Horse-Breeding History: Expensive Hobby

Expensive Hobby made a lasting impression in the Quarter Horse world.

From America's Horse

Expensive Hobby slammed his powerful buckskin hindquarters into the World Show dirt with a vengeance. The impression was a lasting one. The AQHA World Show had just moved to Oklahoma City, and horsemen in the Heartland were witnessing West Coast-style working cow horse competition for the first time. Expensive Hobby dominated the event, just as he did at Del Mar and the Cow Palace in California. In 1979, he won world titles in working cow horse and reining. In 1980, in the All American Quarter Horse Congress open reining – the dominion of Eastern reiners – he marked one of the highest scores ever awarded. Mehl Lawson, the sculptor who created the National Reining Horse Association’s bronze trophy, started “Hobby.” He was showing Hobby in the hackamore as a 3-year-old when Al Dunning of Arizona, then a 25-year-old up-and-coming trainer, purchased him for his “youth kid,” 17-year-old Georganna Stewart of California.

Foaled in 1971, the gelding was sired by Hobby Horse, the 1964 high-point stallion in working cow horse and sire of five AQHA champions. His dam, Jan’s Helen, was by AQHA Champion Stormy’s Sugar.

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Georganna Stewart qualified Hobby for the 1976 Youth World, where they placed fourth. Otherwise, she left the showing to Al. According to a book on reining, co-written by Pat Close and Al, Hobby won 29 of 32 hackamore classes, including Del Mar and the Phoenix A to Z show. In the bridle, he won the stock horse championships at the Santa Barbara National, at the Phoenix A to Z three times and at Del Mar five times. “Most horses reach a peak, and they’re lucky if they can maintain it for a couple of years,” said Becky Dunning, Al’s wife, in a 1996 article in The American Quarter Horse Journal. “He just kept going, kept getting better. He had this explosive power. People loved to watch him. They’d hang around to see Al school him – like, what is it he does? What’s the trick to this? And Al would just bend him around a little, both directions, stop and back him some.

That’s all he needed. People would watch Al school him and then say, ‘I wonder when he’s going to school him?'” Al’s secret was to keep Hobby physically fit and mentally fresh. He trotted Hobby innumerable miles across the desert landscape. He started cutting on him, a real test of patience for a horse used to chasing cows down the fence. He showed him at the World Show in cutting, placing sixth in ’81 and ninth in ’82. After Hobby’s nine-year reining career, he helped teach the Dunnings’ daughter to cut. Expensive Hobby retired to the Dunnings’ Almosta Ranch in Scottsdale. During retirement, Hobby was featured in two AQHA films, one on conformation and another on working cow horse. The slow-motion footage of Hobby in action explained part of his magic. “You wouldn’t believe how far up under himself he’d reach with his hind end,” Becky said. “Other horses have been just as talented - maybe even better - but you’ve never seen one with so much strength. He would just pile-drive his back end into the dirt.”

Expensive Hobby is just one of many great Quarter Horses. As an AQHA member, you’ll be able to uncover more inspirational horses by connecting with other members, utilizing your free online pedigree records and taking advantage of discounts on countless books and DVDs. Join today and discover the breed you love in ways you never knew possible!

The Dunnings believed Hobby’s greatest strength was not in his hindquarters, but between his ears. “I think there are genius horses, just like there are genius people,” Becky said. “I’ve been around a lot of horses, and I don’t know how to describe it, but around the barn and at shows, it has just been obvious he’s in the upper echelon in horse smarts.” Expensive Hobby died in July 2003 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

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