Fresh off the Ranch

Abigail Gay takes her AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred filly to the 2017 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Abigail Gay and HR Dry Smart Jewel (Journal photo)

Abigail Gay and HR Dry Smart Jewel might be small in size, but together, they make a brave team.

This year, thanks to the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program, Abigail acquired “Ruby,” a 2016 chestnut mare by Docs Lightning Rod and out of Roses Red Jewel by Acres of Roses. The filly was bred by Marc Higgs, owner of AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Flying H Ranch of New Boston, Texas.

The AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program was established to provide older AQHYA members a grass-roots learning opportunity in horsemanship. Successful applicants are paired with a Ranching Heritage Breeder who has agreed to donate or sell a foal for the teen to raise and train.

Throughout the teens’ first year with their foals, the AQHYA participants take the reins on their foals’ progress from halter breaking to ground manners. Each new team must work with an AQHA Professional Horseman, compete in a show and showcase their new skills to compete for scholarships and prizes.

Abigail’s horse background is a bit different than most: The 15-year-old was born with spina bifida and began her equine journey through therapeutic riding. Training and showing have helped her gain physical strength to overcome her disability, she says.

And although she has several years of equine experience, the YHD program presented Abigail with a new challenge: working with a previously unhandled yearling.

“They don’t imprint on the horses,” she says. “When they round them up, they’re all untouched. It has been interesting. It has been very fun.”

As one of 60 YHD participants, Abigail was required to keep records of her progress with Ruby, including monthly reports, an expense sheet, veterinary records, training assignments and a goals sheet.

One of Abigail’s listed goals was showing Ruby. After the duo earned a second-place finish in yearling mares at the Nutrena East AQHA Level 1 Championships, Abigail decided to state qualify the filly for the 2017 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show. The duo finished second Level 2 yearling fillies at the Ford Youth World.

Ruby is not bred to compete in halter, and this is only the filly’s second horse show, but Abigail says she had a positive experience under the bright lights of the Jim Norick Arena.

While most horses her age are fidgety and spooky, Ruby stood quietly throughout the entire class. The duo’s success is largely due to Abigail’s efforts with desensitization, says Virginia Gay, Abigail’s mother.

“She is just amazingly calm for a yearling,” Virginia says. “People will walk by and be like, ‘I wish my horse was calm like that.’ It was pretty impressive to see people’s reactions.”

Abigail says she was not surprised by the Ruby’s quiet demeanor in the pen.

“She’s pretty laid back about stuff, very easy to get along with, very friendly,” Abigail says. “I think in the future, I’ll get into working cow horse and reining with her, since that’s what her bloodline came from, in the ranching program.”

At home, Abigail and Ruby train with AQHA Professional Horseman Bennie Sargent of Paris, Kentucky. Abigail longes and ponies her filly in a variety of environments a few times each week, gaining new skills as she progresses.

“We kind of learn together,” Abigail says.

Prior to the Ford Youth World, Abigail spent nearly two weeks working with the Higgses at Flying H Ranch, soaking up new knowledge she hopes to use with a future yearling project.

“We brought the babies up for this year,” Abigail says. “We gave them all their vaccinations and then played with them and turned them back out.”

This is Abigail’s third trip to Oklahoma City for the Ford Youth World. After showing Ruby, she ran in barrel racing, pole bending and stake racing with Sweet Talkn Dandy, a 2005 sorrel mare by Sweet Talkin Fol, and JA Kruzzin For Cash, a 2010 mare by JA Runway.

The rising high school freshman also rodeos, competing in breakaway roping and goat tying in addition to speed events.

Equine skills aside, showing horses has taught Abigail the importance of determination and perseverance, she says. She plans to continue competing at the Ford Youth World during her final years of eligibility.

“Until she can’t come anymore, we’ll be here,” Virginia says of the show. “We love it. We love the people. I have a good experience here as a parent, which is a big deal.

“(The YHD) has been one of the best things that AQHA has done for her,” Virginia adds. “We’re very blessed to have it, and we try and tell as many people as possible, because we just think it’s a great program.”

To be eligible for the AQHA Ranching Heritage Young Horse Development Program, submit an application by the priority deadline of August 15 or by the late deadline October 1.