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News

Sidney Dunham wins Youth Trail in a Big Way

October 19th, 2015

By: Barbara Aitken 

“Every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl.”- Unknown

On any given day, Sidney Dunham is a normal 12-year-old girl. She goes to school, takes piano lessons, and stars in school plays. But when it comes to riding horses, Sidney is anything but ordinary.

The crowd roared as the announcer called over the speakers, “The winner of the 11 & Under Trail, with the highest youth trail score out of all age divisions, with a 229, Sidney Dunham!”

Sharing a smile, Sidney Dunham handed down her bronze Champion trophy to her dad, Mark Dunham, as she patted No Trouble Mac, her 14-year-old gelding. Photographers snapped pictures. Hugs were shared. A dream became a reality.

The Dunham family who resides in Jonesboro, Arkansas is no stranger to the All American Quarter Horse Congress (AAQHC). Mark, an all-around trainer who specializes in youth and amateurs, along with his wife Clare, are both natives of Ohio.

Betty Dunham, Mark’s mother who still lives in Ohio comes to the AAQHC every year to see her family. In the wake of her granddaughter’s win, Betty struggled to describe her feelings. “[Mark’s] been working all his life to do this…[Sidney] is the sweetest and the best.”

Like many “show kids”, Sidney started her show career in the lead line class, in her home state with the Arkansas Quarter Horse Association. After lead line, she graduated to walk-trot, small fry, and then to youth classes.  

The Dunhams purchased “Mac” three years ago to be a learning horse for Sidney. “He was in a semi-retirement lifestyle and he [didn’t] like semi-retirement. [So] we gave him a job. He was a good find for Sidney,” Mark explained.

Sidney’s love for trail began when she started riding Mac. Often times, she can be found riding in both the Youth and All Age Trail at various AQHA shows that she travels to with her dad and his clients. Although she has the help of her dad, and Shawn Hayes, an AQHA judge and all-around trainer, Sidney is responsible for making sure she is ready to show. While Mark works with clients, Sidney must make sure both herself and Mac are prepared for their classes.

2015 marked the third time for Sidney and Mac to show at the AAQHC. “My first year was okay. My second year was better…and this year I won the Trail!”

Shannon Vroegh rode “Mac” in his first Trail class as a 5 year old. “I don’t know the best way to say it, but he’s got a goofy personality and he’ll get afraid of weird things, but at the same time, he is the coolest horse.  The first time he showed in the Trail, he jumped the bridge. I thought we could always do the Hunter Hack,” Shannon laughingly remembered.

Sidney added, “He’s afraid of woodpeckers. On good days we’ll be fine. On bad days he’s tough.” As Clare stated, “Mac’s got quirks—like all the good ones.”

Mac’s quirks, however, have proved challenging for Sidney at times.

“It’s been a process,” said Clare. "I think today was a really good example of [Sidney] finally figuring out that she can’t always make him do the things she wants him to do when she wants him to do it. She has to figure out what makes Mac happy. And when Mac is happy, everyone is happy.”

 

Sidney’s win comes as surprising, yet welcomed blessing for the Dunham family.

“I’ve been coming to [the Congress] my whole life”, said Mark. “I knew I wanted her to do good, but I never expected her to have the highest score of the day.” 

Clare knows that Sidney’s win is just the beginning. “They’ve started western riding, so that’s a new trick and we’ll see what that brings. We’ll get ready to show with the big girls next year in the 12-14. We’ll just keep taking it one horse show at a time and keep going from there.”

Mark believes Sidney, “brings out all the good in Mac. He does better for her than anyone else.” Clare added, “Mac’s taught her so much. That’s what it’s all about. Him teaching her new things and them learning together.”

At the end of the day, every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl, because when a bond such as Sidney and Mac's happens, anything is possible.