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By Erica Greathouse
Whether these special horses gave them their first taste of victory, taught them to persevere despite difficulties, or are the pinnacle of their breeding programs, the one thing these horses all have in common is the impact they’ve had on these World Champion professionals.
Garth Gooding, along with his wife, Sonnesa, and son, Austin, own and operate Bauer & Gooding Show Horses in Fennville, Michigan. Together, they have produced over 150 APHA World and Reserve World Champions, numerous Honor Roll Champions, Quarter Horse Congress Champions, and NSBA World and Reserve World Champions. According to Gooding, of all the fantastic horses he’s had the pleasure of training and showing, the one that stands out in his mind is RL Sudden Style, more affectionately known around the barn as “700.”
700 was already a Congress and APHA World Champion with many top trainers in the industry before he came to Bauer & Gooding Show Horses. Although Gooding cites 700’s inherent talent as one of his assets, it was the way the horse demanded respect and fairness that makes him stand out in Gooding’s mind. “He was such a finicky horse to prepare,” Gooding says. “In order to get him ready, I had to learn to get inside his head and do things his way. He changed the way I thought about preparation, schooling, and showing.” When 700 arrived at Bauer & Gooding Show Horses, he was started in all-around events and had taken a break from Western Pleasure for a few years. 700 was in need of a tune-up, but what Gooding didn’t know was that the tune-up was going to be on 700’s terms. “If he wasn’t in the right frame of mind, he would tell on you in the show pen by biting at other horses or wanting to buck,” he says. “You name it, and he would try it! If he was schooled too aggressively and you thought you were going to teach him a lesson, he would make sure to teach you one in a hurry. He taught me to be soft, patient, and methodical about preparation. There was no intimidation; he had to want to do it for you and you had to earn it,” says Gooding.
Any lesson learned is often learned the hard way, and it was no different with 700. Gooding recalls a few classes during his show career when he knew 700 hadn’t been prepared properly. “I knew I was in trouble when he started to grit his teeth, root his nose out, and get tighter in his movement,” he says. “Those moments, when a possible explosion was on the horizon, always made me re-think the way I prepared him.” 700 was shown by many members of the Bauer & Gooding Show Horses team and taught them all to be patient and learn his ways. 700 amassed an impressive show record in Showmanship, Horsemanship, Trail, Western Pleasure, and Western Riding with Michelle Bauer. He collected multiple World and Reserve World titles at the APHA World Show in Western Pleasure and a Reserve Congress Championship in Western Pleasure with Austin Gooding. “He was one of those horses that was always there for you when you really needed him. We knew we could always count on him when the stakes were high,” Gooding says.
On top of changing Gooding’s perspective on the art of preparing a horse for competition, 700 helped to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of physical issues in order to promote a happier and healthier performer. “We learned about taking care of ulcers and many other alternative forms of care to help him feel his best. We still use many of those methods on other horses in our program to this day.” Due to the top-notch care of 700, both mentally and physically, he was able to continue his show career with Lauren Gralla, who purchased the horse as a walk-trot mount. Gooding is grateful for everything 700 taught his family. “He was such a challenge at first, but looking back, he was one of my favorite horses we’ve ever had. Everyone should have a horse that teaches him or her to be fair, patient, and soft. Those types of horses are what make us horsemen,” Gooding says.
& What a Fancy Zippo
Bruce Vickery owns and operates Vickery Quarter Horses in Aubrey, Texas, a program that has produced winners of multiple AQHA World and Reserve World Championships, AQHA High Point awards, and All American Quarter Horse Congress wins. When asked to choose one horse that stood out in his mind, Vickery was unable to narrow the honor to just one. “I’ve been so fortunate to have ridden and trained so many stellar horses, and they’ve all taught me so much,” Vickery says. “These two horses just stand out because they were both born for the events in which they competed. They were so natural, and you never had to make them do anything. They both allowed me to learn from them and work on myself. They both helped me refine my training program and made me the trainer I am today.”
One horse that left a lasting impression on Vickery was Requested Major, coincidentally known around the barn as “Bruce.” However, it was confusing that the horse and trainer had the same name, so Requested Major became “Bruce Horse.” He was the first top-notch Western Riding horse Vickery ever showed and it helped him learn the intricacy of the event. “I’d never been on a horse that loped with so much lift, changed leads so effortlessly, or had so much body control. He had so much rhythm, and he set the standard for the way I want my Western Riding horse to feel,” Vickery says.
