horse and rider
SJR Smart Dancer & Rebecca Sternadel • Photo by Primo Morales

SJR Smart Dancer (PT) Waltzes to Limited Open Hackamore World Title

One lone cowgirl and her gelding SJR Smart Dancer stood their ground among nine fellow Limited Open Hackamore finalists as they rose to the top and were crowned the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Limited Open Hackamore World Champions.

“It feels good!” Rebecca Sternadel said about beating “all the guys.”

As she waited for the finals to conclude, Sternadel tried not to think too much about the outcome. She just thought things would “fall where they may,” she said.

“I knew either way [win or lose], I was going to come out of this and just be proud and happy!” Sternadel said. ”I just love this horse. I owe him a lot!”

SJR Smart Dancer (PT) (WR This Cats Smart x Like A Sundance [PT] x Like A Diamond [PT]), a 2013 gelding bred by San Juan Ranch, of Weatherford, Texas, and Sternadel scored a 216 in the rein work and 214.5 in the cow work for a composite score of 430.5. In the prelim round, the pair had placed second with a 284.5 (140 rein work score and 144.5 cow work score).

“All of his stops were good and he was pretty responsive, a little strong, but not too bad — he’s always been there and pulled through for me,” she said of “Butter,” as she calls the gelding.

On a cow, Sternadel added, “Butter is really smart and always makes the right choices. I just have to sit there and maybe help out a little bit.

“Cows are his best work and mine is probably the rein work, so I guess we kind of balance each other out.”

Sternadel next plans to show Butter in the Open Two-Rein, and later, in the Open Bridle.

“That was my goal when I got him — I told myself that I was going to go every step,” she said. “The [original] plan was to sell him at the end [of his training], but I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore!”

This was Sternadel’s second time to qualify for the World Championships but her first trip to the Fort Worth event.

“I had qualified another horse a few years ago but didn’t come [to the finals],” Sternadel said. “So this time, I was like, ‘I’m going to go do it and see what I can do!’”

Although she began riding at an early age, Sternadel, who is 34 years old, has only been involved in the reined cow horse industry since she was probably in her mid-to-late 20s. Before she began riding reined cow horses, Sternadel said she had a riding school where she gave riding lessons and things like that.

“I liked doing that a lot,” she said. “But, I wanted to do something for myself and to see how far I could take my riding ability. Once I found out this [cow horse] existed and I went down the fence one time, that was it. I was sold!

“I started working for Roger [Bias] and I didn’t know anything about reined cow horse. He kind of got me into it. Later, I went to work for Jake [Gorrell], and then in 2015, I kind of set off on my own,” she added.

Among the individuals Sternadel thanked for their help and support were Gorrell, an Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider; Don Murphy; and Roger and Cynthia Bias. Sternadel sees the Biases on a daily basis, as she trains out of Roger Bias Performance Horses in Edison, California — just outside of Bakersfield.

“Without [all of] those people, I don’t know if I’d be here,” Sternadel said. “They have helped me immensely.

“Jake actually helped me pick him [Butter] out as a long yearling at the 2014 [NRCHA] Snaffle Bit Futurity. I bought him, started him and have had him ever since.”

Although there’s a lot of miles between California and Oklahoma, where Murphy lives, Sternadel said she makes sure to “run him down” at whatever show they both attend.

“And,” she added, “I make him help me — every time!”

Sternadel also thanked are her mother, Tish Sternadel, who lives in Oregon and supports her more than 100 percent, and her husband, Sinan Imer, who was unable to attend the show but watched the finals via NRCHA’s live feed and texted Sternadel after each run to inform her of what was going on.

“He’s been one of my biggest supporters and has been behind me 100 percent since Day 1.

“And,” she good-naturedly added, “he’s a great stall cleaner!”