Locust Grove, Okla., team wins world title
A 4-H horse judging team from Locust Grove, Okla., won the American Junior Paint Horse Association Youth World Championship in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 29.
Lynlee McCurry, Seve Blackwell, Katsy Atkins and Harley Chance won the 13 and under age division judging halter classes, performance classes and giving reasons. The American Junior Paint Horse Association and the Appaloosa Horse Club team up to present the contest in two divisions; 13 and under and 14 to 18, at the Will Rogers Coliseum.
While many horse teams have members whose family were also judges, few teams can boast three members with parents who won championships at this same contest. The exclusive club gets smaller when the fact is added that those three parents were mothers and smaller still with the fact the coach is grandad to two of the members.
Coach Joe Bob Cunningham is grandfather to Harley and Katsy. He coached their mothers to championships at the Paint World. Seve’s mother was on the championship team with Harley’s.
In a horse judging contest, team members place classes of four horses in halter or performing in a class, then give oral reasons to defend why they placed a class in the order they chose. A total of 100 points is possible in each class judged, 50 points for placing and 50 points for reasons. Any of the many performance classes at the show, from either the western or English discipline, may be part of the contest. When a team arrives at the contest, the members must have a working knowledge of any of those classes and the criteria on which to place them.
This is the first year for this team to compete together. Along with the four team members who competed at this contest, Zoe Dawson, Emily Bond, and Easton Bond worked out with the team.
The team began the show year at Equifest in Topeka, Kan. The show at Fort Worth ended this year. The team will have a break then start again at the Topeka contest in February.
Lynlee, 13, has been judging three years. She was recruited by Locust Grove ag teacher Ray Pell when he was teaching at Chouteau, Okla. She has never ridden and doesn’t own a horse. She was a blank slate for a horse judging coach.
“I think in some parts it’s easier,” Lynlee said, since she had no preconceived ideas about horses. She is interested in judging all the way through college and then “just see where it takes me.”
It’s carrying her along pretty well, she won reserve high-individual overall and first-high individual in performance at Fort Worth.
Lynlee keeps a meticulous journal of how she and the team do at each contest. On their first out together, the team was second over all.
Less than two months later at the Northeast Oklahoma A&M College contest in Miami, Okla., the team placed third overall, but scored first in team reasons.
In April at the Will Rogers contest, the team won first, again placing first in reasons.
At the state contest a few days later, the team was championwith the first-place talkers in reasons. The team was also second in placings.
On June 29, the team made it three championships in a row at the Paint World.
Katsy, 12, rides English and is interested in jumping.
“I have been riding English eight years,” she said.
Katsy doesn’t know if she will continue to judge. “I want to be on a horse instead of looking at a horse,” she said.
At 10, Harley is the youngest member of the team. This is her first year to judge, but she has won awards at every contest.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” Harley said. “But mom said ‘you can just go see. Work out and go to one contest and you can tell me if you want to stay.’
I wasn’t sure, but I went to the first contest and won reasons. I called her from the contest and said I want to stay (keep judging).”
“Harley hasn’t been the dropped score ever,” Katsy said, referring to the fact that four team members judge in a contest, and the lowest score is dropped, leaving three members to make the team score.
In fact, Harley said her favorite part of the contest is reasons.
“I like halter (classes),” she said. “But I think I like reasons best.” That’s not surprising. She won high individual in reasons and high point individual in halter plaques at Fort Worth.
Seve, 13, started judging in fourth grade. She was recruited with Lynlee.
“Lynlee and I started together,” Seve said. “I don’t have horses and I’ve never ridden, but I have a friend who does and that got me interested.”
Seve is home schooled, so when Ray Pell, who began coaching her at Chouteau, Okla., moved his teaching career to Locust Grove, she went with him.
“My mom judged and won the Paint World,” she said. “I think I like performance best because I do best in that.”
The girls agree their judging was much improved by a judging camp put on by Blackhawk (Illinois) Junior College. It was after that camp the team won a contest championship for the first time.
“The camp was a few days,” Seve said. “We would watch videos, then give as many sets of reasons as possible in that day. I’m nervous in reasons.” She needn’t be; she was second high individual in reasons at Paint World. She was also second individual in halter, fourth individual overall and sixth individual in performance.
The team agrees while a break is good, it’s a long time until February.
Seve said she would prefer a shorter break because she likes working out with her teammates. She will continue to work videos and practice reasons at home.
“I have my mom to help me,” she said.
Chance will be busy in the mean time. She shows animals. She is especially good with rabbits and competes in junior rodeos in barrel racing, pole bending and goat tying.
Joe Bob Cunningham was a long-time ag teacher at Locust Grove and has likely coached more champion horse teams than any other Oklahoma coach, and maybe more than any coach in the United States.
Harley said she likes being coached by her grandfather. “You can just go to your coach’s house,” she said.
“I think it’s harder,” Katsy said. “It’s a lot to live up to.”
It is indeed a lot to live up to. There’s a wall full of champion judges from the Cunningham families. Starting with Joe Bob coaching his brother Ronn. Ronn was on a team that won the championship at the World Show. The AjPHA World Show had not been organized at that time. Joe Bob coached his own kids and Ronn’s to many contest championships. Joe Bob’s son Colby was on a junior team that won a Paint World Championship and on a senior team that won the Paint World Championship.
Both the girls’ mothers and their uncle were on championship Paint World teams, coached by Joe Bob, as well as Seve’s mother. Maybe this team will win the Paint World Championship again as a senior team.