Sophie Herman: Overcoming Obstacles to Show at AQHA World Show
By Jill Beim, PleasureHorse.com | All photos ©PleasureHorse.com
Sophie Herman of Walhalla, North Dakota, and her horse The Slowsmobile (As Good As It Gets) never expected to inspire the spectators in the World Show stands on Monday the 11th, but that’s just what she did. Sophie was born with arthrogryposis, a disorder characterized by joint deformities that restrict movement in the hands and feet. When Sophie was born, her hands were attached to her forearms, and she had club feet. She underwent several surgeries and her parents were told that she would never walk. But with the help of her parents, physical therapists and babysitter, Sophie was walking by the age of five and showing horses by the age of six with her mom and two sisters.
Trainer Jenna Mickelson of East Grand Forks, Minnesota worked with Sophie and the AQHA to create an alternative tracking pattern for the Halter classes that would enable Sophie to compete. The pattern consists of a walk to the first cone followed by a trot in an L-shape around the cone. The duo has performed their Halter track at numerous local shows and the 2011 AQHA World Show.
“Usually she can complete the pattern and stand out there without any problem”, said Jenna. “I had told her to ask for a chair once they retired to the rail if she needed one. That was our plan”.
Sophie and “Angus” began their pattern, and everyone in the stands was impressed with Sophie’s ability to trot Angus around the cone on a loose lead on cue. But then Sophie began to have some trouble. “My legs just kind of gave out on my once I got done trotting him and I just needed to sit down for a minute and regroup them.”
“We were very happy with how AQHA handled the situation. They let her sit for a moment or two, and the judges were wonderful. They said, “No, just leave her right there and let her show” and that made me excited because I thought we were done.”
Applause from the stands affirmed the judge’s decision. As Sophie stood again and joined the line-up, applause erupted again and tears welled up in the eyes of many.
Sophie began training with Jenna Mickelson of Great Potential Stables about three years ago, and shortly after purchased Angus from one of Jenna’s other clients. According to Jenna, Angus has always been an honest horse, good-natured and willing, but has a special bond with Sophie. If Sophie stumbles or begins to lose her balance while leading Angus in Halter classes, Angus will support her with his head and neck. “He’s always been a horse that likes activity. He prefers the pattern classes and I’ve struggled to show him in Western Pleasure.” But with Sophie on his back, he’s willing to do the rail classes.
On the local level, Sophie and Angus compete in Performance Halter Geldings, Western Pleasure, Trail, and Western Horsemanship. “They have “Noviced-out” of Western Pleasure, winning thirty Novice points this year alone! Among their list of accomplishments, they have won the Amateur Trail class at the Minnesota Corporate Challenge, and were 4th of 37 in the Amateur Horsemanship class. They have a really good relationship. His strong point is Trail, but also does very well in Halter. He has his Open and Amateur Superiors in Halter, he’s an Open AQHA Champion, has a Superior in Open Trail and they are about a point and a half away from their Amateur Championship”, Jenna explained.
Sophie and Angus also competed in Amateur Trail here at the World Show.
“We just got really good at pleasure this year. That has been our struggle – he doesn’t like the rail” Jenna added, “He’d rather be a pattern horse. He thinks the rail is boring. He’s very ADD, but that’s what gives him his expression though in the other classes. He has great expression in Halter and Trail because he’s very interested in the world around him, and the rail bores him to death. He’s finally conceded this year and said “I can go around for [Sophie]”. He does OK for me [in Western Pleasure], but he really gives her the class. He has a special bond with her. He always shows better for her – shows better when she’s around. If I take him to a show without her, he’s moderately angry with me because she’s not there and he never quite gives me his all if she’s not there.”
A special thanks to Jenna and Sophie for talking with PleasureHorse.com, and sharing such an inspirational story. Congratulations on your 18th place and 12th place Intermediate in Amateur Performance Geldings! We are looking forward to seeing you in the show pen next year, and wish you all the best of luck.