The Rundown: The Horse for Me

Who could ask for more than the athleticism, versatility and good-mindedness of the American Quarter Horse?

By Tara Christiansen
The American Quarter Horse Journal
April 30, 2013

Lenas Fillynic

Even outside of the pen, Lenas Fillynic is my steady Eddie. If I ever need to count on a horse, it’s "Nikki" I turn to. (Journal photo)

I’ve never questioned that the American Quarter Horse is the horse for me.

Unlike most kids, I never had a pony growing up. Truth be told, I’ve still never ridden a pony. Keeping in mind the many tales I’ve heard of their orneriness, I just might keep it that way.  

It wasn’t until I was 20, a sophomore competing for Texas A&M University at the National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Championships in Waco, Texas, that I finally sat a horse other than an American Quarter Horse. Since then, I’ve ridden one or two other breeds. Maybe my sampling size isn’t large enough, but based on those experiences, I figure it is best to stick with America’s Horse.  

And why not? American Quarter Horses are the stuff that legends are made of.

Take for instance Steel Dust. Steel Dust’s legend grew through the days of the Texas cattle drives. In fact, Steel Dust came to identify an entire breed of horse: “Steeldusts” were the cowboy’s favorite kind. They were heavy-muscled horses, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile.

Not just known for their speed, intelligence and functional form, American Quarter Horses exemplify versatility. That characteristic is one that AQHA puts on a pedestal in the form of all-around awards and AQHA Champion titles, as well as the Zoetis Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show, to name a few.

When I think of versatility, I think of Major Investment. Back in 1981, the son of Major Bonanza not only won the reserve world title in junior reining and world championship in junior cutting, but also placed third in junior western pleasure at the AQHA World Championship Show. That same year, Major Investment earned his AQHA Champion title and a Superior in hunter under saddle; he had earned his Superior in western pleasure in 1980. We featured the 1977 sorrel stallion and his fascinating tale in the May 2012 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal. If you missed that story about Bob Avila and his amazingly well-rounded horse, I encourage you to dive into your Journal archives and read it!

Major Investment wasn’t the only multi-sport athlete in his family tree. His sire, Major Bonanza, earned much fame in the working cow horse arena, racking up AQHA year-end high-point titles, as well as two top-10 finishes at the AQHA World Championship Show. In addition, Major Bonanza boasted a Superior in halter and, like his son, a Superior in western pleasure.

Versatility like that is the stuff of legends to me. Maybe that’s because I was raised in the age of more specialized all-around horses; it’s not too often that you see a cutting horse make waves in the pleasure pen anymore. Yet frankly, I’m still quite impressed by the versatility of the horses we’re raising today.

For the most part, our breeders are staying true to the “form to function” principles of breeding. A structural junkie herself, Journal editor Christine Hamilton has spent the last year featuring structural deviations in the Journal’s “Structure in Detail” series.  Every month, Christine highlights what those imperfections mean to your horse herd. As we all know, structural soundness is the foundation for a versatile horse.

While soundness and athletic ability rank toward to the top of my list of reasons why I love the American Quarter Horse, what sits on the pinnacle of my list is the great mind our horse possesses.

My family raises American Quarter Horses for reined cow horse competition. While most of the horses we own now are products of our breeding program, seven years ago, we traded a broodmare for a weanling, adding fresh blood to our program. That weanling was Lenas Fillynic, a granddaughter of Fillynic, the last foal out of American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Fillinic.

Despite the sliver of time she’s had in the show pen, Nikki has been a quick study. And outside of the pen, she’s my steady Eddie. If I ever need to count on a horse, it’s Nikki I turn to.

Bitten by the reined cow horse bug, my fiancée, Cody, wanted to make his debut in the show pen this year. Of course, there was no question that Cody would show Nikki. I’ll admit it, though; it felt a bit like I was throwing Cody to the lions two weeks past when he made his horse-showing debut. You see, up ’til that point, I was the only person who had ever shown Nikki. And 2013 marks the beginning of only her second year in the show pen.

As Cody executed his pattern, I held my breath, willing my little mare to do everything just right. And when she did, I exhaled … but only a little. Next, Cody nodded for his cow, and he and Nikki boxed it for the prescribed 50 seconds. Like that, their first run together was out of the way. They placed second for their efforts, a fact I couldn’t be more proud of.

Not only do I commend Cody for his precision and skill in the show pen, but I’ve also got to hand it to Nikki. Not only will Cody be showing her this year in boxing, but I’ll be competing with my sorrel mare down the fence. And we aren’t the only two getting seat time on Nikki.

My dear Nikki is now a kid’s horse. The way we see it, what could be a better after-school-sport for Cody’s 9-year-old niece than horseback riding lessons? And like I said, if I ever need to count on a horse, it’s Nikki. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t just a bit wary of sticking Maddyson on an untested kid’s horse.

As I suspected, though, I had nothing to worry about; Nikki has even taken a shine to being Maddy’s teacher. Now that I think on it, Nikki has taken a liking to anything we ask her to do. None of this should come as a surprise, I tell myself.

After all, my mare is an American Quarter Horse.

Enjoy more horse-showing quips, quotes and anecdotes from AQHA Internet Editor Tara Christiansen by visiting The Rundown archives at www.aqha.com/therundown.