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Hobby beginnings

Bethel Springs championship horse trainer Josh Young finds success after transforming his father Ricky’s treasured pastime into a flourishing equine
Story and photos by Sarah Geyer 10/1/2018


Josh Young Quarter Horses is a family-owned, nationally recognized championship horse training business in McNairy County. Father Ricky Young began horse training as a hobby and later his son, Josh, also an accomplished trainer, took over the reins of the company several years ago. In the facility’s small outdoor training ring, Josh, above, prepares his horse, 3-year-old Geez Louise, for next year’s show circuit.
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Since his retirement two years ago, Ricky Young is finally able to devote more than just his spare time to horse training.

The McNairy County native happily spends his days helping out at Josh Young Quarter Horses, his son’s training facility. What started as a hobby for Ricky more than 40 years ago has become a thriving, award-winning equine operation.

The Young family’s horse training story began in 1977 when 20-something Ricky, newly married with a promising career at General Electric, purchased his first registered horse. Fueled by fond childhood memories of competing with his pony in the Saturday night horse shows, he was eager to return to the show ring.

Over the next few years, Ricky proved himself a tough competitor among the horse show circuit, but it was his natural ability when working with horses that caught the attention of his fellow equine enthusiasts.

“I didn’t have anybody teach me about training a show horse,” he says. “I just mostly figured it out on my own and got some tips from other horse guys at the shows. When other competitors started asking me to train their horses, I decided to turn my hobby into a part-time business. For the next 20-plus years, I had three or four horses in training all the time.”

In 1979, Ricky’s wife Sandy gave birth to Josh, who quickly became his father’s training sidekick. The youngster competed in the Saturday night show circuit with his father. By the time he had reached the youth division, Josh had gained regional notoriety for his showmanship and training skills. At 18, the horseman received his first national accolade with a third-place finish in the 2000 Palomino World Show.

After high school, Josh enrolled at the Jackson State Community College, attending classes during the week and returning home on the weekends to help train horses. After two years of college, he delivered some unwelcome news to his father.

“He told me he wanted to quit school and pursue horse training full time,” says Ricky. “It wasn’t that I had an opposition to him training horses, but I really wanted him to graduate from college first.”

Josh felt that staying in school was wasting his time and his dad’s money.

“I would be in class and thinking about getting [to the farm] and what I was going to do,” says Josh, adding his father responded to the decision with a stern reality check. “He told me, ‘You don’t have enough horses to make a living, so I suggest you get a job.’”

Josh spent 2003 helping grow his father’s business and working as a bricklayer’s helper. The following year, he just trained horses, working the first half of the day on Ricky Hall’s farm in Mississippi and afternoons in Bethel Springs. Within a few years, Josh had developed enough of a clientele to devote full-time to the family business.

Once his training venture was established, Josh was ready for more experience. First he worked for a short time on Hatchett Farms in Moscow, Tenn., and then in Roberta, Ga., with renowned horse trainer Carl Yamber.

“I stayed [in Georgia] for a year just to further my craft, to learn and to get better,” says Josh. “I got to work with a lot of exceptional horses and learned that the better horses you are exposed to, the better you get as a trainer.”

When Josh returned from his educational sabbatical, Ricky was ready to turn over the head trainer duties to his talented son. In the next few years, Josh would experience his first successes with older horses.

“Although I train mostly young horses now, I would take anything when I first started,” explains Josh.

“Folks would bring me their problem horses that wouldn’t show, and I was able to work some of them into good [show animals].”

In 2006, Ricky and Sandy handed over the business’s reins to Josh and his wife, Debora, selling the young couple the family home, horse barn and 10 acres of land. Ricky and Sandy relocated to family farmland just down the road.

“It was during the time that things really began to come together for us,” says Josh.

But he never dreamed that matching one of his older problem horses with the wife of a lifelong friend would lead to one of the young trainers most cherished accolades.

