By Jessica Hein, PHJ News
One year ago, Amy Zabel was in Illinois, watching the APHA/WCHA Halter Million livestream and admiring the horses parading across her screen. Amy has always loved halter horses and dreamed of the day she would get a chance to show one of her own at a major event like the Halter Million.
During the 2022 show, Amy decided to message Corina Holman of Holman Halter Horses in Hempstead, Texas. She wanted an expert in her corner before she made the leap to buy a horse, and Amy had long admired Corina’s professionalism and online presence. A quick Facebook Messenger conversation assured Amy that, yes, the Holmans would be happy to help and that the 1,030 miles between them wouldn’t be an issue.
“Two days later, I finally was brave enough to say, ‘Here’s our budget; we’d like to buy a horse,’ Amy recalled. “Corina said, ‘It just so happens we are at the World Show, and just heard about three babies that are for sale from somebody we respect. If you want us to take a look, we will.’ ”
Amy and her husband, Scott, enthusiastically agreed, and in just a few days, they were the proud owners of Heza Virtue, a 2022 sorrel overo gelding by Virtuous and out of Sheza Reflection (QH). The Holmans took “Johnny” home for a month, then met Amy and Scott at a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Johnny jumped onto the Zabels’ trailer bound for Donovan, Illinois.
“He’s sweet and sassy—a complete pro,” Amy said about Johnny. “He trailers beautifully, gets to the destination and is completely chill after a few hours, [and then] gets in the show ring and knows his job. We could not ask for a better horse for our first time as Amateurs who are doing all the work ourselves.”
Johnny lives at home with the Zabel family’s aged mare and a goat. Amy and Scott diligently feed, care and exercise the gelding in between their full-time jobs. Thanks to creative technology, they also have continued to train with the Holmans, albeit virtually.
“We do weekly lessons on Google Meet,” Amy said. “Joe and Corina watch and help me learn to set him up; I have them in my ear, while my husband holds my phone.”
They’ve taken Johnny to a handful of competitions so far, including the 2023 APHA Eastern National Championship in Kentucky, where he won a pair of national championships. Now, Amy and her team are in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Halter Million, where their journey began just a year ago.
“Our story feels like a fairy tale,” Amy said. “I am living my dream!”
Though Amy’s hoping for a strong showing in the Platinum Non-Pro Yearling Geldings Breeders’ Futurity—”Johnny Jackpot” won the corresponding Platinum weanling class last year—she’s already on cloud nine and having a great time at her first APHA World Show. And she picked up a world championship in the Amateur Yearling Geldings class on September 25.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Amy said. “The level of organization, professionalism and attention to detail is top-notch. We have loved every minute of his journey and are not stopping now. We love our Paint, the people and this journey.”