“I’m just the driver,” says Larry Weatherford, referring to hauling his daughter, Christina, and her horses to shows, competitions, lessons, and clinics all over Oklahoma. The horse family even trekked 1,800 miles to Douglas, Wyoming, to the Powderhorn Ranch, site of their personal lesson and riding experience with clinician Ken McNabb. (See “Learning, Together.”) But Larry’s much more than a chauffeur. He’s the driving force in helping Christina achieve her horse-related goals.
Building a Horse Life
Larry rode occasionally as a youth, spending weekends at the local stockyards hopeful he’d have a chance to catch-ride. The Boy Scouts provided the most riding time for the young horse lover, with a weeklong summer camp that included daily horseback riding. His family never had the means to own or keep horses, but riding was an activity he enjoyed, and he longed for a horse of his own. After high school, he attended the University of Oklahoma, joined the Air Force, and went to work in public affairs, which led to his current position with the United States Small Business Administration.
Larry’s daughter picked up where Larry left off. When horses were the farthest things from Larry’s mind, it was clear Christina had caught the horse bug.
The family’s neighbor Pete kept a few young horses and welcomed Christina for regular visits. Before long, she was pitching in with chores, including grooming horses and breaking ice from the livestock tanks in the middle of winter. After a year of unwavering dedication, Larry decided it was time to get Christina a horse of her own. Pete offered to keep the horse on his property.
When Larry received the call that his essay and video entries had earned him the grand prize in the Weaver Leather Win-a-Day with Ken McNabb contest, there was no question who his honored guest would be sitting horseback beside him: his daughter, Christina.
“I didn’t really think we’d win [the day with Ken McNabb] and was so surprised when his entry was chosen,” Christina says.
Unsure of what to expect from the experience, Larry wondered how much time he and Christina would actually spend with Ken. But once they arrived at the Powderhorn Ranch in Douglas, Wyoming, the prize exceeded his expectations. Ken spent an entire day watching and coaching the duo, spending six to seven hours in the saddle. It was father-daughter time like nothing else, set in an amazing landscape.
The pair focused on softening exercises such as figure eights and circles, an area of development Larry says he and Bubba needed most. Ken’s friendly, calm instruction made it seem less like work and more like fun in the saddle with his daughter.
After working in the arena, they hit the trail. Along the way, they pushed up cattle, something Christina had been excited to attempt on her young mare. The real-life working-ranch activities gave Christina first-hand experience with the skills she needs for working ranch horse events, the discipline she focuses on.
The experience was everything Larry hoped it would be, with an opportunity for Christina to learn what she needed to work on and reaffirm the things she was doing right.
Larry reached out to a cousin who trains roping horses and asked for help finding the right starter horse, one that was safe, sound, and suitable for a beginner. The family was patient during an extended search for the right horse. Docs Miss Cupcake, “Cupcake,” was the perfect fit for the then-9-year-old rider.
Cupcake was trained as a cutter and later became a broodmare. At 18 years old, she was calm and unflappable and still had enough spunk and energy to be competitive in the speed events Christina wanted to compete in. The pair began competing in barrels, poles, and stakes classes.
What started as a backyard foray into horse ownership soon became much more. With a borrowed old trailer, the family hit the road first with 4-H and then Foundation Quarter Horse shows. About five years ago, the family began leasing 40 acres of land, which is home to their small herd of four horses. During that time, Christina and Cupcake found success in speed events, winning buckles at Foundation Quarter Horse events and qualifying every year for 4-H State Fair. When arthritis slowed Cupcake, Christina was determined to train a horse herself, leading her to apply for the AQHA Young Horse Development Program. (See “A Knack for Winning.”)
A Knack for Winning
This experience isn’t the first to garner the Weatherford family attention. In 2015, Christina was one of 26 young horsemen and -women selected for the American Quarter Horse Association’s Young Horse Development Program.
Christina received WWR Miss King Gist, a filly bred and donated by Wagon Wheel Ranch of Lometa, Texas, as a weanling. The program required the young riders to document their progress and participate in an in-hand class at a sanctioned AQHA show.
In the three years Christina’s owned “Miss King,” she’s done all the training on her own, and her hard work has been rewarded. The pair has won two in-hand trail buckles and is competing in the AQHA Ranching Heritage events.
Winning the ranching bred horse was also an opportunity for Christina to try new events. “The young horse development program promotes AQHA’s ranching heritage program and brings AQHA back to its roots with versatile ranch horses,” she explains.
Today, she competes in a variety of ranch horse events including trail, reining, and ranch riding. Ranch trail is her favorite because it showcases a horse’s skills and calm temperament, two qualities critical for successful working ranch horses.
“I also love it training-wise because working the obstacles gives my filly a break from reining and ranch riding practice and keeps her interested by giving her problems to solve,” Christina says. “And we’re always integrating new things into our routine.”
In 2018, Christina plans to add cattle classes to their repertoire.
Determination at the Core
“Determination has been the common theme for my daughter and I from the time we began our horse adventure when she was 9,” Larry shares. “I’d not ridden horses since college when she took an interest in and began caring for our neighbor’s horses. Her determination to keep working with those two yearling horses made me determined to get her a horse she could ride.”
“A lot of other kids get into horses because their parents ride,” Christina says. “It’s cool that my parents have supported my interest in horses” even without being highly accomplished riders.
The Weatherford family has largely achieved their training and showing goals without a full-time trainer. They’ve sought advice from professionals on occasion, but have found that watching shows like Ken McNabb’s Discover the Horseman Within, reading how-to articles and books, and spending time in the saddle have been the most effective and budget-friendly approaches. Larry appreciates that AQHA’s Young Horse Development Program allowed the family to get Christina a prospect without a significant investment, and Christina recognizes the sacrifices her parents have made to support her horse interests.
“My parents give up a lot of travel and vacations so that I can show,” she shares. “I’m lucky that they’re so supportive.”
At a time when most teenagers are engrossed in social media and school activities, parents can be saddled with the chore of carving out time to interact with their children. Larry has found that, through horses, spending time with his daughter happens naturally.
“I think it’s important for parents to follow their kids’ interests,” Larry says. “I don’t have to say, ‘I need to spend time with my daughter.’ It happens naturally in between classes or driving somewhere. I’ve spent treasured time with Christina on the road pulling a trailer, at shows, and on horseback. I’m determined to spend every second with her while I can and some determined Quarter Horses have made that possible.”