The late Sonitalena, piloted by owner Willie Richardson, was the 1996 NCHA Open World Champion. • Photo by Don Shugart

World Champion Cutter & “Best Friend” Sonitalena Dies

A National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Champion has died at the age of 32.

Sonitalena, the 1996 NCHA Open World Champion, left behind a performance record of more than $220,000 and a sire record approaching the $1 million milestone. His trainer and long-time owner, Willie Richardson, said the horse he’d known for all of its life was put down on March 20 due to infirmities of old age. The stallion had lived in Colorado for several years.

“He was my best friend for about 32 years,” said Richardson, of Ridgeway, Colorado.

The 1987 stallion (Doc O’Lena x Sonitas Joy x Sonita’s Last) was bred by London Valley Quarter Horses, of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Sonitalena posted his first check to Equi-Stat as a 4-year-old in 1991. With Richardson at the helm, he accumulated more than $20,000 in that first season.

As the years went on, Richardson continued to compete — and win — aboard Sonitalena. The stallion was a star at any-age weekend events, frequently finishing first or second in the Open. The duo hit the road hard in 1996, garnering $91,628 in the point year for the Open World title. The horse’s record reflects merely one check following his final performance at the NCHA World Finals in February 1997 — a first-place Open finish at a 2002 Cowtown Cutters event with Tony Rebeiro.

The bay stallion’s charisma and crouching style made him a crowd favorite and force to be reckoned with whenever he entered the show ring, Richardson recalled. The horse was owned for nearly his entire show career by Jane and Willie Richardson. 

“I felt like Superman when I was riding Sonitalena, because I could go to the toughest cutting in the whole world and know that we were the ones to beat. It just made you feel really good,” he said. “He was just one of the purest minded horses that ever looked through a bridle. For a stallion, he was just extremely kind and he was a horse that everybody liked.”

An Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider, Richardson had a history with Sonitalena’s family. Notably, he rode the horse’s mother, Sonitas Joy, to the 1985 NCHA Super Stakes Open Championship for her owner at the time, Herman Bennett Ranch. The mare was later sold to London Valley Quarter Horses, and retired after the 1986 show season with an Equi-Stat record of $320,081.

Sonitalena remained an exceptionally kind horse throughout his show and stallion career, Richardson said.

“He was just one of the kindest horses that you’ll ever meet,” said Richardson, who said Lannie Mecom partnered on Sonitalena during the horse’s stud career. “He was just a sweetheart. Never had an evil thought in his life.”

Sonitalena • QHN File Photo

Sonitalena begain his career as a sire early; his first money-earners were born in 1991. As of late March, he boasted 100 performers on his Equi-Stat record, with offspring earnings totaling $938,791 for a $9,388 average. His leading get are So Wild About You ($75,526, out of Wild Irish Wasp x Wild Wasp); Intentions Are Good ($61,950, out of Intend To Do x Bob Acre Doc); and Genuine Sonitalena ($52,885, out of Genuine Jan x Genuine Doc).

Richardson said Sonitalena seemed to pass on athleticism and trainability to his offspring, which also tended to have a lot of eye appeal.

“That’s one thing you never had to worry about,” he said. “You knew they were going to be an athlete when they were born.”

As a broodmare sire, Sonitalena lays claim to more than $655,000 in earnings. His daughters have produced successful cutters such as Intention Del Rey (TR Dual Rey x Ethylena), a winner of $133,305; Cats Good Intentions (High Brow Cat x Intentions Are Good), a winner of $106,035; and Skyline Lena (Mr Skyline Peppy x Genuine Sonitalena), a winner of $104,667.

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