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The Rundown: Picking Favorites

Choosing a favorite horse is akin to having a favorite child.

By Tara Matsler
The American Quarter Horse Journal
September 9, 2013

Soula Boon photo by Tara Matsler

While some things come easier for "Jules" (pictured here), others are natural for "Nikki." Truly, I couldn’t choose between the two if I had to pick a favorite. (Tara Matsler photo)

There was one truth in life that I always found a bit hard to believe: Good parents don’t have a favorite amongst their progeny.  

A recent conversation with my mother confirmed this fact once again; between me and my brother, Travis, there is no winner, nor is there a loser. I always found such a fact a little hard to swallow, because clearly I was, I mean, I am the most perfect child you could ask for. (Yes, I am not short on hubris, at least not where sibling rivalry is concerned.)

This past weekend, though, I found that my mom does have a point. While I don’t have children, I do have two horses. Like me and my younger brother, my horse children, “Nikki” and “Jules,” are like night and day. For that pair, where one is mild and sedate, the other is a firecracker.

My husband, Cody, and I attended our final reined cow horse show of the year September 6-8, which featured a bridle spectacular and fence challenge to raise funds for a memorial scholarship fund in honor of the late Zinn Lindsey, plus a regular two-day horse show. For this event, we headed down to the Horse Show Arena, smack dab in the oil country of Midland, Texas.

Last fall, I set my goals for the 2013 show season: I wanted to show Lenas Fillynic (aka Nikki) in a bridle spectacular, since it was her first year to step up from the two-rein to the bridle (in a bridle spectacular, a horse works out of the herd, like cutting; completes a rein work pattern, similar to reining; then works the cow down the fence, and all three scores are added together). My other aim was to get familiar and comfortable showing my hackamore horse, Soula Boon, aka Jules. A 4-year-old, Jules happens to be out of Blues Nu Boon (“Bunny”), the bridle horse I’ve shown fairly successfully for the past two years; Jules shares a lot of similarities with her dam, yet has her own differences, as well.

This show season had its ups and downs; there were times when I wanted to kick my own butt for my failure as a do-it-yourself horse trainer, and other moments of pure triumphant joy. I did a lot of learning, to say the least. The biggest highlight of the year was watching Cody compete in the boxing class, where he was highly competitive all year long. This final show in Midland, though, was poised as the culmination of this year’s hard work; it was a test to see just how far we had come, or had failed to progress.

The herd work portion of the bridle spectacular on Friday morning kicked the show off. I’ve never been particularly strong out of the herd, and Nikki was as green as grass at it, save for the handful of times we practiced cutting the two weeks before the show. So when we were the high mark out of the herd, I couldn’t have asked for more. Right there, the show could have ended, and I would’ve been happy enough.

We started the next morning with the rein work and fence work portion of the bridle spectacular, which ran concurrent with our regular National Reined Cow Horse Association non-pro bridle class. Nikki was solid in the rein work, posting the high mark once more, and decent down the fence. Our three scores were good enough to take the non-pro bridle spectacular crown, and we finished second in the non-pro bridle class behind Rhoda Rein and Dig My Peppy Steps, fresh off a win at the AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenge at the Colorado State Fair. By that point, I was elated, and the weekend had just started.

For the rest of the weekend, both my mares were solid, despite the pilot errors I made. And when I showed Jules in the non-pro hackamore on Sunday, my resolve was to trust the little horse I had under me and set her up for success.

Jules spun, slid and ran her circles better than she has all year, then stood patiently, waiting for her cow. It came out, Jules locked the cow in her sights, and the game was on. A pint-sized pony, Jules probably stood as tall as her bovine adversary, but what she lacks in size, she makes up for in tenacity and gusto.  

There’s a difference between the cattle I grew up working in the Northwest versus the snot-blowing fiends that are common in Texas. For a good fence run against the latter type of cattle, you walk a fine line between boxing your cow for too little of time or for too long before you make your move to drive the beast down the long wall.

Our cow stepped to the in-gate, burst into the pen, then rolled back into the fence from where it came,  looking for a way out of the pen. Jules and I worked with the cow, mirroring its movements, stopping it, turning it and driving it, until finally the cow made a turn into us, acknowledging our presence. I knew it was time to go, so I pointed Jules up into the cow’s ribcage, driving the beast around the corner and sent it flying down the fence.

My little horse hung quiet, matching the cow stride for stride. Past the center mark a few strides, I knew it was time to make our move. I clucked to her, and Jules answered, planting her hocks in the stop and turn, making one fluid motion, then jumped out to cover the cow and keep it lined out on the fence. I asked Jules to hustle a little bit more and within a few strides, she had the cow turned once again. While the cow still had a lot more get-up-and-go to it, I pointed Jules to the bovine and she rallied, racing up to its side to circle the cow to the right. After one circle, we switched, and she flew along right next to it.

Right then, I smiled; the whistle was blown, the run was over and my heart was full. For the first time in a long time, I felt that feeling that I had been missing. I had a horse that I knew if I called on her, she would answer – no matter what. Even better, what I learned from each run I made on Jules this past weekend was that I didn’t even have to ask her; she already knew what to do. That, my friends, is one special feeling.

When I watched Cody show Nikki in their final run of the year, I couldn’t have been prouder, especially when I thought over the countless strides they’d made over the year. Nikki is our “steady Eddie,” with her share of moments of brilliance. In just her second year to ever be shown, 7-year-old Nikki is a far cry better than she was this time last year. And that kind of progress is what makes me that much more excited for next year.

My goal for the next show season is simple: Enjoy my ponies – I’ve got two very nice ones.

While some things come easier for Jules, others are natural for Nikki. Truly, I couldn’t choose between the two if I had to pick a favorite.

I think I know what I like best about these mares, though: They’re mine.

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