I’m so very proud of the young members of our Team Woof Pack. When you have children like 8-year-old Hailey Haas that saves up her winnings to donate $2,000 to K9s4COPs and K9s4Kids it restores your faith in humankind. These kids are learning early on the joys of giving and benefiting the greater good.
It seemed only fitting to reward their hard work by offering them a premier event of their own. This November 21-23 in Bryan, Texas, Schiller Ranch will host the inaugural running of the Diamonds & Dirt Youth Barrel Horse Classic, benefiting K9s4KIDs. The event, which includes both barrel racing and pole bending, is open to contestants ages 19 and under.
I can guarantee you that this will be the finest assortment of dedicated and talented young riders from across the country as well as the greatest collection of finely-tuned, bomb-proof equine babysitters on the planet!
Children growing up with horses is something near and dear to my heart. I grew up with horses and competed in youth rodeos. I treasured my first real barrel horse Adios King. He taught me how to win and lose, and that beauty truly is more than skin deep, because the only thing beautiful about King was how he me feel. He was my King and when I lost him, I attempted to hold on to him forever. I called up the taxidermist to have my fine equine specimen stuffed only to be foiled by the words, “Does your Daddy know about this?”
Horses can teach our children so much more than tradition sports. Your teammate has no voice so you learn the value of no-verbal communication. You learn trust—you trust a 1,000 pound animal with a mind of its own to do what it’s trained to do. That in turn breeds empowerment, especially to our young women. It’s difficult for anyone that has straddled a horse and charged into competition not to feel some since of empowerment.
I truly enjoy seeing children gain confidence through horses. I’m continually amazed at my daughter Sinclair, who has become braver, bolder, faster with each race. The wins are great but it’s the sense of accomplishment—conquering a fear, doing what you’ve never done before that carries over to outside the arena.
I watched this not only with Sinclair, but with other children in our circle. I have a special place in my heart for the “Kings” I’ve been able to purchase Sinclair. These masterful ponies and horses are beyond priceless and their patience is simply immeasurable.
Many of these equine veterans are long in the tooth—if they have any left at all—and are long beyond their glory days but they still enjoy their jobs and have so much more to give. They’ve taken care of my daughter and I’ve promised them a lush life for the rest of their days.
But not all of them are content in the pasture. It’s hard to believe they wouldn’t enjoy the rest and relaxation of their twilight years, but they crave the chaos and their doting young riders.
I have several horse and ponies that have raised many of my friend’s children, serving as equine steps on the ladder to horsemanship success. I refer to my stable of babysitters and set-up horses as the lending library. Take it, learn from it, bring back in the condition you borrowed it and check out another when you’re ready.
Even the best movies get old when you watch them over and over, but watching these horses raising riders never gets old–from that trepidatious first lope to the giggles on their first “real run home.” They take bobble headed riders and turn them in to confident, focused individuals all the while giving them the rides of their young lives. They know when to walk, when to run—when to push, when to wait. Funny how the kid’s on their backs figure that out too…
For the second straight year, Schiller Ranch has owned the Barrel Futurity Horse of the Year! My beloved Insane For Fame (affectionately known as “J-Lo”) earned the title in 2012 based on her $145,697 in earnings. I R A Grand Victory (“Ira”) claimed the honor in 2013 with $113,180 in earnings.
This honor is based on their first-year competition earnings as compiled by Equi-Stat (barrel racing’s version of Equibase for my racehorse friends) and printed in the magazine Barrel Horse News. It’s like a barrel horse rookie of the year title.
J-Lo, a daughter of the all-time leading sire of barrel horses, Dash Ta Fame, was my Craig’s List discovery that my trainer LaTricia Duke was convinced would be a waste of time to train and didn’t have a chance at making a futurity horse due to her late start to training. As if my kindred equine spirit would be slow on the uptake. Beauty does come with brains, you know.
Now retired from competition, J-Lo is the proud mother via embryo transfer of a colt by Firewaterontherocks, a young leading sire of barrel horses that was trained by Duke. Firewaterontherocks is still winning professional rodeos with his owner Robyn Herring.
Ira, too, is now retired and is expecting foals next spring via embryo transfer. We had purchased her last spring after she had won the $100,000 LG Pro Classic Slot Race. Ira is by a stallion named CEO out of Pure Victory Dash, who qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2013 with Sydni Blanchard. She is actually a two-time $100,000-race winner, having won the BFA Super Stakes in 2013.