Bruce Horse was also an integral part of putting Vickery on the map as a professional trainer. After two years of being out on his own as a trainer, Bruce Horse and Vickery won the Congress in Senior Western Riding. Vickery says,“The Congress win was so special because I’d just started training and I never thought I would win the Congress so early in my career. Then, he made it happen. I definitely didn’t go into that class thinking I would be the winner.” Equally as impressive as the Congress win were the words of affirmation Vickery received from his peers. “It felt so amazing to have so many trainers I looked up to and respected compliment my go. That was just as much of an accomplishment as the title itself. Whenever I ride any Western Riding horse, I think of Bruce Horse and I remember his feel. He was so incredible and has definitely set the bar high for all of the Western Riding horses I’ve ridden after him,” he says.
What a Fancy Zippo was known around the barn as “Peanut” due to his 14.2 hand stature. Although Peanut wasn’t a big horse, he accomplished big things. Peanut is the horse Vickery credits with refining his technique in Trail. “I’d always admired Peanut when Mark Ste-vens had him. He was the consummate Trail horse, and I was so fortunate to get to ride and show him. He put me on the map in Trail,” Vickery says. Peanut’s footwork, attitude, and expression were some of his most redeeming qualities that made him a top competitor. Bruce says, “His talent for Trail was in a whole different realm than I’d ever experienced before. I’d ridden some good Trail horses, but he was at the next level. The way he carried himself and his ability to maneuver the obstacles effortlessly gave me a whole new perspective on the event.”
Despite his impressive record of multiple AQHA World Championships, Congress Championships, and High Point titles, Peanut wasn’t without his quirks. “Peanut was all business in the show pen, but he was a freak to lead around,” Vickery says. “The person leading him needed to make sure he or she always held on to the rope tight because there was always a possibility that he would spook and run away. One time, he got loose at the barn and it took forever to catch him. He was playful outside the show pen, but he never lost focus in the arena.” Still, as quirky as he could be on the ground, Peanut always gave one hundred percent in the arena. “He taught me that some horses are just born for certain events. The way he carried himself, his expression, and the way he was able to negotiate the course opened my mind to the intricacies of Trail and helped mold me into the trainer I am today. To this day, I never climb on a Trail horse without thinking of Peanut,” Vickery says.
Bruce Walquist – Flashy Zipper
After over 30 years in the horse business, multiple World Championships in many breeds, Congress Championships and Reserve Championships, and High Point titles, it takes a lot of reflection to choose one horse that truly stands out. Flashy Zipper is a horse Walquist rode in the ‘80s; however, the impact on Walquist’s life is still felt today. “God provided me the opportunity to purchase him as a three-year-old in 1985, and I was fortunate enough to show him to a Reserve Congress Championship in the Three-Year-Old Derby at the Congress, fourth in Junior Western Pleasure at the AQHA World Show, and the title of High Point Western Pleasure stallion in the nation,” Walquist says. What makes this horse a standout is the fact that the success Walquist experienced with Flash has been the gift that keeps giving. With the sale of Flash, Walquist was able to purchase his ranch, and almost every horse in his barn is somehow related to Flash.
Flash was a talented performer, but Walquist cites his incredible mind, genuine willingness to learn, and honest nature as his most valuable assets. The fact that he passed those traits on to his offspring made him a very successful breeding stallion. Walquist states, “Flashy Zipper produced Dress Western, a stallion I showed for five years. Together, we won many prestigious titles. All But Sudden is a horse I exhibited to an AQHA World Championship in Western Riding and other great horses include Zippin Bonanza Flash, Zip My Zipper, Master Flash, and many incredible mares that produced multiple World and Congress Champions. He is now in the NSBA Hall of Fame for all of his contributions to the industry. He helped me to learn how to teach a horse body control and use dressage-based training to get the most out of my Western Pleasure horses. I was then able to transition to other events and use the methods I learned from him on his babies.”
When Walquist bought Flash, he had hopes of showing him, raising his babies, and showing his offspring. However, he had no idea the stallion would be the platform of his entire equine career. “To me, he was the horse that gave me everything. Almost every horse I ride is somehow connected to him. You look at almost any horse in my program’s papers, and they are most likely related to Flashy Zipper. I’m grateful for him and everything he did for me, every day.” His mark on the horse industry is profound; however, his presence in Walquist’s life is perhaps even more noteworthy. He says, “I can’t ride a horse without thinking of him and all of the gifts he’s given our family.”
Arturo Maestas – A Big Spender
Maestas Show Horses, owned and operated by Arturo Maestas and assistant, Jesse Jones, has produced multiple APHA World Champions, ApHC World and National Champions, and Congress Champions. Maestas cites A Big Spender, an ApHC gelding known around the barn as “Rhett,” as the horse that really shaped his program into what it is today. “He was the first horse I won a World Champion title on in Junior Trail in 2003. Although that was a huge milestone, the journey to get there and everything Rhett taught me was even more important,” Maestas says.
