Sunny Balshaw looks at Quazar sometimes and wishes he could talk.
If her miniature horse could speak his mind, Sunny suspects the first thing out of his mouth would be a request for food.
“But after that, I think he’d say that he loves me,” the 17 year old says. “He’ll be 11 years old this year, so we have grown up together and there’s a lot of love between us.”
Of course, Quazar can’t talk because a talking horse would be absurd, (sorry Mr. Ed) but that doesn’t mean he can’t communicate. An inseperable pair since Sunny was a wee little girl, the two share a bond that few can understand.
Competing together at miniature horse shows across North America, Sunny and Quazar move as one, with such precision that they’ve become a nearly unstoppable force.
Sunny’s won an insane number of trophies and belt buckles. Her room overflows with hardware she has collected, success that in 2016 earned her the Alvadars Future of the Industry award.
Twice she’s won the Northwest Miniature Horse Club’s prestigious Twiggy award, presented to the youth /horse team that accumulates the most points in driving class competition.
She is the first Canadian to win that award once, let alone twice, and she’s the first person in her age category to do it. She was the 2016 Horse Council of B.C. Junior Athlete of the Year and won 17 titles at one event alone when she and Quazar dominated a regional competition in July.
The list stretches on endlessly.
“I think the Twiggy awards stand out, because being the first person to accomplish anything is really cool,” Sunny says. “If you work hard for something, you get rewarded in so many ways and winning that award was really special.”
Quazar and his miniature horse friends stand 34 inches or less in height.
Sunny says they have more spunk and attitude than the large versions.
“Each one of them has a different personality and that’s what I like about them,” she explains. “Quazar is so smart but he has a lot of attitude and he can be a bit of a jerk in class sometimes because he gets bored easily.
“A lot of horses are quite easy to work with, where he took about four or five years before he became pretty good.
“It took a lot of time, treats and love to make that connection, but when you put your 100 per cent in eventually they put their 100 per cent in.
“Quazar is my forever horse.”
In ‘hunter’ competition, Sunny leads him over jumps and in ‘halter obstacle,’ she leads him through a series of movements/obstacles.
“Sometimes you have to walk over water, which the horses do not like,” she says. “There’s a teeter-totter they have to go over and not a lot of horses like that because there’s a fall.
“There’s serpentines where you have to trot through pylons or trees.
“There are pivot holes where the horse plants one foot and walks in a circle. There are back-ups and side passes where the horse has to cross over each foot.”
A particularly challenging part is the ground tie, where Quazar is expected to stay in a circle or on a platform as Sunny lets go of the halter and walks around him with a bucket of grain, or walks to a cone and puts on a jacket.
“At nationals in Oklahoma they have a platform surrounded by bails of hay and you have to pick up that bucket of grain, shake it and walk around the horse,” Sunny says. “It’s a real easy way to eliminate horses because as soon as they hop off the platform you’re tweeted out, but Quazar is pretty good at it.
“We constantly practice that one.”
In driving, Sunny hooks Quazar to a cart and navigates him through similar-but-not-the-same obstacles (no teeter-totters), competing in three speed classes.
Finally there is Showmanship, which is Sunny’s favourite.
“It’s how you and your horse are presented,” she explains. “You go through a pattern and you’re judged on how precise you can be.
“I like how pretty the picture has to be and it takes a lot of work. You can’t be sloppy and it is the one class I absolutely have to win all the time.”
Sunny is extremely good at what she does, but none of this would have happened if someone special hadn’t introduced Sunny to the world of minature horses when she was a toddler.
Heather Ward, aka Gram, and Sunny shared a bond beyond description.
Grandmother taught granddaughter everything she knew about training horses. They have spent hundreds, no thousands of hours side by side, traveling to shows on both sides of the border.
Early morning and late night conversations.
Moments of triumph.
Moments of heartache.
There has been no more important person in Sunny’s life.
“From the moment I was born she was taking me to farms and zoos and I was going on pony rides and stuff,” Sunny says with a smile. “Her dad owned race horses so she always lived with horses and loved horses.
Heather found the perfect spot to pursue her passion when she bought a farm in quiet country past Lindell Beach.
With the farm came seven miniature horses.
“We started with local shows and fairs and just worked our way up,” Sunny says. “She was the one who started it all, let me have this dream and created so many opportunities for me through the people she’s met.
“She was a tough old broad who always told me to buck up when I was feeling down and keep moving towards my dreams
“She always told me to let absolutely nothing stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Sunny is competing this month at Worlds in Texas, fulfilling one of Heather’s dreams. This is all the more important because Gramm won’t be there to see it.
Heather passed away Aug. 17 with Sunny at her side. She won’t be there in person, but Sunny feels her spirit.
“She would literally kill me if I didn’t go,” Sunny said with a laugh and watery eyes. “I will compete and she’ll be watching me.”
Another of Heather’s hopes was to turn Sunnyvale (their farm) into a major horse-training facility, and Sunny is determined to make that happen.
Already she is passing on what she knows to a younger generation, as Gram did with her.
“I want help people strive for the things that they want, to help them create a dream and a legacy with their horse,” Sunny says. “Gram always wanted Sunnyvale to become a big training facility, and even though she won’t be here to watch it happen, I’m going to continue on with the dream she had for us and for me.”
See amha.org/shows/world-championship for World Championship info.