13-year-old wins national horse championships

Posted: September 21, 2013

The Winchester Star

Morgan Strickler, 13, an eighth grader at R.E. Aylor Middle School, displays some of the national awards she won this summer for her equine showmanship and riding abilities. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Morgan Strickler of Frederick County and her horse Chipper, both 13, have won numerous national awards this summer for showmanship and equitation.

Winchester — When Morgan Strickler is on horseback, the feeling of freedom is indescribable.

Once astride, any worries from school or life just disappear for Morgan, 13, of Frederick County. “Not that I have many, but they are gone,” she said.

She gets the same feeling when she is working with her horses on improving their skills for competition — everything else just fades away.

This summer was a great experience for Morgan, who spent about a month traveling with her mom and stepdad, Faye Strickler and Dean Willis, to national horse shows. She walked away with a number of top awards.

In June, she attended the 2013 World Championship Appaloosa Youth Show in Fort Worth, Texas, and won Reserve World Champion in Western Horsemanship for 12 and under and placed in the top 10 in all of her classes.

She built on that success in July, attending the 2013 Palomino Horse Breeders of America’s World Championship in Tunica, Miss. There she won Champion Geldings Hunter in Hand for youth 18 and under, World Champion Youth Color, and Reserve World Champion Equitation for youth 13 and under.

After a stopover at home, the last trip the trio took was to the 2013 Southern Regional 4-H Horse Show Championships in West Monroe, La., where Morgan made the finals in Hunter Showmanship and Western Pleasure and placed eighth in Hunter Geldings.

The family returned home in August ready for a much needed break from traveling for them and some down time before Morgan started eighth grade at Robert E. Aylor Middle School, Faye said. “It was a long trip, but everywhere we went, we met great people.”

Some families spend their summers at amusement parks or the pool. For her parents, it is important to support Morgan in the activity she loves. So they saved up their vacation time and made a dash across the country, said Faye, who also competed at the two breed shows.

They transported two horses, Heza Glowin Chip, or “Chipper,” and Justa Skipin Miracle, or “Rudy.” Both are registered Appaloosas, but Rudy is also a registered palomino.

Dean is there to unload and load equipment, take pictures and videos, keep their scores, and cheer them on, he said. “My job is not as stressful as their job is. I was proud of both of them. I was proud of how far Morgan has come in the last year.”

Morgan has been on horseback since she was born and could ride by herself by age 2, her mom said. At one time when she was younger, she did competitive cheerleading, but she gave it up to focus on showing horses. She has been a member of the Golden Horseshoe 4-H club for five years.

All anyone has to do is look at the bedroom wall nearly covered in some of her ribbons just from the last three years — “We have boxes of trophies and ribbons,” her mom said — to know this is a true passion for Morgan.

This summer provided Morgan with a look at the different sides the world of horse shows can have, she said. She preferred the palomino show, which she attended for the first time and found more laid back, to the Appaloosa show, which she competed in for the third time.

At the palomino show, “there is competition, but the trainers aren’t screaming at kids to do things,” she said. The Appaloosa show is fun and upbeat, and she likes that she can see friends she made in the last two years, but the competition is more specialized and stressful.

Faye agreed that the second show had more of a “family atmosphere,” and that even though they didn’t know anyone going into the show, other competitors were open and welcoming.

The trip was also a victory for the family with the performance of Rudy, 8, whom Faye started working with in February 2012 to train him for competitions.

Rudy experienced a lack of oxygen when he was born, which affected his mental capabilities, she said. “If you are around him awhile, you can see the difference of where he is versus a normal horse. He is still a very uncoordinated horse versus other horses, but he has come a long way.”

But while it takes longer to work on maneuvers with the horse, he is “the greatest horse you would ever be around as far as temperament,” she said.

The trip wasn’t all work and no play for the family, Morgan said. Each stop had its own highlight outside of the show. They went to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards and went down the Mississippi River on a riverboat in Mississippi.

In Louisiana, they visited the Duck Commander store and actually met members of the Robertson family, stars of the “Duck Dynasty” reality television show. “We met Willie, Uncle Si, Jep, Jase, Goodwin and Justin Martin,” Morgan said.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com