Life Without ACTHA, I Don’t Think So

By Jennifer Wenzel

Noted American author Henry David Thoreau wrote “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”.  And how successful and unexpected would Jody Childs’ life become, after she attended her first ACTHA ride in April 2010.

Like many of our sports greatest riders and teachers Jody grew up on the back of a horse.  Mature beyond her years she started teaching lessons at the tender age of thirteen at Michel Manesco Stables in Los Angeles, and taught continuously throughout college.  For a number of years Jody followed her chosen career in banking, while returning to competition as an amateur on the A Circuit competing in Hunter/Jumpers.   Marriage to a fellow equestrian and the subsequent birth of her daughter in 1991 led Jody back to part time work as a riding instructor.   In 1994 Jody started her own training business “Jody’s Training Stables”, north of San Diego, where she went on to raise several successful generations of young hunter/jumpers along with her daughter, whom she coached for more than twelve years, to numerous hunter and jumper Championships.

Back in early 2002 Jody’s life took another turn when she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  For those unfamiliar with this disease, it is characterized by chronic widespread pain and allodynia (a heightened and painful response to pressure).  About this time Jody would test drive a breed of horse she normally didn’t ride, the Peruvian Paso Horse.  She was searching for low priced hunter/jumper prospects when she happened upon a palomino Peruvian colt for sale for $1000 or trade for tack.  She traded her friend’s saddle (must be a good friend) and $400 for what she thought would be a fun project.   What she didn’t expect, was to fall in love with this breed.  In a short time Jody realized this breed was the answer she was looking for.  With this breed she could minimize movement in her neck and back and ride pain free.  Jody, like many adult equestrians have turned to gaited breeds as a way to minimize stress on their joints and have a smoother ride.

Ever the business woman, and wishing to share her new discovery of the “smooth ride” Jody started another business, Del Dios Peruvians, that catered primarily to adults wanting to trail ride.  For eight years she ran both her training businesses concurrently before deciding that she would concentrate her efforts on the breed she calls herself “crazy for”, the Peruvian Paso.  In hindsight, it was a smart move for Jody as she ventures forward in her senior years.  Now 58, she is still comfortable starting horses under saddle.  The temperament and gait of Peruvians has given Jody a trusted mount for her clients aged 60 and older who may have never ridden.  Not only has she taught many clients to ride, and ride safely, but many have gone on to purchase their first horse, a Peruvian.    

In April 2010 Jody arrived at her first ACTHA ride in California with 2 students and 3 horses.  Greeting them was a beautiful park that they had never ridden in, a leisurely ride between obstacles, safety riders to make sure no one got lost and a great lunch.  Jody rode in the Open Division, placed second and was hooked.  While Jody says her second and third rides were not nearly as successful as her first ride, they revealed all her horse’s weaknesses and made her realize where she needed work in her training.  With ACTHA,  she loved being able to ride while coaching her students and here was a venue she could safely take her students while refreshing her teaching program.  In 2010 she would sometimes take as many as 9 students at a time to Competitive Trail Challenges throughout California where together they would work to establish a partnership, milestones and recognition with their horses.

As Jody says “like everything else with horses you have to LEARN how to trail ride and that is how I found ACTHA, but I did it backwards.  I started with ACTHA and then I trail rode.  Once, I was out on a trail that stopped and there wasn’t room to turn around, then the light bulb went on…oh that’s why ACTHA has back up as an obstacle!  Then I realized real trail riding was like ACTHA, you go down the trail and then there is something difficult to negotiate; rocks, a barking dog, a bicyclist, water, a log etc”.

2011 bought a life changing experience for Jody in “all things horse”.   Tryouts were held in 22 venues throughout the country and Jody made the final cut of 100 horse and rider teams selected to go to Texas to compete in the finals of the ACTHA competition America’s Favorite Trail Horse.   AFTH was filmed and produced by Dan Nyberg of Electric Picture Company, formerly of the History Channel’s Monster Quest series, and was aired by HRTV.   It was there that Jody saw horses trained to rear, lay down, pick up hats, paint pictures and one being ridden with the rider in the saddle backwards.  As Jody says “I was so impressed with the bond these riders had with their horses.  I want to learn how to get that extra level of communication they displayed with their horses.  In addition, Australian trainer Guy McLean was there demonstrating how he trained his horses and I was in awe.”

Following the AFTH finals Jody went home to California and poured all she had learned into her two year old homebred Peruvian Amor Del Dios (Mory).  In their first ACTHA ride Mory did Jody proud taking a second place in the Pleasure Division.  Three years ago ACTHA events in California were far and few between so Jody focused mainly on Peruvian Breed Shows, enjoying success in the Musical Freestyle, Gait, Breeding, and Performance classes.

