Home-Designed Bronze Champion

Youth exhibitor Ocean Ballard trained her own horse for competition at the 2018 Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships.

Ocean Ballard and her project horse, Designer Hank, compete in barrel racing at the 2018 Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships. (Larri Jo Starkey photo)

Ocean Ballard and her project horse, Designer Hank, compete in barrel racing at the 2018 Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships. (Larri Jo Starkey photo)

“Hank” is a nibbler.

Phones, lead ropes, hands – whatever it is, the 4-year-old wants to inspect it with his mouth.

But his 15-year-old trainer takes it all in stride.

Designer Hank, as he is more formally known, and Ocean Ballard competed in barrel racing at the 2018 Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships in Wilmington, Ohio, where they placed third in Level 1 youth.

Designer Hank is a 2014 palomino gelding by Flits Designer Fire and out of Hankie Four Socks by Cincos Fiero. Bred by John E. Brown of Helena, Ohio, and owned by Craig Ballard of Middletown, Ohio.

That’s Ocean’s dad, and Hank was supposed to be his horse. Ocean took possession instead.

“I got him when he was 2 years old at an auction,” Ocean said. “He was the cheapest horse at the auction.”

Hank was also the quietest horse at the auction, and Ocean and her dad thought he would be a good prospect for her first attempt at horse training.

“I actually broke him from the ground up, so I’m happy he has done so good,” she said. “He was really easy to break. He just picked up on everything I wanted him to do. He’s been really good for me. He just went in there and did it.”

Ocean and her family travel most weekends to barrel races.

“I don’t do many gymkhanas,” she said. “I do IBRA and NPBA so we get bigger shows (as a family). We go to shows together.”

Learning that kind of persistence has paid off for Ocean when working with Hank.

“He went through a slump in the winter and wasn’t having good barrels,” she said. “I asked people for help and they helped me with him and gave me tips, and he just started being really good about two months ago.”

Ocean has big plans for Hank, but she’s creating them through smaller, achievable goals.

“I’m hoping to go to Congress in the fall and just keep doing bigger shows with AQHA,” she said.