by Larri Jo StarkeyThe American Quarter Horse Journal
AQHA Professional Horseman Melissa Dukes drives Skys Moon Pie to a world championship in senior pleasure driving. (Journal photo)
It might have been the sweetest moment of the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show.
In senior pleasure driving, AQHA Professional Horsemen Kevin and Melissa Dukes were driving two different horses.
Melissa, dressed in scarlet satin with a matching hat, was behind the gray mare Skys Moon Pie, the 2009 Select World champion in pleasure driving owned by Kathy Hunt of Clovis, California.
Melissa’s husband, Kevin, wearing a dapper fedora, was behind the 2011 world champion in senior pleasure driving, the gray gelding Totally Ironic, owned by Cathy Frank of Phoenix.
As the awards were counted down, drivers in the 12-horse finals left the Jim Norick Coliseum one-by-one with their prizes. Finally, the only two drivers still in the arena – both of them behind gray horses – were both named Dukes.
As Totally Ironic’s name was called for the reserve championship, Kevin circled his horse and cart, stopped beside Melissa’s cart, got out still holding the lines and kissed his wife. He got back in and drove up to accept the reserve world championship.
Skys Moon Pie was the only horse left in the arena – the new world champion. Melissa wiped a few stray tears and took her victory lap.
Back in the Super Barn near the warmup arena, Melissa spoke about “Skyler” for her Journal Winning Run interview.
“She just was awesome for me,” Melissa said. “I’m so proud of her. She went out there and did her job and enjoyed doing it.”
Skys Moon Pie is a 2005 gray mare by Skys Blue Boy-Miss Fager’s Tune (TB) by Conquista Fager. She was bred by John D. Zuidema Jr. of Alachua, Florida, and has been in training with Kevin and Melissa for two years.
“Her owner, Kathy Hunt, couldn’t be here today,” Melissa said. “She was going to fly in and something was wrong with the plane, so she was unable to come. But yay! We won it! This is for you, Kathy!”
The carts in the final filled the arena, and cutting through the traffic was an important part of the drive.
“She’s like driving a Porsche, so it was fun,” Melissa said. “(The biggest challenge was) just to get around my husband in the class.”
The win is Melissa’s first as a professional and placing 1-2 with her husband made it more special.
“That was pretty awesome,” she said. “I was (crying), especially when he got out of his cart and kissed me. That was the best. That made it even better.”