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Non-pro cutting horse competition is not for the faint of heart. Dominated by seasoned cutting horse competitors, the division features contenders who routinely give the crowd a look at thrilling rides and outstanding horsemanship.
Case in point is McKenzie Merrill, daughter of former AQHA President Frank Merrill and wife, Robin, sister to professional Tyler Merrill and fellow non-pro Megan Miller, and sister-in-law of professional Matt Miller. One might say she’s got horses in her blood, but genetics aside, the tall, slender brunette has never been a slouch in the saddle.
As non-pro competition continues during the 2015 NCHA World Championship Futurity, McKenzie, of Grandview, Texas, is mounted well on a Justa Lil Catfight, a mare by all-time leading sire High Brow Cat and out of Justapepto by Peptoboonsmall. Scores of 218 and 216 in the Non-Pro and Limited Non-Pro have McKenzie feeling like she’s “gellin’.”
Merrill has been having an excellent run this summer and fall, having won the Summer Spectacular Derby Limited Non-Pro finals and the El Rancho Futurity Non Pro Derby on a High Brow Cat grandson, Kausac Kat (Smooth As A Cat x Lenas Tangygirl x Lenas Telesis). But it was right before the El Rancho this last September that she found her equine soul mate.
“Grant (Setnicka) found her at Iron Rose Ranch and we just connected right away,” Merrill said. “She’s so laid back and relaxed for a mare. She’s kind of got a gelding mind set.”
Merrill gives Setnicka, whom she partners with in cutting, the lion’s share of the credit when it comes to her growing skills and Justa Lil Catfight.
“Gary Gonsalves did an outstanding job on her and Grant has been great bringing her on and in helping me get better,” she said. “It was amazing the way she just sort of turned on and became a show horse in our first set.”
McKenzie was a regular fixture in the winner’s circle as a youth in the American Quarter Horse Association, having won her first AQHYA World Championship in 1990 in the cutting on Royal Santana, and her second in 1995 in cutting on Anna Paulena. That same year, she was Reserve World Champion in reining on Seven S Catalpa.
Clearly, she hasn’t lost her touch.