Millie Corder got her first horse in the fifth grade.
“My mama thought it was a phase I would grow out of,” the Gainesville woman said. “I fell out of it a little bit during college, but I was right back to it after I graduated.”
She now owns five horses, which she stables in a barn and on pastures on a plot of land off Poplar Springs Road in Gainesville.
But these are not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill horses. These equines are nationally recognized world champions in halter competitions.
Halter horses are led around a ring by a handler and judged on their coat, muscle mass, height, back straightness and other factors, according to the American Quarter Horse Association’s guidelines. Then they are given points based on the performance.
“It’s basically a beauty pageant,” Corder’s husband, Ron Corder, said last week.
While most of Millie’s horses are winners, only one is her pride and joy — Floyd. The difference is Floyd isn’t a halter horse, he’s a stud.
“Studs have (bad) reputations, but he’s the kindest and the sweetest horse,” the former Gainesville school teacher said. “He’s a rock star.”
Floyd was the No. 1 horse in the world in riding competitions for some time under the moniker “Make Me Shine.”
People still recognize him today. Millie explained when she and Ron took Floyd to shows, participants and spectators stopped to admire him. Once, Millie said a man came up to her and told her that Floyd was his favorite horse in the world.
“I didn’t even know this man,” she said, still finding it funny and smiling. “He was from Texas.”
Floyd, however, is her favorite horse for one reason. He reinvigorated her competitive spirit.
Millie was losing interest in competing after back and hip problems made riding painful. She underwent hip surgery in 2006, but still didn’t climb back onto a horse.
Nearly six years later, Ron came across Floyd, who had been retired from riding and was a breeding horse. Ron bought the aging stallion in January 2012 for Millie.
Millie was back in the saddle after Floyd arrived at her stables.
Millie and Floyd started competing in Western Pleasures categories. Those horses are evaluated on manners and suitability for a relaxed but collected gait cadence and relatively slow speed of gait, along with calm and responsive disposition.
In June 2012, Floyd won the Pinto World horse show in Tulsa, Okla., with Millie.
The award was just another ribbon to add to Floyd’s list of accomplishments. In 2002, he won the American Paint Horse Association World Champion Jr. Western Pleasure, Amateur Jr. Western Pleasure and the APHA World Show Champion Three-Year-Old Western Pleasure Challenge.
Reichert, which is one of the most prestigious events, gave him the Celebration Champion Open Color Breed Western Pleasure award.
But Floyd is not the only horse in Millie’s stable with a big presence.
A reddish-brown 4-year-old quarter horse ironically named Tiny looks bigger and more heavily muscled than Floyd. Of course, she is a halter horse.
Wilson explained a horse like Tiny is worked out up to three times a week to keep in shape.
All of the horses follow a strict dietary and exercise routine to achieve a specific look for competitions. They are fed alfalfa and oats at certain times every day. And the horses are exercised more thoroughly to build muscle mass in a healthy way.
Some people inject their horses with steroids, but Millie and her trainer and friend of 40 years, Pam Wilson, don’t believe in that.
“We do what is healthiest for them,” Wilson said. “We have a good, set program for them.”
The horses also earn breaks to allow their bodies a chance to rest and recuperate.
“It’s like bodybuilding,” Wilson said. “You can’t stay at your peak forever.”
Tiny’s bodybuilding regime earned her a high recognition this year. She was the only horse out of the Corders’ stables to qualify for the halter world championship. But Millie and Wilson decided not to compete.
“There weren’t many people going, and that’s a long way to go (in Oklahoma City) for just one horse,” Corder said.
Throughout the year, Millie and Wilson compete in several shows. They usually camp out in their part-RV part-horse trailer and have a lot of fun at the shows.
The farthest they have traveled is Oklahoma City, about a 14-hour drive. But once they arrive, they meet people from around the world.
The added bonus during the competitions is Wilson used to be a judge for the American Quarter Horse Association. Quarter horses can do anything, from cattle rounding to agility exercises, Wilson said.
This knowledge gives the pair an edge of knowing what exactly judges look for in horses. And they have the awards to prove it. Millie said nearly every time they complete, they take home ribbons.
“It’s been wonderful having Pam here,” Millie said.
But Millie’s biggest fan and supporter is her husband. She said he has encouraged her to stay in the game when she began to lose interest after years of competing.
“He loves it,” Millie said. “He’s a great help. I can’t say it enough.”