This is an amazing accomplishment since J-Lo was our very first excursion into the world of barrel racing futurities. In just three short years, Schiller Ranch has trained and owned some of the brightest stars in the industry. It’s only a matter of time before our next champions are one that we’ve completely created on our own, from planning their conception, to their first wobbly steps on this Earth, from their first rides under saddle to their first shots at championship glory.
Cliché though it may be, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Foaling season has arrived at Schiller Ranch. By the time you read this, we may have as many as four spindly-legged, future champions on the ground.
Raising horses and allowing my daughter Sinclair to experience the wonders of birth and the trials and tribulations of making a champion—a real world, life study—was one of the main reasons I came back to horses.
I’ve placed our mares in the very capable hands of Donna Hanover, who becomes a nocturnal being during foaling season. She keeps sharp records on foaling dates and carefully observes each mare for impending signs of delivery. Even though the hours are horrible, she loves her job and is damn good at it.
Schiller Ranch has special video monitors so we can watch the mares from anywhere—even Casa Chaos in Houston. Most nights when Donna’s up and watching, I am too.
I’ve done so many exciting things in my life—traveled to so many exciting places—met so many wonderful and fascinating people, but to walk into barn hours before the first rays of sunlight have crested the horizon, smell the fresh shavings and hear the first soft knickers of a mare to her foal…it’s a quiet glory that few will ever understand. The pride you feel when the just minutes after birth a foal is standing and walking is almost indescribable.
You marvel at how something so fragile—and uncoordinated—will grow into a 1,000 pound athlete with speed, grace and the desire to be the best.
That desire to be the best is what most people outside the horse world don’t understand. You can select for many superior athletic traits, but the hardest of all to harness is desire. Insane For Fame, my beloved J-Lo, has it and so does my stallion, Epic Leader.
Sadly, Mother Nature can be so cruel. We lost my royal baby—the first foal by Epic Leader out of Insane For Fame late last fall. The recipient mare that was carrying J-Lo’s baby via embryonic transplant birthed a big, black colt much too early due to a twisted umbilical cord.
The ranch felt the loss so keenly that it became the elephant in the room. No one wanted to talk about it. Our year of waiting and great expectations were all for naught.
Thankfully, I own the factory and we will try again this spring. Until then, I’ll watch my monitor—text and call Donna to no end—and make my treks down to the foaling barn whenever our newest foals arrive. Each one is special. Each one touches my heart, simply because they’ve arrived safe and sound.
I’m simply OVER THE MOON that my daughter Sinclair has a full blown love affair with horses and barrel racing. My little 40 pound jockey has gone from trying to find a D in the alphabet this past spring to running in the 1D Labor Day weekend—in the OPEN! AGAINST ADULTS!
At Diamonds & Dirt™ this past March, she trotted and baby loped a blistering 46-second pattern on her steadfast mare Rosie. I SWEAR I’m having this mare cloned. She is a SAINT!
Later this spring we ventured off into pee wee rodeos. We did our first series at the Waller County Fairgrounds in Hempstead. Next thing I knew she was loping home from a broken pattern with her head thrown back and a smile on her face.
She was having fun; bottom line that’s why we do this. But, just how far will she take it?
We moved on to the next series—Little Britches in Field Store. Sinclair got to experience her first all-night rodeo, but never weakened, even when we finished at 3 a.m. She was getting faster and had moved up to Butter, a speed-demon pony that came from the family of Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier and former IPRA World Champion Jane Melby.
Butter was no softy though. He was testy to say the least, but she stayed hooked. She earned her first open checks with her plush Palomino pony.
Her confidence was growing in leaps and bounds. Was she ready for her first REAL barrel horse?
Sinclair’s next big test was the Ogden 8 & Under World Championships in Andrews, Texas. This was no backyard goat-roping, these young riders came to play with some serious horsepower. One of the horses we ran against was Mystic Angela, a former NFR record holder!
She ran Butter and Homie, a great gray gelding that is a solid campaigner that had carried my friend Shanna Brown’s daughter at Hempstead earlier this spring. The next thing I knew it was bye, bye Butter. I HAD NO IDEA that Homie would be next to go.
Once Sinclair saw other kids her age competing at such a high level, her competitive nature took over. (I have no idea where she got that from!) She went and spent two weeks with Jackie Ganter, one of the toughest youth barrel racers around and proud member of Team Woof Pack, a group of talented young riders who donate a portion of their earnings to K9s4COPs.
