California Riding Magazine • July, 2011

The Gallop
Jody Childs & Junior hope to trail ride
their way to stardom.

by Kim F. Miller

Jody Childs in front of theTV camera, speaking to celebrity coach Ray Ariss. Her travel companion Jen Wells is on her mule, Jester, just after she had been interviewed by Colleen Kelley, her celebrity coach for the obstacle. Photo: Aponi Studios

A year ago, Peruvian Paso aficionado and trainer Jody Childs almost sold her horse Me Llamo Alternero, a.k.a. Junior. At 16 hands, he was a little too big to do well in breed competitions and Jody wasn't quite sure what to do with him. About that time, she discovered the American Competitive Trail Horse Association and began participating in their fun rides.

The association promotes trail riding and stages rides that feature judged obstacles of varying difficulties. Jody and Junior were all over it. With 10 competitive trail rides under their belt, they were ready for another adventure: auditioning for a new reality TV show called America's Favorite Trail Horse. Created by ACTHA and due to be aired on HRTV starting in September, the show will invite viewers to vote for their favorite trail horse after seeing them in action over several episodes.

Jody estimates there were 35 or so contestants at the April audition she and Junior attended in Norco. Friesian, Mustang, Tennessee Walker and, of course, Peruvian, were among the many breeds represented. The audition consisted of an obstacle course and a 45-second freestyle performance. The course didn't look too hard, Jody recalls, but it took its toll. Backing through a figure eight made of belly-high traffic poles and stepping over, then sidepassing across a raised pole were among the challenges. In her freestyle, Jody incorporated special Peruvian gaits, the sobreandando and the paso llano, along with a super slow gait she calls "dancing" and a pivot circle. As a finale, she sang a silly song while dancing in the saddle and twirling her rain slicker every which way. Junior was totally unfazed, but not so the judges.

"You just gave me a heart attack!" joked one impressed official.
Auditions were held around the country, and Jody was thrilled to learn that she and Junior were among the 100 finalists selected from 1,000 hopefuls. The next step was a trip to Blanco, TX, where all the finalists were filmed tackling a variety of interesting trail challenges. From the footage, weekly episodes will be created, with a $5,000 prize for the horse that gets the most votes in each. Bigger purses await the top three vote getters at the series' end.

The money would be great, Jody says, but participating in the show was a big thrill unto itself. New friendships emerged from the camaraderie among contestants and she loved the opportunity to interact with people devoted to diverse breeds. When she learned they were finalists, Jody hooked up with another California-based finalist, Jen Wells and her mule, with whom they hitched a ride to Texas. Whether or not Jody and Junior get much airtime when the series airs, Jody says the ride has already been well worth it, especially getting plugged into the ACTHA experience.

"It's a venue where I could find new things to learn and compete, bring my friends and clients with me, and create awareness of the Peruvian horse," the trainer enthuses. "ACTHA has three levels of participation at each competitive trail ride. The first one is called 'Buddy,' where folks that do not want to compete can ride along with their competitor friends and watch. Then the next level is 'Pleasure,' which is an easier version of natural obstacle challenge. The third, our division, is called 'Open,' where the obstacles are the most challenging, and require solid teamwork of the horse and rider."

Jody is grateful to her clients at Jody's Training Stables and Del Dios Peruvians. They have been happy to accommodate their trainer's schedule so Jody could pursue this unusual opportunity. Jody's San Diego business is evenly divided between Peruvian horses and hunter/jumper students and she also stands the Peruvian stallion, General de Dios by Soberano. Jody considered the AFTH experience a great stage from which to promote the Peruvian horse. As she headed for Texas for the finals, she was determined to give away many test rides on Junior. In his smooth gaits, excellent behavior and great temperament, he's a great ambassador for the breed. Not to mention his excellent trail skills, which will hopefully be showcased on one or more episodes of America's Favorite Trail Horse this fall. Jody and Junior have done their part to make that happen. Now it's up to viewers to vote. Check with your cable company to see if they have HRTV, formerly known as Horse Racing TV, and watch for the show.

For a full account of Jody's adventure, check out her wonderful blog for Peruvian Horse World at www.peruvianhorseworld.com. Also, visit Junior on Facebook, at "Me Llamo Altanero, America' Favorite Trail Horse Candidate."