Easy Otie Whiz & Matt Mills Win in Kentucky!
Lexington, KY – It was a night of upsets at the Kentucky Horse Park during the 2006 Adequan®/United States Equestrian Federation® Open Reining Championship, which was also the selection trial for the U.S Reining Team for this summer’s World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. Twenty-seven of the finest reiners our nation has to offer competed in what many believed was one of the most competitive reining competitions ever held. The top four finishers will comprise the Untied States Reining Team pending the approval of the USEF Executive Committee.
When the dust settled from the sliding stops and spins, it was Matt Mills on the top of the leader board with the ride of the night. Of the 27 competitors, two top riders zeroed early in the competition, another kicked-out on a figure eight and saw his score drop too low to stay in contention, and one left the ring early when the horse apparently sustained a minor injury during his ride. That left four top place finishers from very different worlds, two of the biggest names in the reining world of legendary stature, and two that have never shown internationally and are now scrambling to get a passport.
Mills and Easy Otie Whiz, a seven-year-old Quarter Horse stallion, owned by Out West Stallion Station and Bobbie Cook took home top honors with a score of 231. In addition to the title, Mills won the Don Burt Award, given to the highest placed restricted reining rider in the Adequan/USEF Open Reining Championship.
“It was a pretty tough group of riders and horses in this event. I was just hoping to survive and be in the top four. You’ve got almost all of the million dollar riders except for two of them here. It’s pretty tough competition…He felt on all week. I didn’t do much preparation on him. Everything I asked him to do, he did right off the bat. When I walked in the pen and loped him off, he’s been really good every time I’ve shown him, but tonight he felt extra locked in and extra special and I decided to go ahead and throw caution to the wind and see what happened, it worked out alright.”
Mills admitted that it can be easy to get really tense, really quickly and forget to breathe, which is why he let out a deep breath before he started. This time he knew right away that his horse was dialed in. “I was along for the ride. I just kind of smiled and said, good boy.”
Tied for reserve champion this evening were Aaron Ralston and Tim McQuay with a score of 229.5. Ralston’s horse Smart Paul Olena is a 12-year-old Quarter Horse stallion, owned by Meg Griffith-Ralston. Ralston and his wife have owned him for some time; they pulled him out of a pasture on a mountainside where his sole job was to breed mares all day long. Ralston agreed his horse is certainly known for his beautiful stops. “That’s his deal. If you can just get him to run, you can get him to heal. Sometimes I am not strong enough.”
He is also known for his bareback freestyle. When asked about going bridleless and bareback Ralston said, “You know I did that, but I got in a lot of trouble because I did it at the National Western Stock Show and it was the first time I did this routine. I was doing it with my bridle, and I stopped in the center and was really getting into the crowd because there are like five or six thousand people at the stock show. They’re all yelling and screaming and I am thinking I just can’t do anything wrong. I am superman. So I pulled my bridle off and threw it on the ground, and I’d never practiced it at home and I’m doing it in front of all these people. So I lope off in the left lead, and all I had to do was lope off to the left, change leads and stop, so I lope off to the left lead and I kind of start fading to the right. So I just changed leads and drug a lead and got it, and came around and stopped but my wife got kind of mad at me.”
McQuay’s horse, Mister Nicadual, earned a big pat when they completed their ride that told the crowd immediately he was happy with his ride. Mister Nicadual is a six-year-old Quarter Horse stallion, owned by Jerry Kimmel. McQuay is the currently the NRHA’s all time money winner.
National Reining Horse Association President Dell Hendricks and his horse Starbucks Sidekick rounded out the top four with a score of 226.5. Starbucks Sidekick is a six-year-old Quarter Horse stallion, owned by Adair Reiners LLC. Ironically, one of Hendricks’ best past apprentices was top-place finisher Mills. In another interesting twist, Craig Schmersal, who actually tied with Hendricks for fourth place generously offered to step down after the World Games Team Selection tie-breaking process that left them still in a tie. Schmersal was a member of the Gold medal-winning team that competed in Jerez, Spain at the 2002 World Equestrian Games.
Hendricks bought Starbucks Sidekick from McQuay as a yearling and Mills started him, so he is truly a team horse. “I won my very first NRHA reining on this horse's mother, and he’s just been a consistent little show horse for me forever, and he did it again tonight.”
When asked what he thought about his potential new U.S. Reining Team for the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games, Chef d’Equipe Jeff Petska “I’m excited, I knew looking at that list, no matter how it came down, we were going to have a fantastic team. The first horse came in and marked a big score and you never know what is going to happen from there. Everybody continually stepped up, and these guys had some great runs. As a chef, you watch the horses show and you’re only focus is that the soundest horses and the horses that look like they’re the best prepared make the team, and I think we’ve got an excellent group here. I feel real good about our chances, and I’m proud of these guys. They’ve done a great job and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun with them.”
--Article by Jeannie Blancq Putney
Out West Stallion Station & Performance Horses
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Photos: Betsy Lynch Stop photo: John O'Hara
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