November 7, 2012
By Jody ReynoldsThe American Quarter Horse Journal
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Hunter Bryant of Okeechobee, Florida, worked odd jobs, including cleaning tack and sorting cows, to help his grandparents pay for his trip to the AQHA World Show.
When Hunter Bryant’s grandparents, Gary and Suzanna Rucks of Okeechobee, Florida, learned about AQHA’s new ranch pleasure class in America’s Horse magazine, they knew he’d be great at it. But, in the class’s inaugural year, AQHA only offers it in the open division.
And Hunter is just 13.
Undeterred, Hunter and his grandparents found the nearest ranch pleasure class and gave it a try with Suzanna’s petite 11-year-old bay mare, Chex With Me.
Competing against people three times his age and older, Hunter and “Tango” gave their best effort toward qualifying for the inaugural ranch pleasure world championship class in November during the AQHA World Championship Show.
Truth be told, Hunter and Tango had an advantage over his competitors.
“They were like, who is this 13-year-old kid competing against us?” Hunter laughed. “They thought they’d beat me. Then I came out there and whooped up.”
You see, Suzanna had been taking Hunter and Tango to 4-H ranch riding competitions for the past two years. And 4-H ranch riding is conveniently similar to AQHA ranch pleasure.
Before long, Hunter was qualified for the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show.
But that’s where momentum stopped.
“Hunter qualified, and he was so excited,” Suzanna said. “But I told him, ‘It’s wonderful that you qualified and I’m so proud of you, but there’s no way we can go to the World Show. It’s a long way from Florida and a lot of expense.’ I hated to deflate his excitement, but that was the way it had to be.”
Devastated, Hunter called his other grandparents in Ocala: Leo and Janice Smith.
“He told them how well he’d done at the show that day,” Suzanna recalled. “Leo and Janice called us a few days later and said, ‘We are going to get Hunter and his horse to the World Show some way.’ They’ve been very instrumental in the financial end of it. They are awesome, awesome grandparents.”
The Smiths paid for Hunter, his younger sister, Tatum Bickel, and the two sets of grandparents to come to Oklahoma City.
At his first-ever trip to the AQHA World Show, Hunter worked 15th in the 66-head November 6 open ranch pleasure prelims. To his family’s amazement, he made it back to the finals, which took place Thursday, November 8.
His strategy for the finals: “Do what my Grandma says.”
As he did during the months leading up to his qualification, he competed November 8 with adults three times his age.
One of the crowd favorites, Hunter performed a smooth pattern with a willing Tango and took eighth place overall. Hunter's family was beyond proud of his accomplishment.
"We are so proud of him," Janice said. "He is a determined soul, and a sweet one also. We are so indebted to Suzanna, who takes the time and
effort to provide this opportunity for him."
See the full results for the inaugural ranch pleasure world championships, including video of Mozaun McKibben and Lil Ruf Catalyst's gold-winning performance.
Hunter has a special relationship with Tango.
“We just have a bond,” he said. “I go out there and talk to her a lot. I ride her a lot. She’s really good at reining.”
Wise beyond his years, Hunter has a mature plan for his ranch pleasure finals earnings: "I'll put it in my savings account."
Hunter aspires to go to college at the University of Florida and become a horse trainer. Suzanna assures us, Hunter intends to qualify for ranch pleasure next year.
Learn more about ranch horse pleasure, and read about next year's changes, including the addition of youth and amateur classes.