October 17th, 2012 / Author: Susan Morrison
I spent last Friday watching horse after horse going through the sale ring, and listening to bid after bid far surpassing my budget. I never went with the intent of buying anything anyway. And it’s a good thing, since my favorite horse sold for approximately $160,000 higher than I could have afforded (more about him later) at the first of these North Texas sales. But I digress.
I went, as I usually do to sales, with the intent of seeing good horses, studying conformation and pedigrees, and trying to understand more about the current market. Sales always provide lessons that you can’t learn anywhere else. You can set any price you want on a horse, and maybe get it. But when you go to a sale, it gives you a better picture of what horses are really worth, which is generally what someone will pay for them.
Some prices are understandable. Some remain mysteries. I watched as a few horses brought prices far beyond what my checking account will ever hold. Some seemed to be bargains. Most were somewhere in between. And mostly what people were buying was potential and promise in the form of yearlings and 2-year-olds.
That was clear at both the Carol Rose Quarter Horses Production Sale in Gainesville and the Legacy Reining Breeders sale just down the road in Aubrey. Carol’s sale was highly anticipated and drew a big, enthusiastic crowd. I suspect some were there to be part of history. Carol has been a leading Quarter Horse breeder for many years, and hasn’t held a sale at her ranch in decades. Her legendary stallion, Shining Spark, is no longer breeding, and some of his last sons and daughters were offered at the sale.
Shining Spark got a chance to show off in the sale ring.
As Carol led Shining Spark into the sale ring as part of a presentation of reference sires, the 23-year-old stallion looked, and clearly felt, like a much younger horse. He seemed to know that many in the crowd were happy to get a glimpse of him. After all, his get have earned more than $8 million, mainly in reining and cow horse events. And I’m betting Carol has told him that. He’s got a reason to be proud.
Horses sired by him, two of his sons (A Shiner Named Sioux and Shiners Lena Doc) and outstanding cutting stallion CD Lights dominated the sale. The high seller was Pony On The Boat, a drop-dead gorgeous dark sorrel 2-year-old colt. The resident ranch trainer, Jay McLaughlin, has him riding like a dream, and Carol says he’s one of the best she’s ever raised. The son of Shining Spark is out of a daughter of Reminic that has produced several money earners, including the great Hes Wright On (look for a story on him in an upcoming issue of Western Horseman).
I’ve had my eye on him for months and also had admired his older full brother. Turns out a lot of people liked him! He brought $165,000 to top the sale. But I don’t think anybody who bought a horse went home unhappy, no matter what they spent.
It was a similar story at the Legacy sale, held annually at Green Valley Ranch, where top reining breeders gathered to offer some of their best yearlings and a few broodmares.
Pony On The Boat was my favorite, and ended up as the high seller.
One of my favorite reining horses to watch was Hollywoodstinseltown. Beautiful and athletic, with a quiet and kind disposition, he won a lot. His first foal crop (of two) is just now of show age and one is already a champion, so yearlings sired by him were in high demand. As always, so were those sired by the great Gunner (Colonels Smoking Gun). And as usual, I picked out a few favorites before the sale to watch. Not surprisingly, they sold too high for my pocketbook!
Both sales signaled a horse market that is getting healthier every day, and buyers showed optimism for the future. It’s a good sign for everyone involved with Western stock horses.
One day, I will pick out a horse and raise my hand so the bid spotter can see it. I’ll be among those leaving full of excitement and hopefulness, with a new pony in the trailer. For now, I will keep going to sales, keep listening to the familiar voice of auctioneer Don Green, keep being caught up in the excitement, keep studying pedigrees, and never, ever stop dreaming. Sales are always a good place to do a little wishful thinking.
For information on Carol Rose Quarter Horses, visit http://www.carolrose.com. For details on the Legacy Reining Breeders Sale, go to http://www.legacysale.com. To see a video from the Carol Rose sale, visit Western Horseman’s Facebook page.
May 2nd, 2012 / Author: Susan Morrison
I am not a morning person. It just isn’t my nature to jump up at, or before, the crack of dawn and have sufficient energy to start my day. I prefer to see a little daylight coming in the windows, nudging me awake without any jarring alarms. But somehow, when getting up involves something to do with horses, it’s easier. That’s why it didn’t bother me to leave at 4:30 a.m. one day to get to Todd Crawford’s place just before sunup. Talking to the trainer and watching him ride great horses was enough of an enticement.
Todd lives in Blanchard, Oklahoma, and is the reined cow horse industry’s leading rider, going over $2 million in earnings at the end of last year. He’s also the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s president, and a judge, and a reining horse trainer and exhibitor. He’s trained world champions in several associations and has helped non-pro riders earn their own accolades. And one of the cool things about him is that he freely admits he’s still learning, too. For example, he’s constantly studying the hackamore.
Since joining the Western Horseman staff two years ago, I’ve become more fascinated with cowboy gear, including the hackamore. I have an overwhelming urge to buy one and use it on my 3-year-old gelding, although first I should really figure out how to do that. Watching horsemen like Todd and their nice hackamore horses helps feed that desire to learn about and use a hackamore. He says the NRCHA’s hackamore class has led him to use and better understand the headgear.
“I think it has been really good for me to learn the benefits of the hackamore,” Todd says. “I’m not saying that I’m a master at it by any means, because I’m still learning, but I’m using it.”
One of the differences, he says, is that a hackamore will help a horse “break” in its withers due to the downward pull, while a snaffle bit will cause a horse to break at the poll because of the way it brings the horse’s chin back. The hackamore makes it easier for the horse to lift its shoulders and be soft. After Todd talked about that in our interview, I watched during our photo shoot as he rode a really talented hackamore horse around the arena, and could see the difference.
In the June issue, my article with Todd talks about the maneuvers in reined cow horse classes, how he trains for each, and what a judge is looking for. There’s also a video featuring Todd and two of his horses on www.westernhorseman.com that shows the differences in a reined cow horse and a reining horse in some of those maneuvers. When you watch it, you’ll see the contrast. And, hopefully, it will inspire you to study, practice and get better. It’s all part of the learning process and part of what makes riding a challenge, not to mention worth getting up for in the mornings—even really, really early.
August 9th, 2011 / Author: Susan Morrison
These wooly chaps were recently on display, and for sale, at the Western Heritage Gallery.
Although it’s not in my usual section of the magazine, Inside the Arena, Cowboy Style (edited by Jennifer Denison) is always entertaining and informative. I look forward to it as a reader as well as an editor. For the September issue, I got to write the “cover story” for the section. It’s all about the Western Heritage Gallery in Denton, Texas.
As a confirmed antiques addict, I love stopping at antique malls and snooping for treasures. I’m always on the lookout for horse-related items that have a story of their own to tell. The Antique Gallery in Denton was one of my stops, and when part of the mall was becoming overrun with Western antiques, collectibles and memorabilia a few years ago, it was definitely of interest. When that conversion became official and the Western Heritage Gallery was opened, it really piqued my interest.
Late last year, the mall hosted a Western trade show. Our publisher, Darrell Dodds, and I went, talked with the owner and a few vendors, and got a lot of photos (well, he got the photos). Anyone interested in cowboy gear – whether it’s a bit that can be used every day or intricate spurs that are more suited to being displayed – will be fascinated by the mall. It contains artwork, saddles, furniture, jewelry, hats, books and fun “smalls” that are affordable and bring back lots of memories. There’s even a dealer that has boxes and boxes of old Western Horseman issues.
In September, in addition to the regular goods on display, a trade show will overtake another building in the same complex.
The Cowboy Gathering & Trade show will be held September 9-11. It features the Legends of Texas Western Auction on September 10. That auction will include the largest collection of Adolph Bayers spurs and bits ever featured in a public sale. Although those items will be out of my financial reach (so will a couple of Billy Klapper bits), it’s entertaining to see them and to find out what they’ll bring. And seeing the artistry of these works is inspiring.
The history of these items is intriguing. I can’t help but wonder what great cowboys might have worn those spurs, and what outstanding horses might have carried those bits. Sometimes the provenance is known and noted on a tag attached to the item. Sometimes it’s a mystery. Either way, it’s fun!
There’s a complete listing of auction items, with photos, on the Legends of Texas auction page on Facebook. Check it out, and check out the trade show and auction at the mall http://www.thewesternheritagegallery.com), which is just off Interstate 35 and Loop 288 in Denton. See you there!
April 20th, 2011 / Author: Susan Morrison
Speed Williams videos his practice runs daily and posts them to his site.
Not too long ago, if you wanted to learn to rope or ride a barrel horse or sit on a reining horse, you’d find a trainer and take lessons. With luck, there was a qualified person nearby. If not, you just struggled to figure things out on your own. Plenty of people have learned to ride by trial and error, but now you can learn a lot by sitting in front of your computer.
I was impressed, but not totally surprised, when I talked with Speed Williams and Al Dunning for an article on online instruction in the May issue. Both are multiple world champions, Williams in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Dunning in the American Quarter Horse Association. Both have given numerous clinics through the years and are proven instructors. There’s no doubt they know their stuff! But in the past year, they’ve ventured into new territory by sharing their knowledge online.
Williams’ site, www.speedroping.com, offers a library of videos on topics of interest to team ropers. Have a problem scoring? There’s a video on that. Need to know about the best angle for pulling a steer? Speed can help with that. There are thousands of videos available, and more are loaded every day.
Dunning’s approach is a bit different. His site, www.teamadinternational.com, allows people to join at different levels for different benefits. They vary from getting a newsletter to gaining access to a video library to having the privilege of sending in videos for personal evaluation. The highest level is essentially a trade school for prospective trainers.
There are plenty of other learning opportunities out there. An online search for your favorite horse sport will bring up options. Some of the top clinicians have launched new interactive sites this year, and other sites are aimed at participants in disciplines like reining or Western pleasure. The membership fees are generally low—usually a month for about what a single lesson might cost. They don’t replace hands-on instruction by any means, but those who want a little more or who can’t get to a trainer on a regular basis can sure benefit.
Growing up in a small South Texas town, I didn’t have access to trainers and clinics. Riding was more of a do-it-yourself project. What great opportunities there are now, at the click of a mouse.
Sitting in front of a computer doesn’t make up for time spent in the saddle, but it can make a difference in how those rides go!
March 22nd, 2011 / Author: Susan Morrison
There’s a 1990s movie called “It Could Happen to You,” starring Nicolas Cage and Bridge Fonda. Cage plays an ordinary guy who wins the lottery, and who jokingly had promised waitress Fonda half of any winnings since he hadn’t previously been able to afford to tip her. Lives are changed, of course, and comedy ensues. But the theme of the movie—that a lucky break can happen to anyone, anytime—sometimes occurs in the horse world.
Tooter and Barbara Dorman and their granddaughter, Cydney Kessler, with Chiquita Pistol.
I felt like the lucky one recently when I got to visit 2002 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity winner Chiquita Pistol and her owners for an Arena All-Stars story which appears in the April issue of Western Horseman. Chiquita Pistol is legendary in the cutting world. She was only the third horse to capture all three major NCHA events—the Futurity, Super Stakes and Derby, with rider Tag Rice—and she did it in spectacular style.
She’s not a fancy looking horse: plain sorrel, with nary a white hair. A person might walk right past her if he didn’t know her story. But there’s a story to tell.
Wallace “Tooter” Dorman raised the mare. Her mama is a horse Dorman and his daughter, Deborah Dorman Moore, both showed. Dorman is a hard-working ranch manager who likes to start his own colts, and he did that with Chiquita Pistol. The mare was a little tough to train, but Dorman had patience because he could see her talent bubbling under the surface. Dorman’s shoulder injury led him to take the mare to trainer Ronnie Rice, and Rice’s trip to a major show put the mare in his son Tag’s hands. The rest really is history. Chiquita Pistol has now won more than $557,000, most recently picking up checks with Dorman’s granddaughter, Cydney Kessler, in the saddle.
Dorman and his wife, Barbara, just finished building their first house on land in East Texas that they have gradually purchased and cleared themselves. Of course, typical of horse folks, the barn got finished before the house! Chiquita Pistol’s earnings helped build it, and she was the first horse in it.
