11-year-old Alayna Applegate, of Ewing, Kentucky, rode into the history books of saddle seat equitation at this year’s American Royal UPHA National Championship Horse Show, demonstrating confidence, horsemanship, and an unbelievable story of success as she claimed the title of this year’s United Professional Horseman’s Association (UPHA) Junior Challenge Cup Grand Champion.
Showing as a 10-year-old, Alayna was one of the youngest to perform in this year’s Junior Equitation division. Her performance did not give away her age at all; she completed a difficult individual pattern with ease and was placed above talented competitors three years her senior, all on a horse she had only ridden three times.
“I think a strong equitation rider is able to really ride their horse, instead of sitting on the rail,” Alayna said in an interview following her championship win, “I just think that’s what equitation is about. It’s about riding your horse instead of just being “posey” on the rail.”
Alayna first began to light up the show ring in 2012, earning her first world championship at the age of seven. Her athletic career already boasts 38 equitation wins, including two UPHA National Championships, and five equitation World Championships.
The talented young rider, unsurprisingly, received her love of horses from her mom, Brooke Wagner Applegate, who grew up riding and showing Saddlebreds with her sister and her mom. After leaving the industry as a teenager to pursue college, a career, and start a family, Brooke purchased a package of riding lessons at a local Quarter Horse barn for Alayna’s 6th birthday in 2011.
After spending several months struggling to find the right fit for Alayna, Brooke’s mother called: “Let’s buy her a Saddlebred,” she said. “We’ve done this before, and we can do it again.” Her first horse, First Night’s Attraction, was purchased a month later.
It was the 2012 Lexington Junior League Horse Show that first brought Alayna together with trainer Shelley Fisher, of Sugar Knoll Farm in Huber Heights, Ohio. Shelley saw Alayna perform, watched her horse suffer an injury, and searched to get in contact with Brooke. Shelley offered Alayna the opportunity to show the champion equitation mare, CH-Eq A Sweet Sensation, at the World’s Championships that year. Alayna practiced on the mare only twice before riding to a unanimous World Championship, making her latest victory the second time she’s won a major championship on a horse she has barely ridden.
Following that season, Alayna began to train with Shelley. The two are similar in personality and work ethic, and make a phenomenal team. As Brooke says, “They are destined to be together.”
“I firmly believe that God had a hand in every bit of this story,” said Brooke, “If her horse had not gotten hurt at Junior League, this beautiful story would not have happened.”
Listen to my full interview with Alayna here:
Alayna Applegate, UPHA Junior Challenge Cup Champion