When Eric Van Boekel’s wife, Katherine, sold her $5,000 Novice Non-Pro horse and then posted the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Eastern Nationals slot as available for sale on Facebook, she couldn’t have known the person who bought it would become her husband’s fiercest competition at the show.
As the second to last person to the herd in the 26-horse finals, Eric and Peppys Cashin Checks had to try to best the high score of 216.5 that was set by Lauren Middleton, who’d bought the slot from Katherine for her mare Ironn Butterfly. Van Boekel matched it, and he and Middleton each earned a check worth $4,079 for being the co-champions of the $5,000 Novice Non-Pro.
“It was a last minute thing to go,” said Middleton, who wasn’t able to show her usual weekend horse Sweet Reyvenge due to a rule that prevents horses that competed in the prior year’s NCHA World Finals Non-Pro from going to the Nationals. “I thought I’d be breeding this mare already, but I wasn’t. As it got closer, she’d been being really good, but the entry deadline had already passed. As it happened I was able to buy a slot from Eric’s wife.”
Middleton and the 8-year-old mare Ironn Butterfly (Just Playin Smart x Smart Cat Moria x High Brow Cat), an earner of $103,200, made the Non-Pro finals at the NCHA Super Stakes and NCHA Derby together and won the 2016 Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Classic/Challenge Non-Pro. For Middleton, winning an Eastern Nationals title on Ironn Butterfly was the icing on a great career.
“It was really tough. It was one of those things where you just wanted to cut clean and try to set her up as best as I could,” Middleton said of her run in the $5,000 Novice Non-Pro. “Last year when I showed her here, she was a little bit mind-blown – she very much had the aged-event mentality and didn’t know how to handle these really, really fast cows.
“This year, I was super proud of her because she did everything that she was supposed to do, was pretty but was smarter about it all,” she continued. “Last year, if a cow was up underneath her, she’d raise up and get nervous. Yesterday [in the finals] when a cow was up underneath her and trying her pretty hard, she just got low and confident and could handle the situation. That comes with growing up, too.”
Middleton has won more money at the Eastern Nationals than any other non-pro. She has been attending the event since 1992.
“It’s coming home for me, I love it. I grew up showing here and there used to be weekend shows here as well,” Middleton said of why she wanted to compete in Jackson, Mississippi, again this year. “To win on ‘Butterfly’ was cool because I’ve never gotten a title on her at that show. Every other horse I’ve shown has been a gelding other than Widows Freckles, a stallion I won the Non-Pro on in 2003, so to win on a mare was fun.”
The Van Boekels had only been to the Eastern Nationals once before. That was in 2014, but when many of their horses turned seven this year, including Peppys Cashin Checks, an earner of $126,288, they decided to go to some weekend shows.
“We’ve had a late start this year. We really didn’t start showing horses again until the Bonanza. We missed The Ike in January and the Arbuckle Mountain Futurity because we thought we’d show these older horses,” Van Boekel said.
While the Van Boekels train with Lee Francois, at the Eastern Nationals they got help from Ben Roberson along with Walt Erwin, Billy Kidd and Roy Bauer.
“I can’t thank my help enough, we’ve had a nice team down here,” Van Boekel said. “They’ve done an extraordinary job for me picking cows and turning back. With Peppys Cashin Checks, every draw I’ve had on him here he’s been last or second to last, so the cattle they’ve picked have been fantastic.”
Peppys Cashin Checks (Im Countin Checks x Peppys Stylish Lena x Docs Stylish Oak) and Van Boekel were the Reserve Champions in the $25,000 Novice Non-Pro the night before the finals of the $5,000 Novice Non-Pro.
“I took the same approach that I had the entire show. I wanted to limit my mistakes, cut the cows clean and let the horse work the cow if it was able to. We had three really nice cuts, and my horse worked really well. All week he worked fantastic,” said Van Boekel, who also finished sixth in the Non-Pro on Peppys Cashin Checks after he won the $5,000 Novice Non-Pro. “He’s been so good that we’ve been wearing him out. I think his legs will be three inches shorter by the end of the day.”
Peppys Cashin Checks is a special horse to Van Boekel.
“I made my first Non-Pro finals on him at the [NCHA] Super Stakes and was the Reserve Champion in the  Super Stakes Classic Unlimited Amateur as well,” said Van Boekel, of Ontario, Canada. “He was a great Open horse and Lee rode him for about $90,000 of the money that he’s won. He’s just a horse that has a lot of try. He’s so laid back, but when you put him in front of a cow, he gets electric. We may take them home after the Derby [NCHA Summer Spectacular] so we can do some of the fall shows in our area.”
This is the first Eastern Nationals title for Van Boekel.
“It’s very special. The first show we showed him at this year was the $25,000 Novice Non-Pro in Houston, and he was the champion there, so to come down here and be Reserve in that and then win the $5,000 Novice, it’s been fantastic,” Van Boekel said. “It’s just been a fantastic show. It was well put on.”