COLUMBUS, OHIO — Jillian Stringer, 13, of Queenstown, achieved a goal she and her parents could truly celebrate Friday evening, Oct. 18. Riding in the Novice Youth 13 & Under Hunt Seat Equitation class at the 53rd annual All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the single largest breed horse show in the world, Jillian and her 6-year-old Quarter horse gelding, named “Itsallwayssumpn,” qualified for the finals in the class. Jillian placed in the Top 20 out of 63 competitors. This was both her first time and her horse’s first time competing at the Congress show.

The Congress show runs almost the entire month of October every year. This year, from Oct. 1 to Oct. 27, approximately three and half weeks, Congress featured everything imaginable with horses, in both English and Western riding disciplines.

How Jillian and her horse, barn name “Chance,” came together is quite unique.

Jillian began taking riding lessons from local trainer Karen Marx three years ago. Shortly after her lessons began, Marx was paying attention to an online live horse auction from New Jersey the week before Christmas. The auction began Dec. 22. Marx had noticed a “green” 3-year-old gelding that had good bloodlines and a video of someone riding the horse prior to the auction. Among the other horses sold at the auction that evening, no one bid on this gelding. Not one bid.

The horse had been dumped by its previous owner at the auction house with instructions to sell it for whatever the auction house could get. The previous owner could no longer afford to keep the horse. With no bids, the auction house posted the next day: “If someone doesn’t buy this horse by 3 p.m. Dec. 24, it’s going to slaughter.”

Marx, traveled to New Jersey to see the horse herself and ride it. Though only “green broke,” and very underweight, she paid the auction house for the horse and brought it home to Centreville. She added needed weight to the horse and trained the horse for six months. At the same time, Jillian had been riding several different horses at Marx’s horse farm. Jillian was making steady progress in her riding abilities, as was Chance in gaining experience with someone on his back riding. Jillian finally settled on riding Chance, and began leasing the horse from Marx.

In February 2018, Jillian’s family inquired about purchasing Chance, which they did.

Jillian’s mom Jessica Stringer said, “Even before Congress, the number one thing Jillian has gotten from riding is personal confidence. She didn’t have that previously. Second, she’s always been a responsible child, and owning her own horse has magnified that value. It’s her horse, and she doesn’t complain, and she takes care of him. Those are two values all parents want their children to have!”

In 2018, Jillian went to several “schooling shows” and a number of regional Quarter horse shows and performed respectably.

In 2019, a goal was set to see how far she and Chance could go in the Quarter horse show world. Starting the end of March, she traveled to Raleigh, NC, to a very early spring show. Jillian and Chance came away winning High Point Novice Youth Champion for that weekend. In June and July, they traveled to New Jersey and continued to do well. It was then, Marx told the Stringers that if Jillian kept progressing, working with Chance, she believed, “Jillian could do something in equitation at Congress this fall.”

When the competition arrived Oct. 18, Jillian and Chance had a “clean run” in their equitation pattern. As Jillian left the show ring inside the coliseum in Columbus with a big smile on her face, she told Marx and her mother, “I know I’ve got a good chance to make the finals.”

A few minutes later, the call back of the Top 20 competitors making the finals was announced. Jillian and Chance made it — the goal was accomplished.

Jillian was so excited she hugged everyone around her and thanked Marx for helping her get there.

After the finals competition, Jillian’s name was called out as a finalist, and she was presented with a finalist medallion. Looking at the judges scoring cards following the competition, Jillian placed 17th overall. There was loud cheering from a small group of family and friends who watched the moment arrive for Jillian and her special horse.

Marx advised a college equestrian coach this past summer, “You need to keep you eye on this girl. With her work ethic, she’s going to become a very good rider you might want on your team someday!”

Jillian also is a very good student in school. However, she missed six days of school while competing in Columbus. Prior arrangements had to be made for her to keep up with her studies. Out of school homework was provided, and the “Congress Classroom,” a quiet place for students to study, including a wireless network, was provided by the Ohio Quarter Horse Foundation this year, so students who were competing could do school work. Free subject tutors were also available to help students, if they needed help.

The story about Chance’s close call with a kill-pen is not unheard of. Those seasoned in the equestrian community have long heard the story of Snowman, the mixed Draft horse, literally pulled off a kill-pen trailer by the late riding instructor Harry de Leyer of New York to become a world champion jumping horse in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Snowman was all white and had a gentle disposition. de Leyer first used him to give riding lessons to young children. He was 8 years old when rescued and lived a full life for a horse before dying of natural causes at the age of 26.

The annual All-American Quarter Horse Congress has more than 6,000 Quarter horses from around the nation and Canada come to compete in what might be described as the “Disney World” of horses. Two huge indoor venues on the grounds of the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus are provided for many diverse horse vendors, everything for equine art, jewelry, horse feed and nutrition, horse trailers, tack, and riding discipline demonstrations, to mention just a few. The AAQH Congress is and continues to be one of the top open horse shows in the nation.

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