Ella McCullough is still shocked.
“My head is spinning,” the Stanwood 18-year-old said.
She was one of six local girls to bring home multiple top-10 finishes at the prestigious annual Youth World Championship Paint Horse Show in late June in Texas.
“What is unique about it is that we’re all from different trainers, but we’re the same community at these events,” McCullough said of the camaraderie of the local group.
The girls competed in a series of events to show a variety of skills, talents and maneuvers in harmony with the horse.
They ride American Paint Horses, or Paints, which is a breed that combines both the conformational characteristics of a western stock horse with a pinto spotting pattern of white and dark coat colors.
McCullough, who trains at Larson Performance Horses in Arlington, took home several top awards: World Champion in Novice Youth Western Pleasure 18 & Under; Reserve World Champion in Novice Youth Western Horsemanship 18 & Under; Reserve World Champion, Novice Youth Showmanship 18 & Under; third place in Novice Youth Hunt Seat Equitation 18 & Under; and third place in Youth Performance Halter Mares.
“All the credit goes to my horse and my trainer,” said McCullough, who participated last year but didn’t bring home much hardware. “To go from nothing to placing top three at the World Show, competing against the best-of-the-best, just, wow.”
She came in runner-up to friend Marley Halse of Mountlake Terrace, who also trains at Larson Performance Horses. Halse captured World Champion titles in Novice Youth Western Horsemanship and Ideal Paint (Western); Reserve World Champion in Disciplined Rail (Western); and five other top-six finishes.
“To be there side-by-side in the final out of all those people with the same friend from when you were 9 years old and share that moment? You can’t make it up,” said McCullough, who recently graduated Stanwood High School and will join the equestrian team at Texas A&M University.
Jocelyn Krieg, a first-time participant at the large event, also took home several top-10 honors.
“I was extremely nervous at the first event,” the 12-year-old Camano Island girl said. “You’re basically competing against people from all over the world. There were hundreds of people there.”
Krieg said she went into the event with the goal of gaining experience.
“Everybody says the World Show is a two-year plan,” said Krieg, who has only been working with her horse since February. “So it was fun that I still finished in the top 10.”
In the 13 & younger category, she took home fourth place in Novice Youth Western Horsemanship, sixth in Novice Youth Hunt Seat Equitation, sixth in Novice Youth Showmanship, seventh in Youth Western Horsemanship, eighth in Novice Youth Trail, 10th in Youth Trail and 10th in Novice Youth Western Pleasure.
She trains with Wilson Show Horses in Battle Ground every Saturday.
Lauren Helms of Conway, who trains with Talia Sparrow at Sparrow Show Horses in Stanwood, earned seven top-six finishes in her first trip to the event.
“I was nervous at first, but I was feeling ready,” the 14-year-old said. “We had practiced so much. When we started the first event, all the nerves started washing away.”
She won third in Novice Youth Western and Youth Hunt Seat Equitation; fourth in Novice Youth Showmanship; fifth in Novice Youth Hunt Seat Equitation, Youth Showmanship and Novice Youth Trail; and sixth in Youth Western Horsemanship.
“There’s something about horses that has always drawn me to them,” Helms said. “I’ve always loved riding horses, taking care of them. It doesn't feel like a chore because I love them so much. It was a great experience. Definitely aiming to go back next year.”
Two other local girls who train at Larson Performance Horses in Arlington — Hannah Dutton of Mount Vernon and Lauren Hall of Sammamish — brought home multiple top-10 finishes.