By Susan Winslow
Brent and Melissa Maxwell have a lot of which to be proud. In 2017, their daughter, Ellexxah, and her mare, Zips Bossy Chip, became the AQHA All-Time Leading Youth team when they broke the 30-year record of 4,270 AQHA youth points held by the great Van Decka. Ellexxah and her mare reached 4,846 points. This year, with over 6,300 career points in youth and open competition to date, Ellexxah and her mare eclipsed the venerable record All-Time point earning record of Harley D Zip, now retired from competition with a record 5,906.5 points in open, amateur, select, and youth competition. While the accomplishments of Van Decka and Harley D Zip are legendary, their points were accrued by multiple riders over the course of their careers. Ellexxah’s accomplishment is unique because Ellexxah, herself, has put in the sweat, time, and occasional tears to transform a $6,500 young, virtually unknown mare into an elite champion at the most prestigious shows in our sport. Except for a few open classes, when she handed the reins over to her dad, Brent Maxwell, Ellexxah has been the sole competitor and point earner aboard this special mare.
But beyond the points, ribbons, trophies and accolades, the Maxwell family should be proud because they have
raised a daughter who, even in this position of renown and accomplishment, still maintains a healthy sense of humility and humor that serves as a role model for up and coming youth. On their journey to stardom, this team has won numerous AQHA titles at the Congress and World Show along with year-end titles, including AQHA Reserve and High Point All-Around Youth honors.
Ellexxah literally grew up in the saddle. At three days old, she attended her first Quarter Horse Congress. By 18 months old, she competed in her first Leadline class. By the age of four, she was competing in Showmanship and Horsemanship. She got her first horse at the age of five. She laughs when she says, “I guess when I went to that Congress at three days old, I was just up and running as a horse person. It kind of escalated from there. My parents have been training horses for 35 years, and I was that little girl who just always wanted to be around the horses. It’s something I love and something I always want to do.”
Zips Bossy Chip, also known lovingly as “Annie B,” “Annie,” or “Miss B,” entered the picture in 2011 when Ellexxah was 10 years old. The 2008 bay mare out of Suzie’s Fancy Chip and by UK Mito Boss was bred by the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio and was a sale project. Ellexxah recalls, “I was showing my horse, The Cookie Baker, and Beckey Schooler, who had purchased the mare from the college, asked me if I would show Annie in a few classes because she was too small for the other riders in the barn. At first, Annie didn’t really seem like anything special; but, the more I rode her, the more I thought that there really was something different about her.”
The chemistry between the 10-year-old girl and the small mare with a big heart was strong, and they began to win. Melissa Maxwell says, “Their unexpected success sparked the first challenge of their career. Annie B is a true beauty. She has been AQHA’s High Point Performance Mare five times. The goal back then was set to obtain Annie’s Register of Merit in order to compete in Youth Performance Mares at the 2011 Congress. With only three shows until the deadline, and the fact that 10-year-old Ellexxah and Miss B would have to compete as a 13 & Under, this was no small task. They repeated their successes at the next two shows, leaving only a few points to reach their goal. However, at the final show before the deadline, after they had completed their classes, they had fallen short by 1½ points. The disappointment of being so close, but missing the mark was tangible. But Beckey returned to the aisleway to give instructions to re-saddle. She had entered Annie and Ellexxah in the All Age Equitation, a class that they had never shown in and weren’t remotely prepared for at the time. Without ever having been in the center of the arena alone, seeing judges in chairs and cones, they completed their goal with points to spare.”
The decision was made that it was time for Ellexxah to move up from The Cookie Baker to Annie. The Cookie Baker was a record breaker in his own right. He carried Ellexxah, at the age of six, to win not only the Small Fry Horsemanship over 90 exhibitors, but also the 13 & Under Novice Showmanship out of 163 entries, making her the youngest two-time champion in the history of the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Annie became Ellexxah’s show mount and project for a mere $6,500, and their journey toward the record books began.