When childhood riding buddy Dirk Hunt, who was then working at Mid-South Farmers Cooperative, contacted Josh about buying a show horse for his wife Bridget, the trainer quickly suggested June, an older horse he had been training. Both June and Bridget were ideal students, says Josh, and the pair began racking up wins at regional horse shows.

After a year on the amateur show circuit, Josh believed the 16-year-old mare had the chops to win big on the pro level, too. The talented trainer’s instincts were correct. In 2009, seven years after quitting college to pursue his dream career, Josh Young and June received the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) High Point Green Western Pleasure national award.

As the business began to grow, so did the need for a larger barn and outdoor training area.

What began as two stalls and a feeding ring in the early 1980s has, over time, been transformed into a showcase training center, including an outdoor working area that features a 24,000-square-foot riding arena and a small practice ring. The barn is now equipped with 15 stalls, a tack room, a wash stall, and an attached 10,000-square-foot indoor riding arena.

The Youngs are loyal customers to the Selmer location of Stockdale’s, a retail subsidiary owned by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, and to Co-op’s Pinnacle Horse Feed. They work closely with Selmer manager Dani Morrison, who is Dirk’s sister and also Josh’s longtime friend.

“We trust Dani and her expertise, especially with equine,” says Josh. The trainer’s feed bins are stocked only with a custom Pinnacle blend (#93526), Pinnacle Mare and Foal (#331), and Pinnacle horse mineral (#96633).

The Youngs typically train 12 to 15 horses at a time and have hauled horses to competitions as many as 50 weekends a year. They predominantly show horses through AQHA, but also participate in Palomino and Paint competitions, too.

Josh and Ricky show horses in open events, while their clients usually show in the novice and amateur events. Several clients have won world and reserve world titles.

The trainers have also seen success as competitors in the pro events. Ricky received the High Point Junior Western Pleasure award in 2011, and Josh won the Senior Western Pleasure world championship in 2016.

They have their eyes on the top prize this year, too.

“Josh has a Palomino that we are campaigning to win High Point. ” says Ricky. “The horse is leading the nation in both Senior Pleasure and Novice Pleasure categories. We own both the sire and the dam. Another [that we train and board] by the same sire won the world championship last year.”

Both Josh and Ricky give much of the credit for the training business success to the women in their lives: Sandy, who doesn’t ride horses but travels to nearly every show, and Debora, who supports the family business as an accomplished amateur rider.

“We breed some horses of our own, fit them, get them ready, and Debora shows them to put a record on them,” explains Josh. “Once the horse has some titles, we have customers who want to buy them. It’s become a good part of our business.”

Both couples are quick to point out that there’s one other person who is responsible for the family’s success: Ricky’s mother, Carolyn.

“She is the driving force behind all of this,” says her son. “She’s not a horse person, but she’s been supportive of everything we’ve done, and that means everything to us.”

The 79-year-old matriarch lives and works on her 150-acre farm, part of the property once farmed by her father. Spanning 1,100 acres, the original farm has been divided over the years, but most of it remains in the family.

Carolyn’s portion of the family farm also includes three houses. She lives in one, while Ricky and Sandy reside in another. The acreage supports the breeding part of Josh’s business, with lots of pasture for his mares and foals. The farmland is also home to the family’s newest venture – raising cattle.

Two years ago, Ricky took a leap out of his equine comfort zone and started a small cow/calf operation. This business is also a family affair, with Sandy, Josh, and Debora helping care for the growing herd.

“We’ve been fortunate,” says Ricky. “We’ve been able to raise some high-quality heifers that people bought to restock their herd. We fenced off 50 acres of the family farm for pasture two years ago. Our herd has grown to 30 mamas, so the plan is to fence another 25 acres.”

The horse training business has also outgrown its location. Much to his grandmother’s delight, Josh and Debora plan to sell both the house and barn. They’ll relocate the entire business to the family farm and settle into the property’s third home. With 15 times the acreage, Josh Young Quarter Horses will have space to flourish and grow.

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