You´ve heard of superheroes - but have you ever heard of Superhorses?

Superheroes are found in comic books, but the Superhorse is a genuine title that is earned in the show ring. Superhorse is the name of an ward presented annually by the American Quarter Horse Association to the top overall point winner in the annual world Quarter Horse competition. It´s like an equine version of a gold medal in the decathlon. This Superhorse is found in rural Kansas and it´s the subject of today´s Kansas Profile.

Garth and Amanda Gardiner are from Ashland, Kansas. The Gardiners own the animal which was named the AQHA World Champion Superhorse in 2007.

Garth and Amanda grew up around horses. Garth came from the Gardiner Ranch, which started when his grandfather homesteaded 160 acres more than a century ago. The ranch expanded through the years. Today it is operated by Garth´s parents Henry and Nan Gardiner plus Garth and his brothers Greg and Mark and their wives.

Garth went to Nashville for five years to try his hand at a country music career. I suspect he became a little homesick, but in any event, he made some friends who were in the horse business. His wife Amanda, who is from Colby, had rodeoed and roped, so they began doing this together. After returning to the ranch in Kansas, Garth and Amanda continued and expanded his quarter horse operation.

Today, Gardiner Quarter Horses is a premier equine breeder. Specifically, the Gardiners raise and market world-class horses for cowhorse and roping events. They carefully select mares and breed them to top stallions. Using embryo transfer, they can expand their herd more quickly.

Meanwhile, they have those horses trained to compete at a top level in the cowhorse and roping competitions.

The horses are shown in competitive ranch-type events such as heading, heeling, working cowhorse, and performance halter. In each of these events, the horse is a vital partner to the cowboy in performing a task successfully, such as catching and roping a calf.

Garth says, "We´ve tried to establish a solid show record. Then we take yearling colts to sales all over the country."

The American Quarter Horse Association sponsors a World Show each year with competitive events. It´s a kind of equine Olympics. Winners are named in each category, and the horse who achieves the highest point total overall is named Superhorse.

In 2007, the Gardiners brought to the competition a horse named Shiners Diamond Jill. She was trained and shown by Brad Lund from LaCygne, Kansas. This horse won high point honors in senior heading and heeling. When the point totals were calculated at the AQHA World Show, Shiners Diamond Jill from Ashland, Kansas was named Superhorse.

In 2008, another Gardiner-owned horse named Sue B Shiner was reserve world champion in the heading competition of the AQHA team roping. In February 2009, she was shown by Amanda in the novice, non-pro bridle class of the National Reined Cow Horse Association and was named reserve world champion.

These horses are beautiful, but this isn´t about appearance. These are horses that can be utilized.

"The versatility of the Quarter Horse is terrific," Garth says. "They can cut, jump, drive, or pull. They have cow sense, athleticism, and beauty. That´s why they´re such an outstanding breed of equine."

The Gardiners have sold their high quality colts to customers all over the west, from Iowa to California. Meanwhile, the Gardiners remain based in rural Kansas, on their ranch near the town of Ashland, population 962 people. Now, that´s rural.

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You´ve heard of superheroes, now you know about superhorses. We salute Garth and Amanda Gardiner and all the Gardiner family for making a difference with their equine enterprise. Their achievements have brought international recognition to rural Kansas. Their success is not some superhero fantasy. It is reality. In other words, this is no comic book tale - but I guess it is a horse tale.

And there´s more. Remember the trainers of this Superhorse? They offer another innovative service which helps horses stay afloat - and I mean that literally. We´ll learn about that in next week´s Kansas Profile.

Source: Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.