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A Moment Like This - Olympic Angel and Marilyn Staley Friedman

She’s retired in a lovely gated community in California now with time to ride the trails, play with friends and savor her well earned rewards. Her name is Olympic Angel. She and her owner, Marilyn Staley Friedman, made Celebration history in 2002 when they won two World Grand Championships (English Trail Pleasure and Western Trail Pleasure) at the same Celebration in the same year. It is believed to be the first time this has happened at the Celebration. To understand this rapid rise in a horse so young, she was only four-years-old at the time, it is important to delve back to the time when she was a weanling.

Realtor Ty Irby, noted horseman and breeder of Tennessee Walking Horses, owned her dam. Dude’s Available was a plantation mare and last year was Dam of the Year. Irby remembered her during the weanling and yearling ages. “She was always smart and would run up to the gate when she was called regardless of the other horses in the pasture. Her sweet disposition endeared her to everyone who saw her,” Irby explained. “We decided to start her at home. She never had a pad and we never paced her. I always thought she was a winner and a top lite-shod horse.”

Her talent was evident early on as she possessed a natural walk. As a yearling, she was shown under halter at the Heart of Dixie, Baton Rouge and the North American Championships. The decision was made to leave her as a plantation mount.

Her two-year-old year was a prelude to her further accomplishments. Her resume that year read, Reserve Champion Western Lite-Shod at the prestigious Panama City, Florida, Charity Show. A World Champion at that show eluded her. She took reserve at Tuscaloosa, Ala., and third in Trail Pleasure at the International as well as reserve in the In-Hand Mare class against aged mares.

Many factors though must come together to form a winning team. The next ingredient was her owner, Marilyn Staley Friedman. Friedman was a native of Florence, Ala., where she and her family owned 27 walking horses. After Friedman’s father died, the family was forced to sell all their horses including her father’s favorite mare, Shadow’s Cinnamon. Remarkably, when the owner of Cinnamon called Friedman 23 years later, she was amazed to learn that the family lived only an hour from her California home! The lady had called relatives in Florence, Ala., and traced Friedman to her California home. Friedman, her husband, Louis, her mother and son, Skylar, were delighted to see Cinnamon again and matter-of-factly offered to buy the horse should the owners decide to sell. Fate again stepped in when just one year later the call came with an offer to give the horse to Friedman. At the age of 27, Cinnamon returned home. They showed him in small shows until he reached the age of 30. In February of 2001, Friedman’s mother passed away and one week later Cinnamon was put to sleep at the ripe old age of 33. Friedman has carried forth this same dedication to her love for Olympic Angel.

Friedman stopped showing when she was 16, however at 40 years of age she decided that it had been long enough. She bought a nine-year-old trail pleasure horse named Ultra Respect and showed him in 2000 to claim 19 blues and two third place ribbons in the Trail Pleasure division on the California circuit. She wondered if she could train him and have fun and obviously she was successful! Showing was again in her blood. During a visit to Russ Thompson Stables, she saw Olympic Angel. Although she only looked at her, Friedman was sure this mare was meant to be hers.

Fate again stepped in and on the last Thursday of the Celebration, Olympic Angel changed hands and belonged to Marilyn Staley Friedman. The beautiful two-year-old had been shown by Miles and Sue Irby and won blues in Tennessee and Alabama and now she would be campaigned by her California owner.

The third ingredient in this equation came with the introduction of trainer Howard Hamilton. Well-known for his many World Champion and World Grand Champion plantation mounts, Hamilton and Irby met Friedman that Saturday night at the Celebration. Friedman spoke with Hamilton about her new horse and when they parted, Hamilton had her number. Angel would be transported to California to begin her three-year-old showing year. Another twist of fate presented itself when Hamilton spoke to Friedman and Angel returned to Tennessee just three weeks after her arrival in California to be shown under this masterful showman. Her entourage included a large trunk containing a red and black blanket and a blue and gray blanket with her name, matching halters and lead ropes. There were day sheets, cleaned and pressed, and new towels. Hamilton was surprised to say the least. A picture of Angel was taped on the trunk along with a letter from Angel, which was addressed to Hamilton. That was only a preview of Friedman’s love for her horse. She remembered, “I came to stay with the Hamiltons for a week. I was so excited about seeing Angel again. I brought alfalfa in plastic bags, hay in my luggage and big bag of carrots and apples for my Angel.”

Under Hamilton’s tutelage Olympic Angel reigned supreme. Prior to showing at the Celebration, she accumulated 10 blues. She was High Point MSHSA Horse of the Year in 2001 and 2002. Ann and Lauren Hamilton both rode to the blue ribbon aboard Angel. Jenna Hamilton, who won the majority of blues that year, rode Angel to a reserve world championship in the juvenile class at the Celebration; Friedman rode to two reserves and a world championship in English Trail Pleasure. The plan was coming together as Angel approached her four-year-old year.

This time Howard Hamilton had a goal in mind. Friedman’s trail pleasure mount Ultra Respect had garnered 19 blues in one year, could he beat this record? This talented horse was on a path to meet her destiny. She never disappointed her owner or trainer. Seventeen blues, seventeen shows! That would have been a record in itself, but there was more to come. Her Celebration record speaks for itself: three world championships in English, Western and Juvenile Trail Pleasure, two world grand championships in English and Western Trail Pleasure, a reserve world championship in English Trail Pleasure, Canter. That totaled to 22 blue ribbons in one year! She was awarded the 2002 Pleasure Horse of the Year in Trail Pleasure and Lite-Shod and MSHSA Horse of the Year.

It was at the awards ceremony that Friedman met Ray Gilmer and bought her next champion, Finders Keepers by WGC Cash for Keeps. It proved to be an excellent choice as he has already won three blues at Germantown in trail pleasure.

After the honors Olympic Angel had earned in 2002, Friedman made arrangements to ship her home to California the day after she was named World Grand Champion Trail Pleasure Horse. She and her roses arrived home in three days. Angel now resides in a new barn with cool air misters and fans. Friedman rides the trails in her equestrian community and exercises Angel in the community arena. Sundays are Angel’s fun days when she and Respect run together in the pasture, a fitting scene for a great mare and her companion.

Howard Hamilton speaks with great affection about this mare. “She never made a bad show,” he said. “Marilyn believed in her and that kept me going.” Hamilton expressed his belief in Angel by saying that she was one of the most natural free-walking horses he had trained. He remembered the Germantown show when other trainers asked to see Angel. “But these were performance trainers,” he added. They had noticed her presence and style; she was the epitome of a trail pleasure horse. Many asked to ride this special mare. What a fitting compliment for Angel and her trainer.

Hamilton went on to say, “My biggest thrill was in knowing that my hard work was appreciated and recognized. I was proud to lead her through inspection and to ride and train this great mare. She is truly the greatest trail pleasure horse I have ever been associated with, I’m very proud.” He praised Friedman’s new trail pleasure horse Finders Keepers as well, calling Finders Keepers unique and very talented.

A popular song describes this wonderful story. "A moment like this…some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this…I can’t believe it’s happening to me, some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this." That moment for Olympic Angel, Marilyn Staley Friedman and Howard Hamilton came at the 2002 Celebration. And quite a moment it was!

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