About that time Jody posted on Facebook that she was looking for extra money to pay for Peruvian Nationals and ACTHA’s CEO Tom Scrima contacted her.  Part of Jody’s job was to recruit ride hosts throughout the state and she felt that if she was going to do that she had better start holding them herself.  Jody says “while my first ride was small, I made $500 and I felt like I got paid to learn how to host a ride.  It gave me the incentive to hold more events and dream bigger.  That’s when I decided that ACTHA was a great home based business that could provide me and other ride hosts a nice supplemental income.  I sold that idea to the people I talked with and started networking.  I tell my prospective ride hosts; here is a business that costs you nothing to start and is a nationally known successful product.  ACTHA provides the insurance, training and marketing support you need.  You grow along with your business as you understand your riders and your market.  I tell them there are ride hosts making thousands of dollars in a single weekend and you can do that too and raise money for a charity of your choice.  You start small and you grow with it.”

In April 2014 Jody learned about an event called Charles Wilhelm’s Ultimate Super Horse Challenge to be held at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento in June.   It encompassed a great deal of obstacle work along with ground work, ranch pleasure, trail equitation, dancing with cows and parade type situations.  Jody felt that all she had done to teach her horse Amor Del Dios (Mory) ACTHA skills along with his horseshow background seemed like a perfect fit.  Five weeks before the event Jody went to a clinic with Charles to both qualify and prepare for the event which was limited to fifteen competitors.   At the clinic Jody learned she would be required to canter, even though up to this point she had never cantered her five year old under saddle, as Peruvians rarely are.  Needless to say it began that day.  

By the time Jody arrived in Sacramento she had worked cattle only twice, the “flag” (Cow Trac) twice, and had taken three lessons from professional trainer Robin Bond who has extensive experience in these types of events.  Much to Jody’s surprise two weeks out from the competition Robin informed Jody that she too decided to compete in the event.  Sheepishly she asked Robin if she would coach her a bit at the event and Robin graciously agreed and Jody tells me “I was mindful not to abuse that privilege.”

To say Jody was a bit overwhelmed would be an understatement. Jody said “here I am on my ACTHA horse and out of the fifteen competitors three of them were America’s Favorite Trail Horse alumni.  These folks had huge resumes (and belt buckles) from Extreme Cowboy Association, Western Dressage, Rodeo, Mustang Makeover and various cattle related competitive events.  Mory was only five and had so much less experience, along with looking like a little pony compared to the stout horses in the competition.”

Jody says “it was a magical experience.  Mory did everything I asked willingly and calmly.  Not only was his canter great but I found myself doing the following things with him that I had never done; ground tie and walk away (something he only learned a few days prior), canter over poles, go over successive jumps, shoot a gun,  push a soccer ball with my horses rear end into a net, go through tires and pool noodles above my horses head, through a curtain of tinsel 10’ tall, COUNTER CANTER (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?), canter weave poles with lead changes, spiral down in the canter into a spin, gallop around the ring and wave to the crowd.”

How did they do?  Jody and Mory were Reserve Champion to Robin Bond who won the event!  Hey everybody!  An ACTHA foundation can take you and your horse to unexpected success!  Obstacle training makes a wonderful horse!  And the best part of this, you can watch ACTHA Ride Host Jody Childs and Mory in the Ultimate Super Horse Challenge as a two part special airing on the Charles Wilhelm show in February on HRTV.  Check your local listings for details.

While in Sacramento Jody picked up another horse, a half Peruvian half Tennessee Walker, aka Tennuvian that grew up on a cattle ranch and has lineage to Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger.  Originally he was going to be an investment to train and resell with a client.  But that wasn’t to be.  Jody fell in love with the unbroke horse that couldn’t be tied in the trailer because he had never been, and wouldn’t let her to touch him or catch him.   After a day of approach and retreat and much to Jody’s surprise he came up to her and kissed her, just like Mory does.  Well that kiss sealed the deal and Jody told her client he was no longer an investment horse.  Jody named him Chrome after California Chrome and now this three year old is her biggest joy, doing tricks such as taking her hat off, signing his autograph, giving her more kisses and laying down.  He’s not in serious work or training at this point, just obstacles and fun stuff and has joined Jody’s family of three purebred Peruvians, including her mare Candelaria who competes in the Open Division of ACTHA in California, her gelding Me Llamo Altanero that she rode is AFTH and her three year old full brother to Mory, her horse from the Ultimate Super Horse Challenge.

As a ride host Jody tries to follow the example set by ACTHA’s President Robin Tilghman who personally tutored Jody as she held her rides.  Besides hosting her own rides Jody is now part of the team of Ride Host Service Specialists where she works hard to develop and mentor ride hosts.  Jody says “I am proud to be part of the team that will answer host calls and help coach them along the way.”

As a testament to Jody’s perseverance and success in ride host development,  ACTHA rides in California have grown from just a few in 2012 to over 50 currently scheduled for 2015.  To Jody hosting a multiple weekend ride can be viewed as being in the equine destination vacation business.  An ACTHA weekend when viewed as a getaway is super inexpensive!  Therefore, with new hosts I cast the vision of creating an experience that has their unique personal flavor.  ACTHA provides you the business model and tools, but as Jody says “you put on the party.”

“Once I saw a shirt that said “Life without Horses, I don’t think so”, mine should say “Life without ACTHA, I don’t think so”.  ACTHA has enriched my life in so many ways that I shudder to think where I would be now if I hadn’t gone to that first ride.”

To read the full article in the “ACTHA Monthly” please visit www.actha.us/catalog and click on the February issue.