- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The walls in Gretchen Halloran’s room are blue. You have to look closely to confirm this, though - the paint is obscured by rows of ribbons tacked up around the space.

The ribbons, in hues of blue and red and yellow, gaze down on a bookshelf threatening to overflow with trophies. Halloran’s bed is nearby. Close to the headboard, on the wall, hangs a portrait of a horse.

“I’m the horse girl,” Halloran said.

The 16-year-old is standing in her room, holding her newest, most coveted ribbon - the World’s Champion of Champions. She doesn’t know where to put it yet. She’s running out of wall space at her father, Tom, and stepmother, Stacey Halloran’s home in Charleston. She has even more ribbons at the home of her mother, Jenny Dascoli, also in Charleston.

Over her seven-season career, Halloran has won several blue ribbons as a junior exhibitor showing in the Show and Country Pleasure divisions. She recently competed in the World’s Championship Horse Show, described as “the super bowl of horse shows,” and won her qualifying class and the final championship class to walk away with a World Champion title (from the qualifier) and a World’s Champion of Champions title in the Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure 14-17 division. Judges for the English-riding division focus less on the horse’s high stepping gaits - the trot, walk and canter - and more on the horse’s smooth performance and good manners.

For her performance, Halloran received the highest score from the competition’s three judges in both the qualifying and championship rounds. The competition was held at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Kentucky State Fair, Aug. 22-29.

Halloran’s trainers are Matt and Whitney Shiflet of Matt Shiflet Stables in Asheboro, North Carolina. She also trains weekly with Meadow Dream Farm in Cross Lanes under the guidance of owners Jimmy and Georgia Morrison.

Even world champions have to explain their sport. Halloran said most of her teachers and friends don’t understand what it is she does.

“When I come back from a horse show, at school (they’ll ask) ‘How did your race go?’ And I’m like ‘It’s not a race.’”

To better understand the inner workings of Halloran’s show division, Country Pleasure, she shared video footage from her championship competition held Aug. 29 with the Gazette-Mail.

As old-timey, piano-heavy fair music plays, Halloran and the other 15 contestants enter the Freedom Hall arena, the floor is covered in dyed-green wood shavings, on their finely groomed Saddlebred horses. Halloran is wearing a light purple coat with a matching paisley tie. Her black derby matches her pants, completing her rider’s habit. She’s atop her dabble grey horse, Jessie Cole.

Following the announcer’s calls over a loud intercom, the contestants trot, walk and canter around the perimeter of the arena. To prevent herself from being lumped in large packs of horses, she directs Jessie Cole to cut on the inside of a corner or stay wide when needed.

“The key is to ensure that the judges can see you. They can’t see you if you’re in a large group of horses,” Halloran said.

When she’s cantering, it looks slow and controlled.

“It needs to look agreeable for the rider and horse … You don’t want a horse flying around the arena because that isn’t pleasurable.”

After the riders’ 15 minutes of showing, they retire, or walk around the arena, waiting for the judge’s scores to be tabulated.

Watching footage of the show in their living room, Gretchen, Stacey and Tom all scream “AH!” just like they did at the competition, when they hear Halloran’s number, 1536, called.

On the screen, they watch Gretchen fall forward - like the cover of book closing on a page - on Jessie Cole’s back. She’s crying. Stacey is crying in the stands. Tom is smiling.

Watching the film replay the scene, Stacey gets teary-eyed.

“I never cry. You don’t understand, I’m not an emotional person,” she said.

Seven years earlier she’d taken Gretchen to the World’s Championship - her stepdaughter’s first horse show, where the youngster decided she wanted to ride. Now she watches the video of Gretchen’s World Champion win in the living room, down the stairs from the bedroom with the blue walls that are trying to peek through all the ribbons.

“This is what you dream of when you first start riding,” Halloran said.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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