His Gunalena Chex Among
Top Reining Competitors
Donny Young knows horses. You can tell that by looking at him. He has trained horses for more than 35 years and he’s more excited now than he’s ever been.
Young and his horse, Gunalena Chex, are turning heads in the horse world. Gunalena Chex, age 8, is ranked among the top horses in the National Reining Horse Association.
Until a recent back injury, Young, 52, had been showing Gunalena Chex in reining competitions around the country. Now friend Rob Huddleston has taken the reins on what is shaping up to be a championship year.
"We’re going to try to win the intermediate open," said Young. "My horse is good enough for the open, but I’m not qualified."
Young said the competition is as much between the riders as it is the horses. Some of the riders are professionals and have been showing horses for years. Compared to them, Young is a recent convert to the sport.
"I’ve been doing reining about seven years," said Young. "I love it."
Huddleston now has the horse at his home in Mississippi and is continuing its training.
Young explained the wet weather in North Alabama forced him to move the horse to drier facilities.
Reining is starting to catch on the Southeast. Like many horse-related sports, it is just now getting attention from Southerners.
Events are popping up all over the South, along with new local associations to help the sport grow and develop.
Young said it takes a special kind of horse to compete in the reining events.
"The disposition on these type horses is so great," said Young. "They are just not aggressive. They love people. They are easy to train. They are the easiest to train I’ve ever been around and I’ve been training since I was 15."
Young has put many hours into studying horse breeds and personalities. What he learned was not all pedigrees are created equal.
"I looked for years to find a stallion. I wanted to find a certain breed of horse," said Young. "But when I found that horse, he didn’t have what I was looking for.
"The gentle eye is very important. You look for the one that wants to be your buddy, wants to do what you ask him to do."
Young said there are three things you must be to compete in reining events: a horseman, a trainer and a showman.
He’s got the first two down pat and is working on the third. Showmanship is where a lot of competitors win or lose events. A few points in an event can mean the difference between winning and barely placing.
Reining events consist of several maneuvers, like spins, fast and slow circles, lead changes and sliding stops.
Young said loose reins are key. Much of the work is done with hardly noticeable leg motions.
"These horses are very athletic—the work is hard on their legs," said Young. "But you can tell they love it."
Showing is not an easy life. Competitors have to sacrifice their off-time from their jobs to participate. Young spends many hours on the road just to get to events.
"I try to stay within eight or nine hours of home when traveling to shows," said Young. "I leave on Friday and drive to a show, then show on Saturday and Sunday, and drive back late on Sunday so I can be at work on Monday."
Young, who is a native of Central Heights in Lauderdale County, travels to about 24 shows each year.
Besides life on the competition circuit and a regular job in the construction industry, Young spends all of his spare time with horses. He and wife Mary both love horses.
"We train and sell horses," said Young. "I like to train my horses. I know they’ve got a good foundation and a good start. I do train other people’s horses, too."
Young said it takes 18 to 24 months to get a horse trained to show.
At the heart of his love for horses is Young’s desire to teach. Even though training horses is his focus, Young is always willing to give advice to young or new riders. He occasionally has an apprentice work with him to learn training techniques.
The Youngs’ farm also offers breeding services.
Young said without Mary’s help he couldn’t show horses. She usually stays behind to feed the animals and take care of the place.
In return, he supports her in her career as a bluegrass and gospel recording artist. The Youngs have been married for almost 10 years.
Gunalena Chex’s first offspring has started competing and is doing well.
Young has a new foal that will be ready for competition in about three years. The foal has "the desire," said Young.