Throwback Thursday: Expensive Hobby

This American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer made a lasting impression on the horse-show industry.

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 Championship 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 AQHA Professional Horseman 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.

Georganna Stewart qualified Hobby for the 1976 American Junior Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show (now known as the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show), 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.

Read the rest of this article on America's Horse Daily and find out in which two AQHA films Expensive Hobby starred.