Seventeen-year-old Junior rider, Julia Whitehead, is no stranger to hard work.
In fact, graduating from high school early, taking an off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, being a working student at Robyn Miller’s Point Pleasant Farm in Mount Pleasant, Miss., and putting 120 days on an unwanted and untrained rescue horse for the Safe Horse Project’s Heart of the Horse Expo and Trainers Challenge are some of the amazing accomplishments she has achieved so far in her young equestrian career.
Crediting her mother, Suzanne Whitehead, for introducing her to the equine world just four short years ago, along with the support of her father, Rick, and sister, Lilly, Julia has become a prestigious rider and trainer quite quickly. She is an extremely versatile rider who has experience with several breeds, including quarter horses, warmbloods, mules, and mustangs and has ridden and shown in a variety of disciplines, both English and Western. Exposure to a couple of dude ranches led Julia to realize she wanted to pursue riding. Starting with a leased horse, Julia quickly progressed and eventually found a perfect partner in her mare, Holly.
Julia has trained Holly, a thirteen year old buckskin quarter horse mare, from the basics to where she is now: an outstanding, impeccably trained all-around horse. Actively competing in the Volunteer Ranch Horse Association (VolRHA), in various ranch classes, ranch versatility, cow work, and obstacle competitions, Julia and Holly have received several high-point awards and titles; her bedroom walls are covered with numerous belt buckles, ribbons, and awards. Transforming Holly from a greenbroke pasture pet into a high-point horse while yet a kid herself is, perhaps, one of Julia’s greatest accomplishments thus far.
When asked which award she is most proud of, Julia states, “I am most proud of winning the Volunteer Ranch Horse Association’s year end high-point award in the youth division for 2 years in a row. I really enjoy competing in ranch horse and ranch versatility competitions because I love the working Western style of horsemanship and the tasks of a working ranch horse that these competitions are meant to reflect. I love the ranch versatility events, including trail, reining, cow work, and ranch riding, because of the wide array of skills and the partnership it takes from a horse and rider to be able to compete successfully in a variety of events.”
Going along with the theme of versatility, Julia also enjoys trail riding and has shown in a number of extreme obstacle trail competitions. She says, “I have been successful in several of these, including 2 high-point awards at the Southern Equine Expo this spring in Murfreesboro, TN: one with my mare, Holly, and the other with my yearling mule filly, Indie, in the in-hand trail. I also enjoy dabbling in classical dressage with all of my horses to improve their balance and posture, and I love working at liberty with all of my horses, whether it is on the ground or riding bridleless.”
Julia enjoys working with all kinds of horses, but says she is “especially drawn to the ones who are green, untrained, or labeled as ‘problem’ horses.” This is evidenced by the enormous amount of dedication Julia poured into retraining Lee’s Luck (known as “Leland”), the OTTB she took to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover last year. The amount of dedication and motivation it took for Julia to challenge herself “by transitioning a horse straight off the track to a new and quite different career” is praiseworthy in and of itself.
Just last month, the extensiveness of Julia’s equine knowledge was gracefully shown as she competed at the Safe Horse Project’s Heart of the Horse Challenge with Merci, a rescued quarter pony who could barely tolerate being touched at the start of the challenge in January. Over 120 days Julia was able to transform Merci into an impressively trained horse who could even be ridden over obstacles, such as the teeter totter and through water, trail ridden, and easily trailered.
Instilling the confidence required for Merci to achieve the level of greatness she did is no easy feat. Countless hours of riding and groundwork were put in, and her hard work paid off; Merci was one of the highest-receiving bids at the Safe Horse Project’s auction at the conclusion of the challenge. She and Julia swept the entire awards assembly, winning first place in every class possible, including Health and Ground Manners, Horsemanship and Trail, and Freestyle. In fact, Julia and Merci walked away as the Heart of the Horse High Point Champions. Spectators agree watching Julia’s passion for horses combined with her natural horsemanship training techniques was truly a form of living art.
Clearly naturally talented when it comes to training horses, Julia credits the polishing of her equine education in horsemanship to working with Robyn Miller, Trainer and Owner of Point Pleasant Farm. Robyn combines her background in classical hunter/jumper training with a natural horsemanship approach. Julia is a working student four days a week, helping with groundwork and riding the horses in training, as well as feeding and barn chores.
When asked about her hobbies outside of horses, Julia states she enjoys “spending time with my family and friends as well as playing the guitar and learning about music.” As far as what the future holds for this talented young lady, Julia plans to start classes at the University of Memphis in the fall. “Another goal I have for the future is to continue to learn and grow in my horsemanship by studying and learning different styles and disciplines of riding,” she explains.
Julia’s advice for other young riders is, “Always remember to have fun with your horses! Whether you are showing at a top level, or just riding in your backyard, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the time with and your relationship with your horse. Never stop learning and be sure to take every opportunity you can to learn and grow.”