When Rhett arrived at Maestas Show Horses, he was a green broke three-year-old that wasn’t showing the promise as a Western Pleasure horse that his owner had hoped for. “Rhett’s owner was at a loss as to what to do with him and was hoping I could find a job for him,” Maestas says. Rhett was opinionated and not always easy to train because he required the rider to do things on his terms. Although he wasn’t going to be a Western Pleasure horse, Maestas was determined to give Rhett a job at which he could excel. “Everyone told me he was a beautiful horse but a bad mover,” he says. “I knew he wasn’t a pleasure horse but I believed that with some work and consistency, he could make a nice all-around horse.”
What Rhett taught Maestas is that every horse deserves the chance to be great at something. “Rhett taught me to think of each horse as an individual. I had to dig deep in order to find the techniques to train him to be the best he could be. He taught me that my program needed to be adaptable to accommodate each horse and their strengths and weaknesses. I needed to provide a learning environment where each horse has the chance to do a job at which they can excel,” he says.
Before Rhett arrived at Maestas Show Horses, Maestas admits he was guilty of trying to make every horse into a rail performer. He recalls, “I was guilty of trying to make every horse I rode into a great Western Pleasure or Hunter Under Saddle horse. Now, I realize that horses need to be put in a position to succeed. Happy horses make good show horses. A horse that’s being forced to do a job it’s not cut out to do will never be happy.” Once Maestas introduced Rhett to other events, he became a new horse and began to like his job. That opened Maestas’ eyes to a whole new realm of training. Additionally, he learned that it’s extremely important to be forthright with customers about their expectations. “If a horse isn’t happy doing a specific event, we try to find something they can do or place them with someone who will have a job they will be able to do,” he says.
After many ApHC World titles in events like Working Hunter and Trail, Rhett was sold to a new home where he is shown exclusively on the Hunter Jumper circuit. He’s 18 now and still going strong. As for Maestas, not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about Rhett and the lessons he learned while training him. “He was my once-in-a-lifetime horse. I’ve ridden so many great horses since then, but I think a lot of the reason I’ve been able to help them be great is because of what I learned from him,” he says. Being a young trainer in the industry is hard for any trainer and it’s easy to doubt one’s vision. Through the process of training Rhett, Maestas was able to learn how to tune out pessimists and people who have doubted his process. “Rhett taught me that I should never give up. If I have a vision, I should always follow it. I truly owe my program to him. He changed the way I look at everything and the way I ride every horse in my program to this day,” he says.
Whitney Lagace, head trainer at Whitney Ridge located in Higganum, Connecticut, has trained and exhibited AQHA World Champions, Congress Champions, and winners of top honors at prestigious shows all over the country. Although Lagace has many horses that she has developed strong bonds with over the years, the horse that stands out in her mind is Hot Rockin Potential, known around the barn as “Sonny.” Lagace has had Sonny in her program for the past seven years, and she continues to learn from him every day. “I’ve had many special horses throughout the years and they’ve all impacted me in significant ways; however, Sonny and I have a special relationship,” she says. “We’ve developed a very strong connection over the years, and his talent and trust have helped me refine the way I ride him and other horses. Under the Lagace’s guidance, Sonny won an AQHA World Championship in Junior Trail, High Point in the nation in Trail in 2014 and 2015, and top honors at the Congress and NSBA World Show in Amateur Trail with his owner, Libby Rinder. When Sonny began training with Lagace, he was well-started but hadn’t had any training in all-around events. Lagace found herself pushing him to learn the events quickly and realized that he wasn’t responding well to being rushed. “He taught me that being forceful wasn’t productive. I learned to spend more time educating and less time demanding. In turn, I got great results and a happy horse. He taught me to be more patient. Because of him, I’m more patient with all of my horses,” she says.
The strong foundation of mutual respect and trust that Lagace has formed with Sonny has led to a long and successful show career that is still going strong. “He’s a very fancy horse, but the most exceptional thing about him is that he’s happy, expressive, and natural when he’s doing his job,” she says. Sonny isn’t without his eccentricities and has made it very clear that he only trusts certain people to handle him. “Sonny will only let me clip his ears, but not his nose. Only his owner can clip his nose. We always indulge his eccentricities and let him be himself. I think he tries hard for us because he knows we appreciate him,” she says. Sonny has impacted Lagace’s program by teaching her that each horse needs a certain type of specialized care and attention in order to help them thrive. “Whenever I climb on a horse, I think of Sonny and I remember that I need to take my time, be patient, and allow them to trust me. Trust and methodical, customized training methods are what make lasting show horses and that’s why Sonny is still going strong today,” she says.