From food and fellowship to a patriotic parade, Friday at the All American Quarter Horse Congress was all about honoring heroes.

In the morning, the Ohio Quarter Horse Association and the National Snaffle Bit Association hosted a brunch that allowed participants in the afternoon’s Heroes On Horses classes to share food, fellowship and receive a small gift of appreciation.

Later, the  stars and stripes filled the Celeste Center arena when a parade honoring the veterans took place prior to the competition. The Whitehall Color Guard carried the colors into the arena and Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and each participant in the Heroes On Horses was recognized before the national anthem was played.

Then, it was time to compete.

Matthew Ray, Supported Heroes Champion

Matthew Ray, of Cheatham County, Kentucky, showed his wife’s mare, Achieved By Grayce, to win the Supported Heroes On Horses class. Matthew spent nine and a half years in the Army, and just recently became a veteran this summer.

“My wife comes from a hunter jumper background, and her horse, Grayce, isn’t really one that likes to go slow,” Matthew said. “We had to work on that. I really just started riding this year. Grayce really has a bond with my wife, so we’re still working on it. It’s great that it’s something we can do together.”

Matthew noted that being in the Heroes class allowed him to be around other veterans. “We’ve all pretty much had the same experience,” he said. “So when we talk to each other, we understand. We share the same humor and jokes. And we’re able to trash talk each other too.”

Riding and practice before arriving at the Congress gave Matthew a goal and a purpose. “It really gives you a feeling of accomplishment, and a purpose,” he said. “To be able to control the horse and find a connection with it, it’s pretty special.”

Although this was not Matthew’s first time at the Congress, it was his first time to compete on horseback. “I’ve been coming to the Congress with my wife since 2016,” he said. “I had seen the Heroes class once before, and I thought maybe one day I might try it. Well here I am, I sort of got conned into it. But I had a blast.”

Ironically, Matthew finds his wife’s horse’s name, Achieved By Grayce, fitting. “I’ve fallen from grace a few times,” he laughed.
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Cinderella Story: Jeff Harris, Independent Heroes Champion

For Jeff Harris, the road to this year’s Congress was filled with highs and lows, but in the end, things fell into place as if they were meant to be.

“I was supposed to ride Too Tuff Two Top, who is owned by Dee Staley, but he hurt his hoof and shoulder area in the trailer on the way up here,” Jeff said. “He was little sore, but when we came in here to practice last night, the sand made it twice as bad.

“So here I am with a lame horse, and I came all the way from Texas to show, and wasn’t sure what I was going to do. My trainer, Cody Parrish, was trying to calm me down last night and told me everything was going to be OK, but I told him this was like going to war without a gun.

Miss Dee was on her phone, Miss Dianne (Eppers) was on her phone, and I had three or four people from NSBA trying to find us a horse. Within five minutes, we had a horse – the weird thing is that the owner of this horse, Lisa Campbell, just lost her husband Lonnie to PTSD earlier this year. He was a Navy vet, and I am a Navy vet, and so this is kind of a Cinderella story.”

I practiced last night with Stu after everyone else had practiced last night. I had 30 minutes on the horse, that’s all I had. When I went in, I was OK until I got to the center of the arena, and then it hit me that this is real.”

“I came back home to my hometown in Greenup, Kentucky back in August. A lot of inspiration came from my home town with people like Eddie Barnett who’s won the Congress 14 times. He and Dee had a barn full of horses and I got to show some of them. They talked to me about joining NSBA and competing in the Heroes class here at the Congress.

My cousin got me into this, Kevin Sloas. He’s Army, I’m Navy, so we had the whole Army-Navy battle going, and talking trash. We’ve been sending text messages for two weeks. But now I’ve got him. (Kevin finished fourth in the competition.)

This is an awesome event. I’m hooked and I’m going to be back. At home I have a Quarter Horse and I am going to start roping and doing some play days. I’m involved in rodeo as a barrel man and announcer.”

Equestrians With Disabilities Welcomed

Some 32 equestrians with disabilities were welcomed to the Congress with dinner and an orientation session on Friday evening. The exhibitors and their families, coaches and support teams were treated to a lasagna dinner and received a packet of information about this year’s classes.

EWD classes begin on Saturday morning and run through the weekend. The 2019 All American Quarter Horse Congress continues through Sunday, October 27. To view the show schedule, show results or view the live video feed, please visit www.quarterhorsecongress.com