#MyRootsRunDeep: Horse People Are Crazy

AQHYA Region 7 Director Paul Parker shares why his roots run deep.

The American Quarter Horse Youth Association

AQHYA Region 7 Director Paul Parker wasn't a horse person when he got involved with AQHYA, but that didn't stop him from attending the Youth Excellence Seminar!

“Horse people are crazy.”

Don't tell me you've never heard that. Horses and their riders are just plain odd. Or so I thought a few years ago. Boy, how things can change ...

Horseback riding seemed so strange to me. Why go to competitions almost every weekend, ride horses in a circle over and over for a ribbon, or run cloverleaves around barrels? Why own a semi-wild, dangerous, thousand-pound animal for "fun"?

You might say I was a little closed-minded, but I absolutely understand now why many people love the horse world so much.  

I was introduced to horses when I was 7 years old. My sister, Arizona, had a spur-of-the-moment urge to ride horses. We found her a coach, a stable, a horse – and the lessons began. I tagged along for the ride, in the shadows, but always watching and wondering. After years of dedicated work on Arizona's part, I found myself at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, where she competed at the highest level.

Looking back on it, I remember my mom was reluctant to indulge my sister's equestrian fantasies. Would the dream be a flash in the pan that soon fizzled out, as so often happens with kids? After a solid year of riding lessons, Mom was convinced my sister wasn’t going to drop this hobby, so we got ourselves a horse for the backyard. Nothing fancy, an American Quarter Horse with no papers that we named “Steve.” Our lives changed forever.

Steve was malnourished when we got him, but after months under my sister's and Mom’s care, he was in excellent shape. Recognizing horses are herd animals, we soon added “Buckwheat,” “Romeo,” and “Java”. My sister eventually got her own show horse, her beloved "Coloured Assets." I'm telling you, our lives just changed. Thinking back, Steve and Buckwheat, who have now gone over the Rainbow Bridge, were the Quarter Horses who started the changes in our lives and lifestyle. For our family, they started "The Crazy."

It's a little-known secret that my mom always wanted to have horses and ride, but never had the opportunity. My dad never had any interest. His prior experience with horses consisted of falling off a Thoroughbred that bolted on him—twice—in five minutes. This happened when he was a young man.  But when Mom broke her leg and couldn't ride for months, Dad learned how to ride so he could exercise the horses. He's been trail riding ever since and doesn't fall off too often these days.

We've been fortunate to live in relatively secluded areas where you could trail ride on dirt roads, washes, and hiking trails. But early on my sister got interested in the Arizona Quarter Horse Youth Association and various equestrian competitions in arenas, which she has done for the last decade.

What was my role in all this? Thanks for asking! The weird answer is I was never interested in riding, and I always refused to ride when offered. Until last year, I preferred to stay on the sidelines, cheering my sister on, and honing my horse-feeding and mucking skills. I am a certified Level 4 Muck Master and proud of it! (I told you, horse people are crazy.)

I accompanied my sister to most of her shows, both local and interstate, as her roadie. I helped her groom and tack her horse, encouraged her, took pictures and helped the show office (i.e. running papers around, handing out award ribbons and being a gopher: "Go for this, go for that!"). I just knew horses and riding were not my thing. I just could not understand it. 

I had some reluctance becoming a formal part of the equestrian community, but over the years the idea really grew on me. I was meeting dozens of amazing people and could see my participation would help me develop social skills, work ethic and a heart for service to others. Five years ago, I met Connie Hay, the youth advisor for AzQHYA. She lassoed me into becoming the reporter for the AzQHYA. In 2014, I was invited to attend the Bank of America Youth Excellence Seminar and that’s where the path to understanding it all truly began.

Before I attended YES, I didn’t know much about it, which was intimidating if not terrifying. All I knew was my sister attended the year prior and said it was a great event, and this time she was running for director of AQHYA Region 7. I assumed it was going to be some long, boring seminar on riding techniques or something similar, but I was off by a long shot. The YES convention taught me amazing leadership skills, how to relax and have fun with complete strangers; although they weren't strangers by the end of the trip. The educational trip to the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum was eye-opening. YES turned out to be the most memorable experience of my life thus far. It was life changing. Meeting and talking with other "horse people" from across the country helped me understand why you all are involved with horses.

During YES, I tried to meet, befriend and learn about as many people and their horses as possible. I met folks from all over the United States, even a few from other countries. Learning about so many incredible people and their stories was nothing short of awesome. Everyone was different, with unique opinions and experiences. Nevertheless, we were gathered in one place for a common interest, the love of the American Quarter Horse and I got to thinking: Is there really anything else like this?

I truly felt loved and accepted at the 2014 YES convention, even though I was not a horse rider like the others. It felt like family. Imagine hundreds of friends, acquaintances and complete strangers from across the world, gathering in one place to meet, break bread, and laugh together – it’s unique and special. I realized this at YES, but it finally dawned on me this love and acceptance had been present at all the events and barns I had visited all the years beforehand while supporting my sister's riding.

In 2015, our youth director encouraged me to run for the position of regional director. I had no idea how someone who did not ride could hold this kind of position. I thought about it and realized I knew more about horses than I thought I did. I attended the YES convention again, and was privileged to be elected as the AQHYA Region 7 director. I've done my best to promote the American Quarter Horse and AQHYA, getting as many people involved as possible. This year, I decided to give horseback riding a shot. I saddled up with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. It was the best thing ever! My dream now is to someday ride my sister’s beautiful Quarter Horse at the Arizona shows, and I know it will happen.

There’s something to be said for having such a powerful icon – the American Quarter Horse –bring so many people together. Hopefully AQHYA and the horse community in general will see lots of growth in the future. And yes, I am now honored to be part of what I once called crazy ...  I have officially become bitten by the horse bug, and now there is no turning back. No matter your background, we all have a story to tell: the story of how “My Roots Run Deep.”

If you would like to be a featured blog author like Paul Parker, send your #myrootsrundeep story to kthomas@aqha.org.