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In 2018, Jessica pushed herself to get back in the show ring after having Bailey. She’d qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show in Guthrie, Okla, and she wanted to be competitive in her classes, not merely show up. Despite scheduling nightmares, ups and downs with her horse, and juggling a busy work life, Jessica realized her goals. It took time, hard work, determination and a lot of help, but this competitor faced the challenges of riding competitively with two kids like a seasoned pro.
Growing up a Horse Girl
Jessica and her sister, Jillian, grew up near the Gulf Coast in rural Danevang, Texas, where the pastures were either filled with cattle or plowed for crops. Although her parents grew up with backyard horses for recreation and working cattle, the family didn’t have close proximity to a strong horse show community. It took time to find it, but once Jessica got up the courage to attend the breed shows, she found like-minded horse enthusiasts.
It wasn’t always an easy road.
“I started riding when I was about 5 years old on a retired eventing mare who was blind in one eye but let me bridle her, push her against a fence, and hop on bareback,” Jessica says. “A few years later, we got a Welsh pony cross. When I was 7, we bought an old pleasure horse named Seventh Moon and I spent all summer practicing for a local horse show. Looking back now, I truly believe that summer instilled the strong, goal-oriented work ethic I still carry today.”
Jessica was thrilled to place second in her first show in the walk-trot division. She recalls that when she started showing in classes where she’d lope, her parents would stand in different arena corners and, if she was on the wrong lead, they’d cross their arms over their chests. It was what she refers to as a comedy of errors.
Those errors built character and determination. In 2002, with the help of trainer Steve Tidwell, the Holubs purchased Mr. Sandy Magic, aka “Stevie.”
The 4-year-old, 16-plus hand gelding would shape Jessica’s show career and build her confidence as a horse person.
“It was a learning curve for me to figure out how to ride Stevie, and I spent the summer away from home in Alabama with Steve Tidwell,” Jessica remembers. “I had two and a half months to get ready for the Palomino World Show. I practiced so hard. In the lineup of the hunt-seat equitation class when the final five [riders] were in the line, I started to shake and cry. By the time they named us World Champions, I was a wreck.”
After that success, Jessica opted to home school and focus on showing. Her show experience was in western, English, and speed events. A stellar youth career was followed by an amazing amateur career. She juggled college at Texas A&M with showing and made it work.
All told, Jessica and Stevie captured four Golden Horse titles. Her dedication and love for horses never wavered, even after retiring Stevie. As a youth, she earned seven World and six Reserve World Champion titles with the Palomino Horse Breeders Association while riding four different horses.
Mom Riding Horses – Juggling Lessons
Scheduling horse shows around college courses was one thing, but when Jessica and Ben decided to have children, the term “juggling” took on new meaning.
Ben, who used to joke about Jessica’s “fancy show horses,” grew up raising cattle and riding the ranch horses. In an effort to combine their enjoyment of competition and horses, Jessica purchased a horse to compete in cowboy mounted shooting. Her determination and goal-setting led to success in that arena, but a busy work life never allowed Ben to truly commit to saddle time.
Then their son, Kai, was born in 2016.
“I really enjoyed mounted shooting, but there was a horsemanship aspect I found myself missing from the pleasure horse days,” says Jessica. Up late with a new baby, she found herself horse-shopping online.
“I stopped riding when I was pregnant with Kai, and missed it so much. I’d dabbled in the Stock Horse of Texas [versatility] events in the past and enjoyed it. I wanted to find a prospect to bring along as a side project and compete there.”
Three months after Kai was born, Jessica arranged to view Boonfull of Caesar (“Gus”).
“I drove five hours to try the horse, and had to schedule my trip to stop and pump [breast milk],” Jessica says with a laugh. “I think I speak for all moms involved in agriculture when I say we learn how to improvise and make things work.”
Jessica left the trial ride owning Gus, a short, dapple-gray gelding that had only been in the cutting arena. With her show experience and horsemanship know-how, Jessica crafted him into an all-around prospect, competing in ranch trail, ranch riding, ranch reining and working cow horse classes. She was off to a solid start showing again.
Mom Riding Horses – Golden Focus
For over a year, Jessica worked with Gus. The duo competed in both SHTX and AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse events. In 2017, they captured the Reserve World Champion title for the Limited Amateur All-Around. Just weeks later, Jessica learned she was pregnant with baby number two.
“My horse was on vacation the entire summer and winter,” Jessica says. “Bailey was born the day after Christmas. I started getting my horse legged up again in January, and my first show back was in March 2018 when Bailey was 2-and-a-half months old and Kai was 2 years old. It was a challenge.”
In order to be a mother to her children and a competitor, Jessica brought her parents along to shows. This helped being a mom riding horses. She woke at 4 a.m., fed Bailey and then fed her horse. She tried her best not to inconvenience anyone else with getting up before dawn. It was a marathon to get through a horse show, but Jessica did it.
The hardcore competitor in her took a backseat to the realistic mother.
“It has been a huge learning curve for me to calm down and accept that it’s OK to be a little late when I haul in for a lesson, or to cancel a show because my child is sick,” she says. “My kids come first. I find myself shrugging off mistakes that happen at a show or a bad run because I think to myself, ‘At least you’re actually showing!’”
At home, Jessica makes sacrifices in order to prepare for shows. Sleep is the main one. She schedules riding around when her children wake up or who can help watch them while she rides.
Jessica and Gus were on target for the World Show in June of 2018 thanks to a strict schedule.
Everything was in place until two weeks prior to the departure date, when Gus wasn’t quite himself. After a week under the watchful eye of the vet, Gus was cleared to show. Jessica wasn’t sure that after a week off they would be ready to go. Plus, her family had made other plans when it looked like the show was cancelled for them.
“At the last minute, I was able to have Ben drive the kids to stay with his mom,” Jessica says. “A friend helped haul Gus to the show and I rode along, able to pump and save milk for Bailey on the eight-hour drive.
“It was a crazy decision, considering Gus had been off. The ‘old me’ before kids wouldn’t have gone to the show, but I decided to wing it, mom style. Who knew when I would have this opportunity again? It worked!”
Jessica returned home with the AQHA Limited Amateur All-Around World Champion trophy. Back at home, the celebration didn’t last long. After the drive home on Sunday, Jessica turned around to make the six-hour drive to pick up the kids. It was just another day in “mom life.”
However, the sacrifices she makes are worth it to show her kids that setting and meeting goals are important. Jessica hopes to one day to share her horse life with Kai and Bailey. Kai already loves when he gets to ride Gus.
“I really hope bringing my kids up around showing horses will help them become goal-oriented,” she says. “I want them to learn about earning what they want, and I want them to learn that sometimes things don’t go your way, even when you do your best. That’s just life, and I feel that showing horses teaches that on a much greater scale.
“I’ll do everything I can as a parent to provide them with horse opportunities, even if it means giving one of them my good horses. I’m sure that’s in my future! But I’ll do it with a smile because I know that showing horses is well worth it.”
Read Jessica’s 4 Tips for Balancing Horses and Parenthood >>
This article about mothers riding horses originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!