From Craigslist to Level 1 Champion
Eighteen-year-old, Matthew Siefker of Lebanon, Ohio is one determined young man. In his first class at the Level 1 East Championships, Matthew and his horse, Grace Zipsinthe Rein (Grace) won the Rookie Youth Showmanship, beating out over 60 other competitors.
After his win, Siefker was so excited that he posted a video of himself doing a happy dance on social media. This win was impressive but the Ohio native was just getting started. In their next class, this team went on to win the largest class of the show – the 14-18 Youth Showmanship with 118 entries.
While these championships in the show arena were well earned, what is even more fascinating about this duo is their backstory.
Growing up, Matthew’s family had miniatures, ponies and an Arabian horse, but for the most part, they were lawn ornaments. “A few years ago, I got a wild hair and decided to start riding my mother’s Arabian without her knowledge,” Matthew recalls and laughs. ”It was clear that I enjoyed this and she agreed to take me to get horse riding lessons.”
Eventually, Matthew wanted to find a horse to show at the state fair, so he started looking on Craigslist. He found and bought Grace for $2,000. We asked him why he chose to look on this site since it isn’t usually the most reliable venue to purchase horses.
“This is not the typical spot to find AQHA show horses, but when I was looking, that wasn’t the plan. After a month of taking lessons, I decided I wanted to show a horse at my county fair. I took the money I earned from selling market animals through the fair. This was the only way my mom agreed to let me buy a horse. I had to buy it myself,” Matthew remembers. “I got extremely lucky. I knew nothing about horses when I went to look at her, but because she was black and pretty, I bought her.”
Siefker continues, “My dream was to be successful at the county fair. Never would I imagine all the things that we would be able to accomplish together. She has a sad story, and I believe that I saved her from her life before. When we purchased her, she was very underweight. You could count the ribs on her. When she was a yearling, the original owners left the halter on her, and she grew into it leaving scars behind her ears and a half inch dip on the bridge of her nose. The owners who had her before me were selling her because she is bred to work cattle, but they said she had no speed. This worked out perfect when making her into an all-around horse. I found her niche, and she excels in it.”
In 2016, according to Matthew, Grace was three, and she had the concept of the walk and trot, but the lope was very tough for her. “Other than this, she knew nothing. I worked with her by myself for quite some time, teaching her to clip, stand in cross ties, how to pick up her legs,” Matthew recalls. “She knew nothing about common show horse things, and her manners were horrible. I taught her everything from watching YouTube clips of every AQHA horse I could find. I’d spend hours watching and critiquing everything I saw. This was when I knew one day I wanted to show at a Quarter Horse show.”
His first horse shows were in 2016, and this consisted of the county fair and state fair with Grace. His first AQHA show was the Turkey show at Wilmington, Ohio in 2016. However, it wasn’t until June of 2017 that he attended his second AQHA show, this time with current trainer, Lynne Puthoff.
“I’ve been in training with Lynne for under a year. I attended one AQHA show before training with Lynne, and I always watch the warmup pens at shows. When I was there watching, I saw how dedicated Lynne was to all of her customers. This was when I knew that I wanted to show AQHA and with nobody but Lynne Puthoff,” Matthew explains. “She has always been able to pick me up when I’m down, and she saw my talent when nobody else did. She believes in me and has put in so much effort and work with building Grace and me into a winning partnership. She has an eye like no other when it comes to the smallest details when laying out a winning pattern. I consider everyone at Puthoff Performance Horses, family.”
Puthoff talked to GoHorseShow about Matthew. “He comes from a single parent home, so he has to work hard to make it all happen. He is a senior, takes college classes, works at a tack store and helps at my barn a couple of days a week. He also works for me at the shows to be able to have Grace with me and show with my barn at AQHA shows,” Lynne shares. “He is a very exuberant young man with talent and passion. He is a fun and insanely helpful part of our barn family. I know that I am as proud of him and his little black mare as his mother, Mindy is. She has worked extremely hard to do as much as she can to help him live out this dream and be there to cheer him on.”
While talking to Matthew, he revealed that showmanship is his favorite class. We asked him what he thought about his winning runs. “My showmanship goes felt good. Grace and I are always very in tune with one another,” Matthew says. “While standing out in the arena as they placed the classes, my heart started beating faster and faster. I honestly thought I was going to pass out. The feeling of pride was overwhelming. Grace and I put in hours of hard work, and it paid off. Then, becoming a two-time champion was just amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better show.”
But, in fact, it did get better for this duo. Siefker and Grace were also named Rookie Youth and Rookie 14-18 Youth All-Around winners in Wilmington. “I hope to keep this streak up as the show season continues all the way up through the Congress. This year will be first time showing at the Congress, and, hopefully, we will bring our A-game.”
Unfortunately, this is Matthew’s last year in youth, but he already has his career planned out. “I will be attending Miami University to get my degree in bioengineering. Then, I plan to continue school and become a dentist.”
Matthew reflects, “From the first time watching an AQHA show, all I wanted was to be that kid out there showing in the show pen. I wanted to leave my mark in the AQHA community. I wanted to feel like Grace and I belonged and for people to remember my name. This journey was not easy nor was it handed to me. I’ve made so many great friends along the way, and hope to continue to make many more. I’m excited to see what the future will hold for my ‘lil Craigslist pony’ and me.”