Working for Quarter Horse News has given me the opportunity to drool over many beautiful championship belt buckles. As a hopeful future reiner, one of the things I most look forward to is winning a “real” buckle myself. Sure, I received a buckle in high school for selling the second-highest amount of ads for my FFA chapter, and my dad bought me a buckle that has a horse on it when I was in middle school. But to actually receive a buckle for accomplishing something with my horse? In a way, that feels like a pipe dream.
Winning buckles is an actuality for cutting horse trainer and Equi-Stat Elite $8 Million Rider Matt Gaines, who has earned more buckles than I could ever hope to win. According to his wife, Tara Gaines, most of the buckles have sat in their boxes, either tucked away in drawers or stashed in the horse trailer.
I can relate; I have tubs of ribbons from my show days taking up space in my house. Some of those ribbons even hang in our third bedroom, which has become something of a shrine to those “glory days.” So far, my husband has yet to complain.
The Gaineses recently moved, and Tara made it her goal to organize Matt’s buckles by placing them, in chronological order, in a display coffee table.
“I gathered all the buckles together,” Tara said. “I had them all in a big tote, and then we went through them and separated them by year and put them in there [the coffee table]. He’s had that table for several years, but it wasn’t nearly as full as it is now.”
Much like the ribbons hanging in my office make me recall favorite shows, Tara and Matt both agreed that looking through the buckles brought back memories of great rides on even better horses.
“I’ve got two [National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA)] Super Stakes buckles in there, one I won on Sunettes Dually and one on One Time Pepto,” Matt said of his 2001 and 2005 championships. “And an [NCHA Summer Spectacular] Derby buckle in there that I won on Nu I Wood . All the champion buckles are special because it’s hard to win.
“I think it’s good to look and be reminded that your work has paid off, because anybody that does this, they know it’s a lot of hard work every day. And it’s fun to reflect and think back on some of the horses that I showed that I won a lot of the buckles on.”
After sorting the buckles out, Tara noted that there was still one row to be filled in the couple’s table, joking that once that was done, it was time for Matt to retire. Matt, on the other hand, was not so sure about that timeline, saying it took an average of only three years to fill up a row.
“I’m sure the day is going to come at some point when I’ll retire,” Matt said. “I don’t know that it’ll be in three years. I hope to at some point be able to retire while I’m still young enough to enjoy myself and do some other stuff, but it’s a hard thing to retire from. One, I love it, and I enjoy it and there’s still things I want to accomplish. And two, it’s hard to really make enough money as a horse trainer to be able to afford to retire. So I don’t know if I’ll be lucky enough to get there or not! We’ll just have to see, I guess.”
Since I’m probably a long way from retirement myself, I’ve still got time to start my own buckle table. After seeing Tara’s photos, I’m feeling particularly inspired!
Kristin Pitzer is an associate editor for Quarter Horse News. After graduating from Texas A&M University in 2009, Kristin worked in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine continuing education department for almost six years. In 2014, she obtained a master’s degree in publishing from the University of Houston-Victoria. Within the next year, Kristin moved to Fort Worth, Texas, started working for QHN and married her wonderful husband, Philip. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding.