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October 6, 2012

The Long-Term View

Novice youth April Freeland knows that an eighth place finish can feel like a gold trophy win.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal

A year ago, April Freeland's American Quarter Horse Ben Lopin Slow had never shown - they made her goal of getting to the 2012 SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show.

A year ago, April Freeland's American Quarter Horse Ben Lopin Slow had never shown - they made her goal of getting to the 2012 SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show.

A year ago, April Freeland of Stillwater, Oklahoma, had a new horse and, honestly, didn’t want one.

She’d been showing for about a year and finally bonded with her American Quarter Horse, Gotarolexonimpulse, aka “Benji.” She was eager to hit the western all-around show road, a dream that started when she was 14. They’d even won their first class – in showmanship.

But a navicular diagnosis was taking that away, and the veterinarian didn’t know if Benji would ever show again; he needed at least a year off, and maybe forever.

That’s when her trainer and coach, AQHA Professional Horseman Wes and wife Dana Wetherell approached her with another horse, a 7-year-old named Ben Lopin Slow, aka “George.” George had been in the Wetherell barn as a 3-year-old, and his owner didn’t want him anymore. He needed a home.

“It happened so fast,” April told the Journal. “There was the possibility of having to put Benji down and all of a sudden, there was this new horse.

“He was this goofy-looking horse with a big head, and I rode him and he didn’t know anything. I did pleasure and everything with Benji, and this horse was more English-type. I didn’t know anything about English events, and he had never shown before.”

Despite everything, April took him on, and set herself to learn diagonals and such.

“For a good six months, I didn’t have the best attitude, because it wasn’t Benji I was competing with,” she admitted. “I kept messing up, and I couldn’t do anything right, because neither of us knew anything.

“We’d break gait, or he wouldn’t set up. He’d do it in practice but when we’d go to show, he wouldn’t.”

But Wes kept encouraging her, and she stuck with her green horse.

“It would be little things Wes would tell me that would help,” April said. “Like when we would make it around the ring (without breaking gait), he’d say he was proud of me. And he would say, ‘Not everyone could take this horse and do what you’re doing.’ He’d say, ‘We’ll get there.’

“That’s what kept me going. There were so many times I just wanted to stop.”

April made a goal right after getting George: to make it to the first SmartPak West AQHA Novice Championship Show in 2012.

“Even though it was a hard year, we constantly got better,” she said. “And there’s never been a time when it was bad one moment and then continued to get bad; we’d have something bad, and then something good. He tries hard.”

April said Wes taught her how to teach George, and she learned to feel when things were going wrong and could prevent it and help George, rather than just showing and hoping nothing would go wrong.

“Wes would tell me, ‘April, it just takes a long time.’ And it does! A year ago this month, my horse didn’t know anything and was just brought up from the pasture. Now, he’s not perfect but he’s so much better. He learned so fast and we’re both learning together.”

In fact, they finished eighth in the October 4 Novice youth showmanship, out of more than 100 entered.

“This (Novice championship) competition is hard; I don’t want people to think that Novices can’t compete,” April said. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get qualified (in the showmanship).

“We brushed the wall on my last turn. He’s a big guy, but he stuck his plant foot the whole time, and I know it was tight for him – he just had my back. We’re starting to get there. We’re starting to actually be a team. I think he really loves showing.”

She added: “People don’t understand that it’s a lot harder than you think. If you have a finished horse, you can go around and just do it, whereas I’m thinking, ‘Please just go around, my leg is in you just keep going.’ I see people who go out there and just win, and I want to be like that!

“But I really wouldn’t trade anything I’ve learned this whole year. It’s just made everything mean so much more, to know where my horse was a year ago.”

April is now a freshman at Oklahoma State University, studying athletic training.

“I would like to win (a world championship) one day. But right now, my goal is to just place, at any show. When I do place, I don’t place very high,” she laughed. “My typical number is eighth!”

She’s learned a lot through the process of “making” George.

“Don’t give up,” she listed, for one. “I wanted to give up so many times. And I’m so glad I didn’t. I still miss Benji, but I have a different connection with George – he’s such a sweet horse; he always tries.”

Secondly, she added, “If you want something, go for it, even if it’s not exactly how you wanted it to go.”