by Larri Jo StarkeyThe American Quarter Horse Journal
In the back of his mind, trainer Leonard Berryhill has always dreamed of taking a bridleless victory lap.
On November 17 at the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show, Leonard got the chance to do just that in junior western riding on Elis A Sleepin.
As the championship neck wreath was fastened around the 2006 black gelding’s neck, Leonard motioned to AQHA Executive Committee Member George Phillips to remove the bridle.
George slipped off the headstall and fastened the wreath around “Eli’s” neck as Leonard took off around Jim Norick Arena at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City. Leonard loped around using the neck wreath to steer and eventually removed that as well, changing leads every two strides to show off the new world champion as the crowd cheered.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” the Talala, Oklahoma, trainer says. “Believe it or not, I’ve only done that once with that horse, but he was so good tonight and so responsive to everything I asked him, I just felt like it was time to do it, and he just let me have it.”
The 2006 black gelding owned by McNair Farm of Claremore, Oklahoma, is a first world championship for Dick and Heidi McNair, who sent the horse to Leonard in January.
“Troy Compton rode him and showed him in the pleasure and did great job there with him,” Leonard says. “Dick and Heidi McNair sent him to me to add on the western riding and go on further with some all-around events. We brought him along slowly all summer, just took him to the horse shows with us and took care of him. He just reacted to everything I asked him really easily and really good.”
That ease of training was essential November 17, when Leonard rode into the finals No. 2 in the go, not long after a pyrotechnics display welcomed new members to Team Wrangler. Smoke still lingered in the air as Leonard loped through western riding Pattern 4.
“The horse just reacted to everything I asked him to do,” Leonard says. “He was very quiet. He just gave me everything I asked for, and I felt like he gave all the cadence and every lead change, and nothing scared him, and I was just tickled to death with him.
“I’ve always contended that I don’t mind being at the front (of the draw) because you get the judges fresh, you get your horses fresh, you come in – and I don’t mind being at the front because then I can come in and watch it all happen and I don’t have to be nervous about everything that’s happening.”
The judges rewarded Eli’s cadence with a 224.5, ahead of reserve world champion All But Sudden, ridden by AQHA Professional Horseman Julie Voge of Bryan, Texas, and owned by Rebecca Sayre of Port Costa, California, who scored a 220.5 and was first in the AQHA Intermediate Awards and first in the Southern Belle Classic placings.
“We’ll probably take him to some of the winter shows and he’s moving into the senior division now, so he’s got a little more time,” Leonard says of Eli’s future. “He’s still relatively green. He hasn’t been here doing it that long, so he’s got to do a little more and keep hauling.
“I’m really happy for the McNairs.”
Leonard Berryhill takes a bridleless spin on the new world champion Elis A Sleepin. (Journal photo)