first walked in, they called his name, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, he’s really doing this for me,’” she said.

Jeff, who won the independent class, is no stranger to the spotlight or to showing horses. He’s the barrel man at rodeos, and he competes in speed event classes. It was his first time to compete at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.

Riding slowly was a challenge – but it wasn’t his biggest challenge.

The horse he had been scheduled to ride, Tuff Two Top, became injured in the trailer ride to Columbus, and Jeff needed a new horse. Friends leaped to their phones, and within five minutes, Jeff had a replacement horse.

What he didn’t have was much time to practice with the new horse – 30 minutes.

The Navy veteran still came out with the trophy.

“This is a Cinderella story,” Jeff said. “I came here, and all this happened, and I had the best trainer, Cody Parrish from Georgia.  The horse did most of it – I just tried to stay between his ears.

“This was my first time and I’m hooked. I’ll be back.”

Class sponsor Angela Wade said her mother’s involvement in veterans organizations spurred Angela to sponsor the class.

“I feel fortunate to play a small part today,” Angela said. “I started getting involved when Heroes on Horses started (at Congress). I think it’s important to start this show off with something that’s not self-serving. These people have given up so much. It gives perspective.”

Angela led the line of flagbearers, walking slowly with her American flag.

“It really is an honor – and it’s really hard for me to walk that slow!” she said.