Julia’s Big Ride

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Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

Ten-year-old Julia Perkins, who is a cancer survivor and former patent at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, got a big surprise on November 17, 2020.  She and her mother Valerie Perkins were picked up in a stretched limousine and transported to Shady Creek Ranch near Arlington, Tennessee, where Julia got to ride a Paso Fino. This celebration for Julia, dubbed “Julia’s Day,” was hosted by Norman and Debbie Timbs, owners of Shady Creek Ranch.

Julia’s Day was the brainchild of sisters Sydney and Lucy Harris, who had met Julia a few years ago at the Gardiner Farms annual Saddle Up for St. Jude Trail Ride in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The girls had hauled their horses down for the fund raiser that year, and Julia was the honorary St. Jude patent. Lucy had fun that weekend leading Julia around on Sydney’s Palomino named Pepper.  It did not take long for Julia to become fascinated with horses. They had all kept in touch, but Julia had had little opportunity to get to ride since.

The sisters incorporated the help of their dad, Tim Harris, who arranged many of the day’s activities.  The limo service was provided by friends of the Harris family, David Matlock and Sandy Abrams, who are agents with Farm Bureau Insurance.  Tim made sure that there were ample refreshments for everyone, while the Timbs hosted Julia’s big ride in the Shady Creek Ranch indoor arena, which is complete with a Paso Fino sounding board. Also attending were author John T. Wayne, and music and event promoter Charley Burch. Neil Kessler, the trainer at Shady Creek Ranch, volunteered to coach Julia in how to ride a Paso Fino, and the actual ride was provided by Zeus, a 26-year-old Paso Fino stallion.

Julia began her ride with Neal leading her on Zeus around the inside of the arena. It was pretty apparent that she was relaxed and attentive. Neal showed her the correct position to sit in the saddle and how to put her weight in her heals, as well as how to keep a light hand on the reins.

Debbie described Zeus as a very versatile horse. She said that he knows when he has a child on his back and acts accordingly. She noted that he will pick up his pace when an experienced rider, such as Norman, rides him, and he has won many classes at the horse shows. He also is the sire of most of the horses at Shady Creek.

With Neal’s tutelage Julia moved from lead line around the arena and over the sounding board to riding Zeus independently.  Neal, at first, walked beside Zeus with the horse tethered, and then un-tethered. After a short time, Neal gradually backed away from the horse, directing Julia where to ride in the arena. He eventually gave her instructions while standing in the center of the ring. When Neal would explain riding techniques, such as releasing pressure on the reins to give Zeus his reward for slowing down or stopping, she picked up on those cues right away. By her second ride of the day she was riding around the arena, turning Zeus using her legs, and even going over the sounding board on her own, riding Classic Fino. Every horse rider watching agreed that Julia is a natural!

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