by Charlotte Anne Smith
Ashley Huntington, 16, of Nowata County Oklahoma, can’t remember when she didn’t like horses. Now she is channeling that liking into a very successful career in showing, a project started when her parents, Julie and David Huntington, decided since her older brother Justin had a dedicated involvement in sports, Ashley should have the same chance to devote herself to something she truly loved rather than spend her life just cheering him on. Since that love had always been horses the decision was made to allow her to follow her heart and show horses.
“When Justin was in the first grade, he’s three years older than Ashley, he always wanted to ride as soon as he got off the school bus, his grandpa had bought him a pure white quarter horse named Padre, so Ashley and I would have him saddled and ready,” Julie said. “I would let her ride back and forth between our house and her grandma’s. One day we couldn’t find her. We were looking all over and here she came riding across the pasture bareback on Padre with just a halter on. She had gone down, caught him, led him to a rock corner post and climbed on.”
Her showing career started with the horse show that is held in conjunction with the Nowata County Free Fair each September, but starting in 2005, when she was 11, it quickly progressed into competitions against other youth from across the country.
She currently has two horses she is showing, Dynamic Rider, born in 2001 and called Riata, and Mr. Sudden Pleasure or Woody, who will be three March 13. As a two-year-old, Woody recently won the Bridleless Western Pleasure sweepstakes at the American Paint Horse Associations’ 2009 Fall World Championship Paint Horse Show in Ft. Worth, Texas. In this event, Jeffery Gibbs, trainer, rode the horse. The horse won seventh in the world in the non-pro western pleasure class, one of the two events Ashley competes in on him. The other is showmanship.
On Riata she expands her choices and shows just how versatile both she and her horse can be. Classes entered include two under English classes, hunt seat equitation and hunter under saddle, western showmanship, trail, horsemanship, western pleasure and reining.
Julie explained the type of trained horses that compete in the shows Ashley participates in as almost like dressage without the fancy steps. The horse is very discplined and doesen’t do anything until the rider tells him to unlike barrel racing, cutting or ranch work where the horse has to anticipate and sometimes decide what he needs to do.
The decision to follow the horse show circuit was not a minor one and requires a lot of time, dedication and travel. At the shows sanctioned by the American Paint Horse Association there is a Youth Champion and a Versatility award that is won by accumulated points from sanctioned shows. Ashley has won both.
“We go the year around,” Ashley said.
One of her big wins was close to home in Tulsa. In August 2009 Ashley and Riata won the High-Point Youth Title in the American Paint Horse Association 14–18 age group at the Reichert Celebration. This organization was founded in 1999 and is now the nation’s number one all breed horse show and futurity with 8,638 entries. The horses come from all 50 states, six of the 12 Canadian provinces and three European countries. Prize money in the amount of $300,000 was awarded.
“A lot of shows we go to are in Texas,” Julie said. “There are five or six paint horse clubs that combine to have shows. There are twenty judges and the high point winner is the Texas State Champion.” In February of 2009 Ashley and Riata won this award.
During the year the family travels as far as Houston and Waco and as close as Tulsa for sanctioned shows. Over the years Ashley has filled her room with trophies that range from a beautiful wood carving of a horse’s head to a set of stirrups.
“She was just two points from a saddle when she won the stirrups,” Julie said.
They also make a lot of trips that aren’t tied to a particular show as their trainer, Jeffery Gibbs, has his facilities at Tioga, Texas.
It sounds crazy to say you’re going to drive that far to ride your horse,” Julie said. “We make several trips down there every year especially after basketball season and Ashley goes each summer and stays for two or three weeks. Woody stays there all the time and Bling (a palomino she formerly showed) did until he died this past July.”
Riata also spent time at the Texas facility, but for the past six months he has lived at home and received an education on the practical life of a cow horse.
“Ashley used him in the sorting pen when we were shipping cattle. He had never been around cattle except to see them out in a pasture, but he didn’t have a problem, listened to her and did what she wanted,” Julie said.
While a lot of the reason for maintaining this schedule is love of the events, Ashley also has another motive. She would like her record to qualify her for a scholarship to a university that would allow her to continue showing horses and learning more about these animals.
In addition to her show ring participation, Ashley has been a real working cowgirl all of her life. She has lived her whole life on a ranch that has been in her family since it was founded by her great-great-grandfather, William Sherman Moore. It was passed to his son, Clark, then to her grandparents, Connie and Iva Mae who reside on the ranch along with her parents.
A black and white paint named Scout, another horse she inherited from her brother, is Ashley’s steed of choice both when going about the daily business of working cattle and when she takes on some of the cowboys in team roping.
A Student at Nowata High School, Ashley is following in the family business just as her mother did.
“I never wanted to do anything but ranch,” Julie said. “My sister (Nancy) had other ambitions, but I just wanted to follow Dad around and do what he did.”
In this day and age of scattered families, of children that don’t want to be caught dead doing what their parents did there are still some families that pass their traditions on. At one time most of this family business and culture went to the oldest son, but more and more the girls of the founding ranchers are embracing both the honor and challenge of continuing the life that built the western United States. Ashley Huntington is well on her way to carving out her place in history as one who has chosen that pathway.
Her next show will be the March Mania Show at the Tulsa Fairgrounds March 4-7.