angle-left The Ultimate Trail Horse

The Ultimate Trail Horse

No. 1 youth trail horse Zippo Romeo was back at the 2019 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show with a new rider.

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By Alexis Shanes

Zippo Romeo knows his way around a trail course.

In 2018, The American Quarter Horse Journal recognized the top horses of all time in trail.

No. 1 in youth trail was Zippo Romeo, who earned many of his 2,715 youth points with Gillian Chant of Abilene, Texas.

These days, the 22-year-old Romeo has a fresh lease on life with his new rider at the 2019 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show.

He showed in 13-&-Under trail with Jordan Macan of Kearney, Missouri, where “Romeo” proved he still has what it takes in the show ring, as the duo finished seventh.

Zippo Romeo is a 1997 sorrel gelding by Zippos Old Gold and out of Ravishing Reynolds by Sonny Reynolds. He was bred by Winridge Farm of Granbury, Texas.

In 2007, at Gillian’s first Ford Youth World, she was one of the first 10 exhibitors in the trail preliminaries.

But an early draw didn’t stop Gillian from marking a 235 aboard “Romeo.”

“I didn’t know if that was a good score or a bad score, because I had never been to the (Ford Youth World),” Gillian says, adding that she watched all six hours of trail preliminaries that day. “At the end of the day, we had the second-highest score. That was when I knew he was pretty special.”

Romeo was, indeed, unique. Fueled by snacks like fig Newtons, Teddy Grahams and Wheat Thins, the gelding Gillian acquired at the 2005 All American Quarter Horse Congress became her once-in-a-lifetime horse, simultaneously securing his place as a top youth mount.

Years after their unexpectedly successful debut, Gillian and Romeo were the last pair standing in the trail pen at the 2011 Ford Youth World, claiming their first world championship with a 226. But Gillian didn’t have much time to celebrate – she left the coveted neck ribbon and gold trophy at Romeo’s stall, swapped saddles and headed to hunt seat equitation practice, she says.

The next day, the duo edged out one of Gillian’s close friends for the hunt seat equitation title.

“It was so exciting that it had come down to the two of us,” Gillian says. “They called out her number, and I was so shocked.

“It was just amazing, his versatility,” she adds. “Romeo wasn’t really an English horse. That was so beyond my greatest expectations.”

Later that year, Romeo and AQHA Professional Horseman Michael Colvin finished reserve in senior trail at the AQHA World Championship Show.

In 2012, at their final Youth World appearance, Romeo and Gillian claimed a silver trophy in trail. All told, Romeo earned more than $71,500, according to QData.

Although known for his trail aptitude, Romeo was not a specialist horse, Gillian says. The gelding’s record includes double Superiors in youth trail, showmanship, western pleasure, horsemanship and equitation, as well as Superiors in youth halter, and amateur and open trail and western pleasure.

With his more than 20 exhibitors, the gelding has earned 1,220 points in six classes, including 812.5 in trail. He was twice an AQHA Youth Champion and AQHA Youth Performance Champion, and he garnered the Youth Superior All-Around award in 2008.

The duo’s success didn’t happen by accident, Gillian says. She credits AQHA Professional Horsemen Stephen Stephens, Terry Cross, Michael Colvin, Clint Ainsworth and Bruce Walquist with developing Romeo’s natural talent.

Romeo had a tendency to anticipate obstacles, which meant Gillian often practiced trail patterns backward, in out-of-order pieces or on foot, she says. She never drilled trail with the gelding – he learned quickly and excelled at even the toughest components, such as the gate.

For Gillian, simply trusting Romeo to do his job was critical, she says.

“When I was coming up to a spot, and I couldn’t tell if he was going to reach or chip, I would close my eyes and not think about it,” Gillian says. “He knew where he wanted to put his strides and how he wanted to do the pattern. He was just so good at it on his own.”

Gillian retired Romeo when he was 17, intending to reward the gelding for a career that spanned her final 11-&-Under rides through her first year of amateur competition. But Romeo was bored, she says. 

She let youth rider Spencer Jarosz of Saint Jo, Texas, show Romeo, and they won walk-trot trail at the NSBA World Show in 2016.

When Gillian moved to Kansas City, Missouri, after finishing college, she took Romeo with her. She first leased the gelding to 8-year-old Jordan Macan of Kearney, Missouri, who rides the gelding in walk-trot classes, and eventually agreed to sell him.

“Any time we would get him out to practice trail, he would just come back to life,” Gillian says. “You can really tell a difference in how happy he is now that he’s back showing.”

The gelding is teaching Jordan the ropes in trail, much like he did for Gillian nearly 15 years ago, says Jordan’s mother, Heather Townsend-Macan.

“He knows the patterns better than she does,” Heather says. “At 21, he’s kicking it.

“I don’t think we go anywhere to any show that people don’t know who he is,” she adds. “It’s quite an honor.”

Jordan continued to ride Romeo when she began showing in 13-&-Under classes in 2019, and they qualified for the Youth World.

Now the young horsewoman has another goal with the gelding.

“I want to be able to stand on his back while loping,” Jordan says. “I get to stand on his back a lot. It’s pretty amazing.”