It wasn’t always easy, though, and Ellexxah paid her dues with the mare she describes with loving understatement as “sassy and passionate.” She says, “Oh boy, the early years were definitely not all happy rainbows. It was hard in the beginning. Annie has opinions.” Melissa adds, “Annie is definitely picky about who she interacts with; she’s beyond quirky to deal with on a daily basis. She’s a finicky eater, and she cribs at home but not at the horse show. She won’t allow the vet to do an exam without Ellexxah there.” Annie also has a glamour girl’s dislike of showing outside, hates to be dirty, and occasionally has a major melt-down just to keep everyone on their toes. Melissa explains, “I sincerely believe she does this just to prove to everyone that she’s not what everyone calls a push-button horse and that Ellexxah isn’t just a passenger. She has been the sole exhibitor of Annie, with the exception of her father, who only sat in the saddle long enough to enter and exit the Trail arena. Annie didn’t tolerate his schooling, so Ellexxah prepared her, got off, and put her Dad on Annie. He would show, come out and get off, and return her to her owner’s hand. There are less than 10 people who have ever even sat on her, let alone ridden her.”
With patience and determination, Ellexxah forged a bond with Annie that runs deep. She says, “We just persevered and the relationship developed. I can fall asleep on her when she’s lying down in her stall, and she won’t move until I wake up. We have developed that kind of trust.” The time and effort Ellexxah put into Annie’s training has paid off. She describes Annie B as “incredibly smart,” saying, “I can’t let anyone talk about a pattern in front of her, because I swear that mare can understand what people are saying! Sometimes, it feels like she can read my mind. She’s an interesting horse, because she’s so smart. Once she has learned something, I don’t practice it over and over with her. In fact, I practice on other horses for my skills, but she does better when she isn’t schooled a lot before a show. We get to the in-gate, and I can just feel her turn it on. Outside the pen, she might look dull with her ears pinned; but, when we get into the pen, her head goes up, her ears go forward, and she’s ready to go. I’ll feel her, take a deep breath, and think, ‘Okay, here we go. I better be on my game today to keep up with her!’ It’s that kind of attitude that makes competing with her so much fun.”
Melissa has watched the pair from the perspective of both a trainer and a mother, and she understands the challenges Ellexxah faced with such an intelligent mare. “Annie can anticipate every maneuver if she remotely recognizes the pattern. So, schooling the actual pattern is out of the question. This presents a serious issue, especially when competing at shows like the AQHYA Youth World. But that doesn’t seem to make either one of them blink. In 2018, they competed at the AQHYA World Show in five different classes: Performance Halter Mares, Showmanship, Horsemanship, Equitation, and Trail. They left the show being named Top 10 in every class–including a Reserve Champion globe in Equitation–without riding an actual step of any of the patterns outside of the show pen. They work as one entity. This practice comes easy to Ellexxah, but makes her parents’ hearts stop. When she rode to the gate in the finals of Trail, Annie had not seen a single element of the pattern. She just follows Ellexxah’s guidance, makes her own adjustments, and together they forge their own line of communication,” she says.
As this hard-working young woman started piling up the titles and points, she learned valuable life lessons about perseverance. She says, “Annie has taught me that you just can’t let negativity get in your way when you have a goal. We’ve had some challenges along the way, and I’ve learned that I have to follow the path that I want to be on, even when people were sometimes not so nice as Annie and I were reaching our goals. People sometimes thought that because my parents are professionals, this was easy for me. The truth is that my parents are very busy, and I share their time with other people who need them. I’ve learned not to listen to the negative talk, because I know how hard I’ve worked, and I’m proud of that. My friends are all kids who show. They’ve supported me, and we’re there for each other. We laugh about the fact that we’re the best of friends until we cross the in-gate, and then it’s all business. But, when we cross it on the way out, we’re all friends again, congratulating each other or commiserating when things don’t go right. Those friendships are really important to me.”
Ellexxah will continue competing as an amateur once she ages out of youth competition at the end of 2019, and she eventually hopes to follow in her parents’ footsteps to become an AQHA professional. In the meantime, she has graduated from Ohio Connections Academy and is enjoying every minute on the road to shows with her parents and their clients. She will be putting to good use some of the $50,000 in scholarship monies she won as a member of the AQHA Markel High-Point Youth Reserve Team in 2012 and 2014 and the AQHA Markel High-Point Youth team in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. She plans to take online classes through the University of Phoenix, majoring in Business. Melissa explains, “Ellexxah turned down multiple offers to attend NCEA colleges. She had actually enrolled to begin classes at the University of Findlay this fall, but after much deliberation she came to the realization that she could not be away from the life she has been born to. A traditional college, just like traditional public school, does not fit her purpose. She lives to travel the road, showing state to state, and showing, at this point, six different horses. This year, at the AQHA Youth World, Ellexxah showed in Halter for the first time, in Yearling Geldings with Premos Instyle. In addition, she also showed Crank Up The Band and Chic In A Jersey in Ranch Riding, along with two junior geldings, Best Cowboy Around in Trail, and Doin It Best in Trail and the Level 2 Hunter Under Saddle. She’ll attend the University of Phoenix, which is an online college, in order to continue on the path that will one day will put her at the helm of Mil-Max Training Center, allowing her parents to retire.”
With multiple horses to show and a busy life on the road, Ellexxah has a full schedule. She makes time for her boyfriend, Nick Furlong, whose father Tyson Furlong is a Hunter/Jumper trainer from Mexico, New York. Nick is a Congress Champion himself in the 14-18 Working Hunter, and he flies to Ohio frequently to accompany the Maxwell family to shows. Ellexxah says, “We have a lot of fun, and it’s nice that he understands this world.” Outside the horse world, Ellexxah enjoys watching movies and recently made a video inspired by one of her favorite movies, “The Greatest Showman.” The video was shown at the 2018 AQHA Year End Awards Celebration held in Oklahoma City during the AQHA World Show last November when she used it in lieu of her acceptance speech for the Markel Youth All-Around title at the AQHA year-end awards banquet. Ellexxah says, “I love that movie, because it’s the story of how PT Barnum kept going to achieve his dream even when people said it couldn’t be done. I connected with that message. With the help of Barbara Atkins, who is an amazingly creative videographer, we made that video, ‘Your Moment to Shine.’” Melissa adds, “The awards event was listed as an Oscar-style celebration, so after giving four similar speeches for the honor in the past, it was kind of AQHA to allow Ellexxah to present the video. Besides, she had fun watching her mom rolling around in the sand, with the fog machine, in 90 degree weather while we were making it!” The video can be seen on the Mil-Max Training website.
Outside of the show pen, Ellexxah is a black belt in mixed martial arts, and she enjoys music. She says, “I love
‘80s music, but I’m an all-genre person, and I love a good dance party in the barn with my friends.” Ellexxah is busy, but it’s a kind of busy she loves. She says, “I’m so grateful to my parents and to all the people in the show world who are part of my life. From the other trainers and competitors to the show staff, these people are my family. I’m especially grateful to have such a true and loyal friend in Anne Irvine from New Zealand. ‘Kiwi’ and I met through the AQHA Youth World Cup, and we have become like sisters.”
Melissa says the girls have formed more than just a friendship across continents. “The 2018 AQHA Youth World
was a success. Ellexxah and Annie showed in five classes. She left the arena being named Top 10 in all five, which resulted in her receiving five Top 10 jackets. Even though coming out of the arena with a globe was exciting, it
didn’t compare to the excitement shared when she gifted Kiwi with one of the jackets to call her own. I was humbled and proud that she was unselfish enough to include others in the joy of her success. In October, she repeated her generosity by gifting a second jacket to her best bud. Kiwi flew back to New Zealand, this time wearing a new Congress Champion coat.”
But, Ellexxah doesn’t think much about the extra coats, trophies, or ribbons. “I’m very lucky to have this experience as my life and to have a horse like Annie B, who is truly one-in-a-million.”Click here to read the complete article