The Dormans are some of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met, and genuinely appreciative of this great horse that has changed their lives. After all these years, Dorman seems a little in disbelief that it ever happened. Whether you call it luck, fate, or destiny, it did happen. Barbara calls it something that was meant to be. She said when I was visiting that she believes God made Chiquita Pistol and put her in their hands.
I believe things happen for a reason, and that everything in Chiquita Pistol’s journey happened (and is still happening) just the way it should. In the performance horse industry, you see a lot of people with the resources to buy great horses and put them with great trainers, and many are successful. Others with fewer dollars in the bank struggle, but still try. And then you see everyday folks like the Dormans breed and raise a spectacular horse and experience the success most of us dream about.
Living proof that it really could happen to you.
January 11th, 2011 / Author: Susan Morrison
Different backgrounds, varied philosophies on training and distinct personalities. That’s what makes it so interesting to talk with clinicians Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson, who will be competing in February at Road to the Horse in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I visited with all of them for an article in the February issue, which will be out soon.
I had met Chris and Clinton before, and in fact had worked with them on articles for another publication, but hadn’t had the opportunity to talk with Pat. It was fascinating to hear from all three and learn more about their backgrounds and ideas, including what they think about starting colts in such a public format. The annual event has had a few critics who say the time allotted isn’t enough to give the colts a chance to learn, and might result in them being pushed too hard. But as all three pointed out, a trainer can only ask a horse for so much before it just plain doesn’t work. As Chris says, “the horse is a humbling creature.” So they’ll all take it slow and try to accomplish as much as they can in the time they’re allowed.
There will be plenty of people in the audience soaking up the knowledge these three guys are sharing (the event is sold out, but you can still get access to the webcast), but there’s no doubt they also will pick up something new themselves. Each horse teaches us different things.
What’s been heartening to me lately are the attitudes of clinicians and trainers themselves. None are afraid to admit they don’t know everything. Many get help from other respected horsemen and horsewomen. They’re willing to change and bend their attitudes and actions to make things work more smoothly for them and their horses. They’re already successful, but they want to keep getting better.
I know trainers in the cutting, cow horse and reining worlds who work with each other when they have a challenging horse or a problem they just can’t quite solve, or need feedback on how to put the finishing touches on one before a big show. It’s the only way to get better and get past the roadblocks that every horse person comes across at one time or another. And face it: If you’re one of those people who swear you can do it yourself and you don’t need anyone’s help, you might just benefit from a little guidance! Sometimes it just takes a bit of direction or one suggestion to make a breakthrough.
I hope you’ll have a chance to go to Road to the Horse or watch the webcast, or participate in a clinic near you, whether it’s with Clinton, Chris or Pat, or with another knowledgeable clinician or trainer. The opportunities are out there. Discover things you don’t know, take with you what you can use, and most important, continue to learn. That’s the only way we’ll ever get to be true horsemen and not just passengers on our horses.
October 22nd, 2010 / Author: Susan Morrison
Western Horseman will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, and the entire staff has been pouring over old issues and learning a lot about the history of this magazine. It’s fun to see how things used to be. Trailers, trucks, clothing, tack—they’ve all changed considerably. So has the way horses are trained and shown. (More about that in our January issue!)
Thanks to all this research we’ve been doing, a copy of “Riding and Training for the Show Ring” landed on my desk. One of the earliest Western Horseman books, it was written by Pat Close, then an editorial assistant for the magazine and later its editor (more about her in our January issue, too); and Mona Betts, who showed Arabians to national titles. The book covers everything from ground work to reining maneuvers, and, of course, tips on showing.
It’s an entertaining read, but it’s also great to just look at the pictures and marvel about the big changes in the horse world. This volume is a little history lesson on its own, as are many of the early WH books. Although they’re long out of print, it’s still possible to stumble across one at a used-book store or a booth in an antique mall. The softbound books aren’t nearly as thick as the later publications, so they might get hidden on a bookshelf. They’re worth the search, though. I found a whole set of them once (before I joined the staff) and, regretfully, only bought a few.
“Cow-Horse Confidence,” by respected horseman Martin Black, is the latest Western Horseman book. It’s a great addition to our library, which includes the wonderful “Legends” series (great holiday gifts, by the way). But if you see any copies of the old books—like the “Horseman’s Scrapbook” series or “Will Rogers Rope Tricks”—grab them while you can!
October 13th, 2010 / Author: Susan Morrison
Smart Little Lena at his tribute, with Tommy Manion, Hanes Chatham and Bill Freeman
“You expect it but you’re never ready to accept it.”
Those were Tommy Manion’s words when I spoke with him a week after the great stallion Smart Little Lena was euthanized after suffering a stroke at Manion Ranch in Aubrey, Texas. The stallion had lived there for 27 of his 31 years, and even though modern breeding technology assures that there will still be babies born in the future, his loss truly is the end of an era.
It’s safe to say that Smart Little Lena is the best-known horse in the cutting world. Even though his grandson, High Brow Cat, has passed him as the leading cutting sire, there’s no doubt about Smart Little Lena’s impact on the horse industry and his effect on people.
There were signs from the start that the colt would be different. His breeder, Hanes Chatham, has told stories of a young Smart Little Lena chasing butterflies to entertain himself. His trainer, the late Bill Freeman, called him the smartest horse he’d ridden. The horse was eventually syndicated, and although legal problems erupted several years ago and the syndicate was plagued by controversy for some time, Smart Little Lena’s legacy remains untarnished. (Check out a story on him in The Arena section of the November issue. To subscribe, click here.)
In a world where some people view horses as strictly investments and business properties, and big money is at stake, it wasn’t surprising that the stallion became his own corporation. Smart Little Lena was unaware of the hubbub. He was, after all, a horse. But, as good horses often do, he knew he was special.
That was apparent in 2002, when the stallion and Freeman were honored in a tribute at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, during the NCHA Futurity to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their own win at that event. When Freeman turned Smart Little Lena loose in the arena and the spotlight was on him, he acted like a colt. Trotting and loping with a spring in his step, and occasionally stopping and turning with the same style he showed on a cow, the 23-year-old seemed to know all eyes were on him. (To watch a video of that tribute, click here.)
At home, Manion says, Smart Little Lena was “a courageous little horse” with a big personality. When he was turned out in his run, no one could catch him until he was ready to come back in. When Manion’s wife, Chris, checked on the stallions each night and snuck them the occasional carrot, Smart Little Lena would throw a fit if he wasn’t visited first. If he got the first carrot, there wasn’t a peep out of him. And he had a favorite mare: the great Autumn Boon, now 17. Manion says the blue roan was “his absolute girlfriend” and he could spot her a mile away.
In the end, Smart Little Lena was comforted by Chris, who held the stallion’s head as Dr. John McCarroll—the horse’s lifetime vet—prepared to euthanize him. Manion says the stallion looked up at Chris and nickered.
“It brought chills to me,” he says. “It was just like he was saying, ‘Boy, I’m really glad you’re here,’ or, ‘I’m going to be OK.’ They had a special relationship.”
All the statistics and the money and the controversy fade away when you hear a story like that. He was, after all, a horse. But what a horse he was.
September 27th, 2010 / Author: Susan Morrison
Bald N Shiney and J.D. Yates
With all the emphasis on aged events in the performance horse world, it’s always heartening to hear of new classes that offer a chance for older horses to prove they’ve still got it.
The National Reining Breeders Classic is the latest to offer such an opportunity, with a new program for horses 7 and older. The NRBC Classic Challenge begins in 2011. As the show’s news release points out, the class will encourage training and maintaining horses for longevity, rather than just pushing for aged-event success. It offers major added money ($20,000 in the Open and $25,000 in the Non-Pro).
There have been some great showcases lately for older horses. It was fun to go to Oklahoma City and watch Bald N Shiney (featured as our Arena All-Star in the September issue) win the World’s Greatest Horseman Shootout at Battle in the Saddle in July. Nelle Murphy’s 16-year-old gelding is going strong, and he looks fit and happy.
The Mercuria NCHA World Series of Cutting, which spotlights the Open and Non-Pro in big added-money events throughout the year, has brought some horses out of retirement and kept some show-pen veterans earning healthy paychecks.
This year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are open only to horses 6 and older. The event is sanctioned by the Federation Equestre Internationale and at the end, world champions in eight disciplines will be named. Among those is reining, held for the third time at the WEG. Three of the four U.S. horses are 6, but the fourth, Mister Montana Nic, is 12. He’s been in Craig Schmersal’s training program since his 3-year-old year, and Craig will tell you he’s adamant about building a horse that lasts long past the aged events. Mister Montana Nic is a shining example of that, and he helped the U.S. team win gold last weekend.
Few people can resist the lure of big money paid out at the aged events, not to mention the excitement of riding or owning a talented young horse, and who can blame them? I can’t deny that I’d love to have a 3-year-old to show at the NCHA Futurity someday. But right now there’s a 6-year-old gelding in my barn that’s barely begun his career. By aged-event standards, he’s almost past his prime. In my world, with any luck, his best years are still ahead.
September 10th, 2010 / Author: Susan Morrison
Shania Cee and Shannon Hall
Training performance horses for a living must be like professional gambling. You might think you’ve got a good hand, but someone next to you has a full house. Or, you’re ready to throw your cards on the table and move on when, suddenly, everyone else folds. And sometimes – maybe once in a lifetime – you’re dealt a dream.
Writing about performance horses is something of a dream itself. As someone who shows cutting horses, and struggles with the realities of time and budget constraints, I often find myself living (and riding) vicariously through the people I meet.
One of the best things about my job is getting to talk with trainers, not only for instructional articles that, hopefully, help us all become better horsemen and horsewomen, but also for the scoop on some special horses. Recently I talked with Shannon Hall, who’s won more than $3 million in cutting competition. He’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t have it all figured out, and that was especially true in the case of Shania Cee (our Arena All-Star in the October issue; to subscribe, click HERE.).
Shannon got the mare at the end of her 2-year-old year, and the aim was always the NCHA Futurity. But he had another horse that year that he thought was better, and no one could convince him that Shania would be his winner—including Shania herself. The mare was short, stout and quite opinionated. Although she wanted to work every day, she tended to do things her own way, and it took awhile before Shannon could convince her that his way was better.
Even a week or so before the 1999 NCHA Futurity, Shannon wasn’t too confident in Shania. After taking her to Frank Merrill’s arena to work, he recalls, Merrill told him he was going to win the Futurity on the mare.
“I thought Frank had fell off a turnip truck,” Shannon says. “I just didn’t feel it yet. I wasn’t convinced that Shania was the horse she was going to be.”
Everyone else was seeing it, but the trainer wasn’t feeling it. Even after he and the mare won the Futurity with a score of 225.5, it took awhile before he realized exactly how good she was. Part of that might have been because Shania Cee had a unique ability to know when she needed to expend her energy and when she didn’t.
“You would work her and she’d feel OK,” Shannon says, “but when you showed her, it was like a whole other gear came into the picture. A lot of times she didn’t feel like the horse you’d just worked two hours ago. It’s like she had an awareness that we were showing and she needed to step it up a notch.”
In 2000, she and Hall cut a wide swath through the cutting world, picking up a number of wins and making believers of doubters who thought the Futurity championship might have been a fluke.
Shania Cee is still around, producing good babies and carrying the Cogdell grandkids in the cutting pen. And she still means a lot to Shannon.
“She’s special in a lot of ways,” he says. “I made the [NCHA] Hall of Fame that year and it was my first year to break through and make the Futurity finals. For anybody who becomes a cutting horse trainer, goal number one is the Futurity finals and goal number two is the Futurity championship. Even though I’d made the Hall of Fame and won over a million dollars, there’s that emptiness—why is the Futurity elusive to me?
“The bottom line was, I just never was prepared enough. I don’t know that I had that mare prepared perfectly, but she had such a desire to work a cow that she helped me be prepared. Probably the biggest change I personally made is that I prayed to God every day to keep my thoughts collected. I never asked for favoritism or to win, but simply that I would keep focused through the whole cutting. I did that really well that year.”
Even though Shania Cee got a bit sick after the first go-round, Hall never worried about the outcome: “I let the vets take care of her. I thought, ‘she’s trained, I’ll go show her.’ Normally you’d be in a panic, but I stayed focused. That mare had enough grit and enough cow to be there when I needed her.”
A horse that’s there when you need her (or him) to be, and the presence of mind to make that work in your favor … what more could you want?
See you in the arena!