Payton Hughes - Work until your idols become your rivals
Payton Hughes is 18 years old and graduating from Mid-Carolina High School this May. Like many people her age, she has a dream. She wants horses in her life forever. She wants to train horses and riders and to continue barrel racing as long as she can.
Unlike many people her age—or for that matter any age—she has a plan to achieve her dream. An honor student, you might expect she would go to a prestigious four-year college. She could, but she is going to live at home and go to Piedmont Tech for two years to save money and continue to work with her three horses. She plans to continue at a four-year college close to home and major in accounting, because horses are an expensive business. She needs this skill to make her dream come true.
Payton will tell you that every decision she makes about her life is based on horses and her dream. In her mind, it’s not so much a dream as it is a plan. She has seen her future, and she has the plan and the work ethic to make it happen.
How did Payton become so focused and mature? Let’s go back to the beginning.
Her mother Tammy states up front that she is obsessed with horses. Tammy didn’t grow up in a horse family. As a young child, however, she drew horses, read about horses, and studied horses.
When Tammy was in kindergarten, she had a friend that got a pony. Tammy made sure she sat next to him so she could learn everything about that pony. And, she talked, and she talked, and she talked about horses with her family until they threw their hands up and bought her a pony. She was eight years old. The pony turned out to be a pretty feisty, aka mean, pony. That didn’t stop Tammy from loving horses and getting a better horse, and another better horse, and another better horse. She rode every moment she could at home and competitively. Tammy became a really good barrel racer.
For the non-horse folks reading, barrel racing is a popular competitive sport dominated by young girls and women. There are three barrels placed in an arena. Your goal is to race around each of the barrels in a prescribed cloverleaf pattern in the least amount of time possible without turning over a barrel.
Cliff, Payton’s father, who has learned a lot about horses and barrel racing, said, “Horses were the way Tammy and I connected.” Cliff grew up in Lake City around his Grandfather, who loved to horse trade. He and Tammy did their courting trail riding every evening. They married in 1997. He didn’t just marry Tammy, he married horses, too. He said with an affectionate smile, “Tammy will own horses the rest of her life. To say that she is obsessed is an understatement.”
Cliff and Tammy had a son Justin and then Payton was born in 2000. If you lived in this home, you grew up in barns, riding horses, cleaning up after horses, and going to competitions. You saw your Mom racing around barrels and loving it. You saw your Dad there every time supporting and helping. You experienced the excitement of competition and the comfort of not only your own family but the extended close-knit “family” of horse lovers.
Payton began her career with horses and competitions around seven years old. Three horses were important in her training. Each was the perfect horse at the right time, each a stepping stone, each better and faster, which is very hard to find. Cliff said, “There has to be a perfect fit. It’s a partnership. We would never let our daughter ride anything that is crazy. You just search, buy and sell, until you find that perfect fit.”
Payton’s first horse was a smaller one named Snooky. She began competing with Snooky in the Pee Wee Division when her mom was barrel racing. The next horse was Cruiser. Payton said of Cruiser, “He was super automatic [with barrel racing], a good horse. He taught me a lot.”
The third horse was Sparky, which was her Mom’s horse until Tammy had health problems and was unable to compete. Payton’s first year with Sparky was really tough. She was 12 years old and a confident rider. It was like she had to start all over and learn everything from the ground up. She remembered, “It was difficult, really difficult. He brought my confidence down to the bottom.”
Her mother Tammy said, “I knew that horse had something…Sparky and Payton came together on their own with no help from me.” Cliff, her Dad, said, “Once they clicked. It was non-stop winning barrel races all over the place.”
Payton explained that a good barrel rider has to learn to cue the horse at the right time, when to get up to speed, when to set up the turn around the barrels, when to go straight. It’s a lot of decision making in a very short time, about 15 seconds. Before Sparky, the horse was really doing it for her. She admitted, “I had to learn to think mentally with Sparky…He is a very special horse to me.”
In 2017, while she was a sophomore at Mid-Carolina, Payton won the National Barrel Racing Association (NBRA) President’s Cup Championship at North Augusta, which is the home town of this national association. She rode Sparky for the Saturday All Ages Race 1, First Division race and won. On Sunday, she won the Youth (up to 19), First Division race on Chasindragonsnjewels (aka Roxie), another horse that was in the family stable.
FYI: There are four divisions in each group, Division One is the fastest grouping. Both days she ran the fastest time of the day, both under 15 seconds. Her work with Sparky and on herself paid off in the literal sense of the phrase. She actually won $819 that day. Payton had also won her confidence back and won or placed in many races since then.
Payton and her family spend many weekends during the year at Barrel Racing events throughout the southeast, including arenas in Perry, Georgia; Lumberton, NC; Clemson, SC; and several in Tennessee and Virginia. Some are small, but many events are in hippodromes and very large arenas. Cliff said, “We love going to all of the shows. It’s a great family experience.” They often stay in the camper in the front of their horse trailer.
It was at one of these regional events that Payton met a 15-minute-away neighbor of hers who also is a barrel racer and who also has a Prosperity address. She is Priscilla Hubbard Heyward. Priscilla and her husband Jody, who is a roper at rodeos, own Branded Arrow Ranch, just over the bridge in Saluda County overlooking the Saluda River.
On the ranch they have a large barn, small training rings, fenced pastures, and an arena ring to practice barrel racing. Priscilla trains horses and young riders who are determined to go to the next level in barrel racing. In addition, her husband organizes horse events that are some times held at their ranch.
Priscilla and her husband also have day jobs. They needed help, so Payton came to work with them. Payton usually works Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Priscilla during the school year and every day in the summer time when Stephanie has training camps for young barrel racers and lots of horses to train. Keep in mind that Payton has school and has to keep her own horses exercised and trained. It’s a busy life.
The decision to work with Priscilla was an easy one for Payton. It definitely fit into her plan for the future. This job was custom made for someone determined to run the same kind of business in the future. Payton said, “As a kid horses were just fun for me. Now, I look at it as fun and on the business side. In the future, I would like to buy young horses to train and then sell them.”
The experience has been wonderful for both Priscilla and Payton. Payton has benefitted from Priscilla’s experience, from being able to ride and work with many different horses, and from being able to teach younger, less experienced riders. She has confirmed for herself that she loves to teach, to train both riders and horses.
Priscilla, who has a young daughter Jolie, has benefitted, too. She can spend more time with her daughter and less time “bumping in the saddle,” as she says. In Payton, she has a friend who is a fellow horse lover. Priscilla completely trusts Payton with all the horses they are training and with the students who come for help to get to the next level in their sport.
“I always tell her she [Payton] is going to be a success…She has what it takes to get through hard times. You just have to be tough. Hardship just makes you stronger,” Priscilla said with conviction and the look of someone who knows what she is talking about.
It comes down to what you love. Payton loves horses. She cannot imagine a life without them, and she is planning on that never happening. Payton is confident that she will achieve this goal. Sparky taught her that you might get broken down, but you can build yourself back up with persistence and being quiet and listening to the wisdom of the horse.
You can “Work until your idols become your rivals.” Just ask Payton.
In addition to everything else Payton does, she also teaches horseback riding. If you are interested in lessons, message her on her Facebook page, Payton Hughes. She also has an Instagram page at paytonhughes_.