She saw how much work Jackie puts into her horses. After hanging out with Jackie, all she’s wanted to do is learn how to run barrels. The kid lives with LaTricia Duke, for heaven’s sake–all she had to do was walk to the barn to learn from the best of the best, but seeing how much work another kid put into it made her want to do it.
She went from having someone else booting her horses before and after a run to taking care of that herself. Of course, a good pile of dirt still calls to from time to time, but she’s learning her horses have to come first.
That dedication earned her a new mount—Little Bit. Professionally known as APHA World Champion Sugs Calico Dreamer, the Paint gelding was one of LaTricia’s first superstars. She knew he would be perfect for Sinclair. He’d do his job, but take care of his rider.
Little Bit and Sinclair ran in the 1D at the very tough Jurassic Classic over Labor Day Weekend, and she won the 1D Youth!
When you look at her 40 pounds and see the determination of driving this 1,100 pound amazing animal at top speed, you just sit and watch them in awe. Doodle, I’m so PROUD of YOU!
It’s always fun to try to explain to people what it is that my horses do and what Diamonds & Dirt is.
First I have to explain to them that I have barrel horses for barrel racing. You can image the vision that pops in their heads, right? I explain that it’s a largely women-dominated sport where riders guide their horses in a cloverleaf pattern around 55-gallon oil drums and the fastest time wins.
At least most of my husband’s Wall Street cohorts know what the oil drums are, and no they’re not filled with sweet crude. If you hit one of those going 30 miles per hour with your bare leg—Well, that would make my sciatica look tolerable!
As an aside, my sciatica is no longer an issue thanks to my wonderful doctors; however, as soon as I’m able my shins will be fair game as I make my return to the arena. Yes, I can ride. Yes, I do go fast. And, no I don’t fall off–intentionally.
I digress. Back to what my horses do…
As with all sports there are many levels of competition. At Schiller Ranch, we raise horses for futurity competition, which pits young barrel horses in their first year of competition against each other. They can be 4- or 5-years-old, but they have to be in their rookie season of barrel racing. It keeps the playing field level, but raises the gamble.
Outside of rodeos, futurities are the richest events for barrel horses. Our own Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic, which raises money for K9s4COPs, is one of the richest in the industry. In fact, it ranked as one of the Top 10 events in the country in its debut.
I employ Latricia Duke to train my horses, and as she so eloquently told me when we first met, her job was to “take young stupid horses and make them look not so stupid.”
That philosophy works for her pretty well, she’s won more than $1 million running barrels and has trained several horses that have competed at the World’s Richest Rodeo—the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. In fact, one of those—Yeah Hes Firen—won the World Championship with Brittany Pozzi, who just happens to be the inaugural champion of the Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic Futurity riding a horse a horse she raised and trained herself, Ima Super Fly Guy.
Now if that venture wasn’t risky enough, we have slot futurities, or slot races, as they’re often called. These lucrative races offer 50 “slots” for $5,000 apiece. Typically $220- to $225,000 is offered as the purse with the winning horse taking home $100,000.
The challenge is to pick your best futurity horse for the slot, and you have to do that well ahead of time. So you’re basically guessing, based on their performance in practice situations, which will be able to handle the pressure of actual competition the best.
So very risky, but so very rewarding.
My first futurity horse, Insane For Fame, won the Lance Graves Pro Classic Slot race in 2012. Stay tuned. You’ll be hearing A LOT about her.
Our friends refer to the ranch as Schiller Land –The Texas version of Disney World.
It’s a great escape, tucked back in the Post Oaks away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
We keep a “dude” string of horses for our guests—You should see our friend Brooklyn native Will Bill Stanton sit a horse. We even have some beginner barrel racing mounts—our daughter Sinclair’s hand-me downs—for those willing to attempt sport. Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin’s son, Jackson, did and almost won a check at our Diamonds & Dirt Barrel Horse Classic this year.
The pride of Schiller Ranch is our ever-expanding herd of prize-winning barrel horses. The queen is undoubtedly Insane For Fame, my Craig’s List find that turned into a $180,000 Champion. We’ve added a King to the mix—Epic Leader, a talented young stallion that competed against, and occasionally bested, our Queen. We are anxiously awaiting their foal due in the spring of 2014.
Much to John’s chagrin, we’ve run out of room and are adding on to our barns. We have a training barn, a.k.a. Latricia Duke’s barn, where the competition horses and the horses in training reside. We also have, and are expanding the breeding barn, a.k.a. Donna Hanover’s barn, where the mares foal, babies are raised and our new stallion Epic resides with his companion Mighty Man, the miniature pony.
Simply put there are horses everywhere!