Dakota Diamond Griffith won more than a dozen American Quarter Horse Association championships before she was 18 years old.

But this week, the 26-year-old Hilliard woman will compete as a professional in her first AQHA World Championship Show, which is Nov. 1 through Nov. 17 in Oklahoma City and will include riders representing about 50 countries.

She is competing in the "Hunter Hack" show-riding division, which includes some jumps, and she made the world championship after accumulating points at other shows in the past 12 months.

"(Riding horses) has been my passion my whole life," said Griffith, who on Nov. 7 was scheduled to begin her competition riding a horse that is much more significant to the Griffith family than the outcome of her first professional turn at the show.

Beneath Griffith will be her 9-year-old American quarter horse, Master of the Skys, a horse once owned by Brandy and Roy Halladay.

At 18 hands high and about 1,600 pounds, Master of the Skys is among the largest of American quarter horses. His "barn name," the one to which he responds, is Goose, Griffith said.

Griffith began her world-championship competition with Goose on the one-year anniversary of the death of Roy Halladay, who was killed Nov. 7, 2017, when the amphibious plane he was piloting solo crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near New Port Richey, Florida. He was 40 years old.

Griffith performed her final at-home practices with Goose Nov. 2 at the Sid Griffith Equestrian Center, 7380 Scioto Darby Road in Brown Township and on Hilliard's western boundary. The center is where Griffith's love for horses was incubated.

The youngest of Sid and Leigh Ann Griffith's five children, she is the only one whose profession is training, showing and breeding horses.

"Dakota works with us (at the center) but she has her own business within our business," Leigh Ann Griffith said.

The equestrian center boards horses owned by other people, breeds horses and provides riding lessons, both recreational and professional, Leigh Ann Griffith said, but it is not involved in the race-horse profession.

Sid and Leigh Ann Griffith opened the center on Hayden Run Road in 1976 and relocated in 1998 to the present site.

The show-horse community is tight-knit so it did not take long for the Griffiths to meet the Halladays at shows throughout the U.S, the Griffiths said.

Roy Halladay was a famous pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies from 1998 to 2013. In 2010, he pitched the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and he is one of only six pitchers in history to win a Cy Young award in the American and National leagues and one of only two pitchers in history to throw a no-hitter in the post-season, doing so for the Phillies against the Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

They all met as exhibitors when Dakota Griffith was a youth rider and Brandy Halladay was an amateur rider, and Griffith eventually interviewed both Halldays for gohorseshow.com. In fact, her interview with Roy Halladay came shortly after he threw his perfect game May 29, 2010.

Halladay and his wife owned and operated Halladay Show Horses. Their stable included Goose.

In 2013, Goose was sent to the Griffith farm for rehabilitation.

"I began working (with Goose) and began to believe we could win a championship," Griffith said.

The following year, Griffith began training other horses in the Halladay stable, and in 2016, Griffith and Goose won an AQHA national championship in the "High Point Hunter Under Saddle" division, she said.

The Halladays gave Goose to Griffith as a gift soon afterward.

The Halladays often visited the Griffith farm, "but no one knew (Roy) was here, he could just come here and enjoy his time," Leigh Ann Griffith said. "Roy loved to visit our farm in Hilliard and was a great mentor for my daughter."

Halladay's influence will be on display at the world championship in more ways than one, she said.

The back number Dakota Griffith randomly was assigned to wear in the competition is "813," an area code for Tampa, Florida, where Halladay lived with Brandy and their two sons.

"Roy was a strong spirit in life and I believe he is in passing," Leigh Ann Griffith said. "For Dakota to be riding on the anniversary of his death and with that number is kind of divine."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo