December 22, 2010 -- To reach the highest level of excellence in equestrian sport takes talent, perseverance, a tremendous spirit and often, unwavering courage. In 2010, five horses have shown the world those qualities and more. And on January 22, the United States Equestrian Federation will bestow just one of them with the prestigious title of Horse of the Year, the highest honor the USEF awards a horse.
The five champions have earned their place on the elite list as USEF Horses of Honor, and each will be recognized at the USEF Horse of the Year Awards gala and dinner in January--part of the USEF Annual Meeting--at the Downtown Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Ky.
It now is up to you to choose that one special horse, selecting from a range of talents and from across the Federation's breeds and disciplines. Your vote will help determine the champion that joins the pantheon of past winners including dressage horse Ravel (2009); driving horse Jamaica (2008); eventer Teddy O'Connor (2007); show jumper Authentic (2006); and dressage horse Brentina (2005).
In alphabetical order, the 2010 Horses of Honor are:
Eight-Year-Old Arabian Stallion
Owner: Shirley and William Reilich
There are champions and then there are legends. Afires Heir has unquestionably earned his legend status. In a career that has seen astounding success in the English Pleasure division, there are few accolades left that haven't been lauded upon this eight-year-old bay stallion.
With the 2010 Arabian English Pleasure U.S. National Championship win, Afires Heir accomplished what no other Arabian had done in the history of the breed. He garnered his fourth consecutive unanimous U.S. National Championship in four years (one as a junior horse and three in the open division). His titles in the Open English division at the U.S. National Championships have written a new page in the Arabian horse show books and set the new record for the breed.
In five years of showing, Afires Heir's brilliance and talents have been contested in the very prestigious and demanding Open English Pleasure division where he has been evaluated first on every judge's card, including unanimous wins at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in 2007 and 2008.
Gunners Special Nite
Six-Year-Old Quarter Horse Stallion
Owner: Sarah B. Willeman
When it comes to Gold medals, few equine athletes in 2010 have awed judges more than Gunners Special Nite. In fact, at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, he was the only American horse to earn the bragging rights that accompany two Gold medals.
The six-year-old Quarter Horse stallion brought the crowd in the Alltech Arena to its feet with two awe-inspiring performances for his rider Tom McCutcheon. Drawn third in the Team competition for Team USA, Gunners Special Nite secured the first Team Gold medal for the U.S. with a rock-solid performance. Two days later, he returned to the ring and put everything on the line in the Individual Final. The 228-point performance was legendary.
Representing the U.S. for the first time, Gunners Special Nite was a classy veteran in the ring, and rose to the occasion in front of the thousands of fans who turned out to witness the Adequan U.S. Reining Team make history. His performance would prove instrumental in securing the Team's third consecutive Gold medal at a World Equestrian Games and this time by the widest margin in history.
Six-Year-Old Shetland/Roadster Stallion
Owner: Michelle LeGrotte Barcus
The close of the 2010 competition year marked the retirement of Heza JackRabbit-the 46-inch tall wonder pony known for his athleticism and showmanship. True to his form, the roadster pony ended his last year in the ring by taking no less than four championship victories. His 29 competitions included 17 wins, nine reserves and three third-place finishes.
Heza JackRabbit, owned by amateur owner and driver Michelle LeGrotte Barcus, was the Modern Shetland Roadster Champion at the Kentucky Spring Premier and at the United Professional Horsemen's Association Chapter V competition. He then became the Modern Amateur Roadster Reserve Champion at the ASPC Congress and the Roadster Reserve Champion at the Missouri State Fair.
A show pony with a proud legacy, his power and strength have impressed judges and garnered a loyal fan base whose cheers served as fuel to his fire in the show ring. His display of exquisite form and magnetic presence will not be forgotten as he serves as a model for those roadster ponies to come. He leaves his storied career to stand at stud in Missouri.
Ten-Year-Old Warmblood Gelding
Owner: Dr. Betsee Parker