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Family Tradition - Riding & Ranching with Steve Meadows

Prospective purchasers typically look at pedigrees when selecting a horse in hopes of finding their next superstar. That same type of approach can also be beneficial when trying to choose a horse trainer. Steve Meadows of Meadows Quarter Horses, in Staunton, VA, is a fourth generation horseman. Not only does Meadows have a passion for horses running through his blood, he has years of knowledge that have been passed along to him from one generation to the next.

Steve walking a horse

“My great grandfather, grandfather and father were all horse traders,” says Meadows. “My great grandfather rode through the mountains of West Virginia buying and selling draft horses to farmers along the way.” As transportation methods changed, so did the way the Meadows’ men shipped and sold horses. “My grandfather would buy ranch horses out west and ship them back home via boxcar, while my dad put his purchases on semis to get them back to the east coast,” explains Meadows.

Literally born into the “family business,” Meadows got his first taste of being a professional horseman as a teenager. “I had always been involved and helped my dad with the horses, but I broke my first colt for money when I was 15,” remarks Meadows. “It was at that point I truly decided this is what I want to do for a career.”

It was also during his teenage years that Steve’s bride to be, Becky, first caught his eye. “On the last day of my junior year of high school I asked her out, she promptly said no,” remembers Meadows. Becky was immersed in the hunter world, while Steve was focused on the western disciplines. “She thought I was a redneck, which I was,” Meadows says with a laugh. Their lives intersected a few months later when they encountered each other at a horse show and Steve offered to carry Becky’s water buckets for her.

Although Meadows tried to stay strong, he couldn’t resist asking Becky out again. “Our first date was to a Friday night high school football game, fifteen minutes into the game we decided this wasn’t where we wanted to be,” says Meadows. The duo ended up spending the rest of the evening at the barn, while Becky braided her horse for a horse show the following day. “I joined her at the show the next day and we have been together ever since,” remarks Meadows.

Meadows began his professional endeavors working at a hunter farm breaking colts. As luck would have it one day a big time western pleasure trainer came to the farm to watch a hunter show and happened to witness Meadows schooling one of his Western Pleasure mounts. Not only did the gentleman want to buy the horse, he hired Meadows on the spot and the two worked together at various farms before Meadows returned to his home farm in 1990.

“My father called me and said he wasn’t doing well and wanted to hand the farm over to me,” notes Meadows. “I came back to Staunton and within three years I had my first World Champion come out of the home farm.” That first championship helped springboard Meadows’ career, allowing him to do and see things he never could have imagined if it wasn’t for the opportunities opened to him through participating in competitions and judging them.

Steve Meadows

Meadows, along with his wife Becky, landed a dream job in the Quarter Horse industry when they began managing the training and show careers of the horses at Hylton Quarter Horses in Nokeville, VA in 2005. Through his own personal business and the partnership with Hylton, Meadows had won pretty much every title there was to win in Western Pleasure during his 25 plus years in the industry. Meadows had made a commitment to the Hylton’s breeding program when a colt came along that wasn’t going to make it as a top level Western Pleasure horse. “It was about the time I was trying to figure out what to do with Doya Think Im Flashy, that Ranch Riding came about,” explains Meadows. “I had always been drawn to the cowboy aspect of riding and ranch riding looked like it would suit the horse we were trying to find a job for.” In fact, Ranch Riding more than suited Doya Think Im Flashy, he excelled at it becoming the High Point Junior Ranch horse in 2013.

From the first time Meadows showed in Ranch Riding in 2012 he was instantly hooked. Meadows isn’t alone in his love for ranch riding, it has quickly become the fastest growing discipline in the American Quarter Horse Association. “I was lucky to get into the discipline on the ground floor, before it became overwhelmingly popular. Today others are hustling to catchup to the skills I’ve developed,” notes Meadows.

So what is ranch riding? According to Meadows if you took reining, trail, western riding and western pleasure you would get ranch riding. It’s a pattern class judged on movement and how well a horse executes each aspect of the pattern. Like a dressage test, each rider gets a score on the movements throughout the pattern and in essence can “compete with themselves” trying to best their previous pattern score.

Meadows likes to buy high end reining horses from Texas to become his ranch riding mounts as they already know patterns. He says the ideal ranch riding horse is one that is willing to do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it. They must be quiet, move well and listen. “A good ranch riding horse is a good all-around horse,” remarks Meadows.

As the “go-to” ranch riding professional east of the Mississippi, Meadows knows how to pick and develop the next ranch riding champion. His most recent champions are Shiner Surprise owned by the DeBernard family and Classic Crome owned by Maggie Bellville. Classic Crome was the 2015 AQHA Overall High Point Ranch Riding Horse and Shiner Surprise was the Quarter Horse Congress Champion National Snaffle Bit Association Junior Ranch Riding Horse.

Experiencing success right off the bat, the phone rings nonstop with folks calling to see if Meadows is willing to take on new horses for training. He has seen a dramatic change in his business model over the past several years as well, in 2012 when he first got his feet wet in ranch riding it comprised 25% of his business. Fast forward to today and ranch riding is well over 90% of his training business. Although Meadows is passionate about riding and training horses he is also planning for a future that doesn’t involve riding 10-12 horses a day. “A few years ago Becky suggested I get my judge’s card,” shares Meadows. “Taking the test and getting my card was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but being a judge has made me a better horseman in many ways.” Meadows believes having well-rounded horsemen, who are currently actively involved in the training and showing of horse, as judges is good for the sport.

Meadows has a full dance card with his roles in the horse industry. Not only is he a trainer, competitor and judge at AQHA competitions, he has served on the Professional Horseman Committee and Professional Horseman Council for the AQHA. Currently Meadows is in his third and final year of being Chairman of the Council. Through his work with AQHA he's excited about the future of sport. "The AQHA has seen a number of personnel changes in recent years, the influx of new people has brought with it new ideas to help the AQHA better itself," explains Meadows.

Back on home front, Meadows is trying to better his daughter Noel's way of life. After 10 years of working for Cecelia Hylton, Steve and Becky decided to move back to Staunton so Noel could grow up with the same country lifestyle they experienced as childhood sweethearts.

For Meadows it's all about family. "With this career path it's almost mandatory that your entire family is involved. This is more than a job, it's a lifestyle," states Meadows. "Luckily for us, Noel can't get enough of the ponies and horses; she's tried other activities but has always gravitated back to the farm." Together Becky and Noel travel to compete in the hunter divisions at AQHA and Southwest Virginia Hunter Jumper Association shows, where they have both brought home numerous championships.

Meadows' even relies on knowledge passed on from his grandfather when it comes to feeding his horses. The horses at Meadows Quarter Horses eat Triple Crown® Senior and Triple Crown Complete purchased from Rockingham Co-op. Meadows likes how Triple Crown Senior is a high fat, low energy feed. "The way we feed today goes back to what my grandfather said, 'The prettiest color on a horse is fat and slick.' This theory has worked well for us," explains Meadows. "Even though we have 'western horses' they are as pretty as can be and turned out like a show hunter." It's great to see the family traditions started four generations ago in the hills of West Virginia continue today as Steve raises the next generation in the Shenandoah Valley.

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