Journal at the World

August 31, 2012

AQHA Family Matters a Lot

Both the four-legged and two-legged kind are what matters most to the Otness family.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal

Jet Roddin Zippo

Gunnar Otness and homebred Jet Roddin Zippo placed eighth in performance halter geldings at the Adequan Select World.

Gunnar Otness is pretty sure he had the oldest horse showing in the halter at the 2012 Adequan Select World Championship Show – Jet Roddin Zippo, a 1999 gelding by Hot Attraction, in performance halter geldings. The Journal did a little bit of our own fact checking, and indeed, Jet Roddin Zippo is a year older than his nearest competitor.

Not only that, Gunnar might have been the only halter exhibitor showing a third-generation show horse for his family. Gunnar’s daughter, Shelley, showed “Jet’s” dam, Zips Espresso Bar (by Zippos Irish Coffee), and her dam was Shelley’s first show horse, Eboneys Tantrum (by Ebony Bob). Since first purchasing “Eboney” back in 1977, the Otness family has enjoyed raising and developing their own show horses and has done quite well with them.

“Ebony was my youth horse, and I showed her at the Youth World Show and placed third in western riding in 1982,” Shelley said, listing the horse family’s short list of accomplishments. “I showed (Jet’s) mother in futurities and qualified for the (AQHA World Championship Show) in western pleasure. I showed Jet in the western riding, horsemanship and showmanship at the World Show as well as performance halter; he’s an amateur Champion. He’s 13 and still going strong.”

And that’s where the story gets even sweeter.

For decades, Gunnar was with the Seattle police department, and spent years in charge of the city’s mounted patrol. Off duty, he was an active horse show husband to Carol and dad to Shelley. An AQHA director from Washington, he’s served on AQHA’s amateur committee (is the current chair) and is an active supporter of the American Quarter Horse Foundation, and that’s just on the national level. He helped the Washington State Quarter Horse Association secure Nutrena as a sponsor a year before the company became an AQHA Corporate Partner.

In 2011, Shelley said to her dad, now retired, “You’ve been supporting us all these years – 40 years – why don’t you show?”

Now living in Illinois with her husband, Ross Graham, who enjoys team penning and ranch sorting, Shelley thought their old family standby, Jet, would be perfect for her dad, and asked AQHA Professional Horseman Chris Arentsen for help. For the first time, Gunnar hauled for his own points.

“I flew back and forth to Illinois and showed across the Midwest,” Gunnar said. “I came to the (Adequan Select World) last year, finished 10th and was thrilled with that.”

Gunnar and Jet also finished second in the 2011 standings for Justin Rookie of the Year, 50-and-over.

“I wasn’t going to do it again this year, but Shelley said, ‘Dad, you’ll do better this year than you did last year, that’s our goal.’ So I said, OK. We qualified and placed ninth (this year)! We felt it was fabulous.”

Gunnar and Carol have enjoyed horses throughout their 53-year marriage, and both had horses before they wed. Carol started making and selling chaps to offset their showing expenses. Later she went to work for the school district and became director of transportation.

And all along, they raised their small family of showing Quarter Horses. They originally showed in the American Horse Show Association (now USEF), before switching to the AQHA circuit. They had trainers along the way, but did a lot of the work of making their horses on their own. Their son, Gunnar Jr., was never interested in showing, but still owns a Quarter Horse today.

“The horses have opened up everywhere for us,” Gunnar says, thinking of the AQHA family of friends they have across the country – he and Carol even ran into an AQHA Convention acquaintance while waiting to board a plane in the Caribbean last year.

They feel very much that they are AQHA; “It’s great being a part of it. We love it. We have a good time,” Gunnar said.

And it begins and ends with the horses.

“Not only are we a family,” Shelley says, “but the horses are family, too. It’s all part of it.”