Loveya, a product of Cam Essick's Pacific Range Ranch, has grown up to be a talented performer. • Photo by Cam Essick

Essick & Loveya – Can’t Hold ’Em Down

Drawing slot 66 of 68 with Loveya in the Best Little Derby in the West’s Derby Non-Pro meant Cam Essick, of Clements, California, didn’t make her run until well after midnight for the Friday finals that spilled over into the early hours of Saturday. That came after several late nights watching the foaling cam waiting for Loveya’s dam to deliver her latest foal.

The lack of sleep didn’t affect her performance aboard the 2013 gelding Loveya (Gunnatrashya x Love Em N Lena x Smart Little Lena), though. The pair marked a 217 to win the Derby Levels 4 and 3 Non-Pro at the Nampa, Idaho, event. She collected chekcs for $1,920 and $2,768, respectively.

“It’s been such a long week. I was watching the foaling cam at 3:30 in the morning Friday and had to be at the show by 5:00 a.m.,” she said. “I wasn’t actually going to show Loveya but decided to at the last minute.”

Essick described Loveya as a talented horse, but one that’s tough to ride. After earning $75,732 as a 3-year-old in 2016, a back injury translated into a long recovery. Because of the injury, he has arthritis in his back and he can be stiff.

“We’ve been working on getting him put back together,” she said. “I ride him every day at home, and he knows his job.”

Essick, whose lifetime Equi-Stat records exceeds $131,000, keeps the gelding at home where she and husband Jim have dedicated a significant amount of time, energy and finances into rehabbing the young horse that was born and raised on their Pacific Range Ranch.

“He’s just a plain little bay, but he’s a really great horse,” she said.

When Essick travels to competition, Sean and Jordan McBurney from Arlington, Washington, coach her before she heads into the show pen. Lately, Loveya has struggled with lead changes, but the McBurneys prepared Essick the week leading up to the competition and told her to go for it.

“He’s really good with all of his maneuvers. We went for a clean and consistent run,” she said.

More than anything, Essick is proud that Loveya is another talented offspring out of the breeding program she and Jim have developed. His sisters – Loveya To Love Me and I Love Ya – were the highest-selling yearlings at the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Sales the last two years.

“We are really proud of our breeding program and proud of the horses we’ve produced,” she said.

Derby Level 2 Non-Pro

With only a handful of rides under their belt since last fall’s NRHA Futurity, Stephanie Porath and Whizkey Genetics (Whizkey N Diamonds x Kinetic Genetics x Great Resolve [Einstein]) scored a 216.5 to win the Level 2 Non-Pro, along with the Derby Level 4 4-Year-Old Non-Pro. The payouts of $1,307 and $1,695 pushed the Non-Pro rider’s lifetime earnings over the $100,000 mark.

“I showed her a few times as a futurity horse, but it always seemed like we had a bobble,” she said. “We finally put it all together at this show.”

Porath said the mare’s circles were exceptional and she stayed with her rider during the entire run. Even though Porath had an early draw, their performance translated into a score that held up. Their 216.5 also earned them second in Levels 4 and 3, worth another $3,465. The paychecks boosted the young mare’s Equi-Stat record from $708 to more than $7,000.

Porath, a mother of two who also works full time while attending school, bought the 4-year-old palomino mare in July of 2017. Porath credited her husband, Jackson, with bringing Whizkey Genetics along so quickly. She said he dedicated long hours to advance the mare’s training.

Porath doesn’t currently have another show scheduled for the young horse, but she looked forward to watching the horse develop into a finished competitor.

“She is getting more broke as she is maturing, and she is really learning her job,” she said.

The couple operate Rock Creek Reining in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Jackson specializes in training derby and futurity horses, and also coaches non-pro riders. He grew up in Rockland, Idaho, in a ranching family and his father still runs the family ranch and runs around 30 broodmares.

Porath grew up in Idaho Falls. She has also been around horses her whole life, though she got her start in reining on the East Coast while living in Pennsylvania for a time. Her parents, George and Robyn King, are show managers for the weeklong Best Little Derby in the West.

“George always has a smile on his face, whether it’s 5 a.m. or midnight,” Levels 4 and 3 Non-Pro Champion Cam Essick said. “They go above and beyond to make sure everyone is having a positive experience.”

Derby Level 1 Open

Cochrane, Alberta, Canada-based non-pro Sara Seelhof piloted Shes A Dusty Whiz, aka “Ebony,” to the Derby Level 1 Non-Pro win. Their 216 earned them the top spot and $643.

“We were the 11th draw, and I was bummed,” she admitted. “I usually like to draw later in a big class.”

She needn’t have worried. The duo’s score was strong enough to also place them second in Level 2 and third in Levels 4 and 3. The additional combined $3,659 payday bumped the mare’s Equi-Stat record to more than $6,000.

“I was really happy with how far she has come,” Seelhof said. “I’ve haven’t been in the pen in so long that I’ve gotten rusty on my stops. I’ve been able to get some cool stops out of her.”

Ebony (Shiners Lena Dust x Op Shes A Whiz x Whizzel A Melody) was an early Christmas present from Seelhof’s husband, Austin. Since then, the mare has proven to be quirky. Just when Seelhof thinks she has their lead changes down, she’ll bolt right through them.

The mare also had a bad wreck prior to arriving at the Seelhof’s barn. Because of that, she’s scared by other horses, which can make navigating the warm-up pen challenging.

“She’s always throwing something new at me,” Seelhof said, adding that Ebony wears a Hidez hood in crowded settings. “I like that kind of horse, the one that you have to work on.”

Seelhof appreciated Austin’s coaching, and said she recognizes the husband/wife dynamic can make training sessions interesting.

“He does it so well. He’s really patient with me, and I really appreciate that,” she said.

The Seelhofs, who operate Seelhof Performance Horses, hauled six horses on the 14-hour trip from Canada to compete at the Best Little Derby in the West.

“This was my first trip here, even though Austin has been before. We’ll definitely be back,” she said.