The Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America (WPCSA) recently hosted their national championship, the American National Show, in Tulsa, Okla., where Welsh Pony and Cob enthusiasts competed for top honors. This community is a tightknit group with deep connections to one another beyond their common bond of the Welsh breed.
The WPCSA presented the first Courage Award presented by Angel Heart Farm at the 2019 American National in honor of Sophie Dadej, a young competitor who lost her battle with cancer in August. Nine-year-old Gaige Queen (Broken Arrow, Okla.), a close friend of “Super Sophie,” was selected as the first recipient of this special award.
“The WPCSA and Angel Heart Farm created the Courage Award in Sophie's memory. We honor Gaige Queen for his bravery, his grace, his faith, and his courage during his cancer battle,” said Tracy Kujawa, founder of Angel Heart Farm. “The thing about little cancer warriors is they have so much empathy and love for each other. Gaige and Sophie understood each other's fears and their hopes and dreams.”
Queen is in remission after a three-year battle with cancer and has big plans for what’s next. Queen made his return to the show ring, riding in the Gold Star charity class with dozens of other exhibitors before the award presentation. “It felt good because I haven’t ridden in three years and I got to do this,” said Queen. “I didn’t really like the big audience but [the pony] Elvis was really cool.”
Queen first met Dadej three years ago at the American National when he was just three months in to treatment. They became fast friends, bonding over more than just cancer, but their love of ponies.
While Queen loves all animals, he said that he has a natural instinct to want to be around the horses and enjoys every part of the experience of riding. Queen’s mom, Coye Ann, believes that his love of horses helped him get through treatment and is thrilled to continue to support his passion for animals and the feeling of empowerment riding gives her son. “I wasn’t ever a huge believer in animals being able to make a difference in that way; I wasn’t ever really an animal person,” she admitted. “But when he saw Rocky for the first time, he became a kid again. They had a natural bond to each other, and [Gaige] was super, super sick at the time, but seeing Rocky, he became a kid again.”
Three years ago, Queen’s first interaction with Angel Heart Farm’s Clovercroft Rocky Too, Kujawa’s 28-year-old Welsh pony, was full of brushing and riding. “He just looked like such a natural,” said Coye Ann, “We came back to the [Tulsa State Fair] every day for three days straight after that. And when we left, [Gaige] was in tears, sobbing, because he didn’t want to leave Rocky. They made such a strong bond in such a short amount of time.”
Angel Heart Farm specializes in equine-assisted therapy for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, bring horses and children together for healing. Dadej was a student with Kujawa at Angel Heart Farm and made an impression on her, as well as the broader Welsh breed community.
Kujawa said of Sophie, “Over the past two years, Sophie relapsed twice with a rare cancer. Sophie was a true warrior, she was loved and prayed for by thousands that followed her Super Sophie Facebook page. Sophie’s bond with our pony, Katarina, was instant. They were perfect for each other, and Sophie said “Kat” gave her hope and unconditional love. It was an honor to teach Sophie the art of ponymanship, but she taught us how to live. We miss her more than words can express.”
Queen had his eyes on a few ponies at the show, wanting to take them home with him. But no pony compares to Rocky. The Queens have planned a trip to Tennessee to visit this special pony. “It’s been three years since he’s seen Rocky,” said Coye Ann. Queen is most excited about seeing Rocky because he was there for him when he needed him most. Queen will also be preparing to compete with Rocky in a horse show.
But before all of that, the family was able to enjoy the rides and fun of the Tulsa State Fair, running concurrently with the WPCSA American National Show. Queen laughed and said, “My dad makes me ride the scary rides; he says I need to live a little!”