Cash Hollowell, right, shows off her new horse, Frankie, alongside Indiana Quarter Horse Association queen Taylor Foster on Monday at the Indiana State Fair. Hollowell, a Ridgeville resident and East Jay Middle School sixth grader, earned the horse by winning the IQHA 4-H Horse Award. (Photo provided)
Cash Hollowell, right, shows off her new horse, Frankie, alongside Indiana Quarter Horse Association queen Taylor Foster on Monday at the Indiana State Fair. Hollowell, a Ridgeville resident and East Jay Middle School sixth grader, earned the horse by winning the IQHA 4-H Horse Award. (Photo provided)
Since showing the grand champion halter at the 2015 Jay County Fair, Cash Hollowell had not had the best luck with horses.

The grand champion, JJ, had to be retired because of arthritis. Her next horse, Cowboy, was healthy enough, but not particularly safe for a child to ride.

And less than a year after Cash saved up and bought the first true horse of her own, Emma, the horse died following a stroke after struggling with problems in her left hind leg.

This week, however, Cash’s luck changed.

The 11-year-old Ridgeville resident and East Jay Middle School sixth grader earned a horse Monday when she won the 2017 Indiana Quarter Horse Association 4-H Horse Award.

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Cash entered the contest on the advice of her mom, Amy, who won a pony in 1980 in a similar competition through Pony of the Americas.

“I wanted the horse because I haven’t had a really nice, safe riding horse,” said Cash, noting that JJ came from her dad Gabe’s barn and Cowboy had been retired to her grandma’s farm for a decade before she worked with him the last two years. “So this one, I can kind of mold.”

She had saved up to buy her own horse — she expected it would be hers through the rest of her 4-H career and beyond — by auctioning her pigs at the fair, breaking ponies and selling them and holding on to birthday money. But less than a month after Gabe’s friends helped the family find Emma in Missouri, there was a problem with her lope. It was diagnosed as a torn stifle — similar to a knee ligament — in her left hind leg.

The veterinarian tried a variety of medications but none worked, and during the week before the Jay County Fair in July, Emma stopped eating and started losing weight. Cash was forced to bring Cowboy out of retirement for the fair for a second year in a row.

“(Cash) wasn’t a very happy camper,” said Amy. “She was pretty angry with us because she really wanted to show this horse. She just loved her so much.”

That week, Emma suffered the stroke and died.

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The competition for the IQHA award is open to students in third through 11th grade who are involved in 4-H horse and pony projects.

Step one of the competition was in May, when Cash had to fill out an application that included some basic information in addition to 10 questions to be answered in 100 words or fewer. That list included: “What are your future plans with this horse if you were to win?”

“My future plans for this horse are definitely to show it in 4-H and quarter horse shows … I would love to be able to one day, when it’s ready, to show at Ohio Quarter Horse Congress and even the world show,” responded Cash, who in addition to her 4-H horse and pony events has also showed swine and cats and is involved in photography projects. “But along with all work comes some play, riding with my cousins, enjoying every day with my horse/best friend would be top on my list.”

On the strength of her answers, she was chosen as one of 10 finalists.

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Cash and her parents traveled Monday morning to the state fair, where she and the other finalists were each interviewed by a panel that included one of the IQHA national directors, the organization’s junior president, a breeder and a horse trainer. They asked her questions about caring for horses and again about her future plans.

A luncheon, which included previous winners of the IQHA award, followed, and then the finalists were brought to the Indiana State Fair Horse and Pony Show for the winner to be announced.

Cash expected the older competitors to be the favorites, an idea that seemed to be confirmed when the eldest involved was named the runner-up. So she was more than a little bit surprised when her name was then called as the winner.

“My face was, like, open down to my toes,” Cash said.

She’s the youngest to ever win the IQHA contest, a distinction she’ll get to hold on to. Because of a lack of enough participation on both the part of breeders and contestants, this year’s competition — the 50th — was also the last.

Cash will also get to join Indiana Quarter Horse Queen Taylor Foster at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio, in October, and the IQHA?Convention in January.

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Though her new horse, a yearling named Frankie who came from Whitney Farms in Monrovia, has only been in the barn in Ridgeville for a few days, the bonding has already begun.

Cash has spent time with Frankie in the barn, walked her and even got her to bow. She used chalk to write her new horse’s name on the stall.

On Tuesday night, she put colorful bows in Frankie’s mane.

“She’s going to be kind of spoiled, I think,” Amy said.

Cash, who is looking forward to being able to ride Frankie with her cousins and friends, was quick to respond.

“She’s already got bows in her hair,” she said. “You know that.”