After a yearlong recovery from a fracture, during which he was taught how to do "tricks," REF Sturgis has seen quite a lot of success in the show ring. He carried Anne-Marie Burns to the 2018 Tulsa Reining Classic Levels 3, 2 and 1 Co-Championships. • Photo by Waltenberry

REF Sturgis Spins Tragedy Into Success

When Anne-Marie Burns’ horse, REF Sturgis, fractured his navicular bone during the summer of his 3-year-old year in 2015, the prognosis for a full recovery as a reiner was not promising. Burns was left with the decision to stall rest for one year then reassess the gelding’s future once the year had passed.

Despite the discouraging news, Burns remained hopeful, and “Sturgis” began his year of rest.

“That’s not the type of injury that has a very good prognosis, but we wanted to try it anyway,” Burns said.

During the first few weeks of his break, Sturgis, who was bred by Hugo and Ramon Montemayor, became notorious around the barn for his charming personality and busybody nature.

“He likes to be busy [and] to have something to do, and has a great personality,” Burns said. “[I] was really concerned that if he didn’t come back sound to be a reiner, I wasn’t sure what he was going to be able to do. I wanted to make sure that he had a job.”

Because of this, Burns did not want to let Sturgis (Custom Harley x Chics Time To Rein x Gangster Chic) stand idle for the year. Unable to saddle up the horse, she tried to come up with other ways to beef up his résumé.

“Our farm manager, Pedro Perez, who’s really good with horses, wanted to teach him tricks,” Burns said.“The first thing he taught him was how to get his hat. So he would throw his hat, and then Sturgis would go and pick it up and bring it back to him.”

Perez advanced Sturgis’ skills by teaching him how to lie down, get up, how to nod his head, how to bow and, finally, how to stretch. Perez noted that training a horse to accomplish these tricks took an immense amount of patience. He also added that while working with Sturgis, he never overloaded him, schooling over the commands only three times a day. This encouraged Sturgis to enjoy learning.

Sturgis was on the road to a strong recovery by the time Burns moved him to Texas in December of 2016. After a full year of stall rest, gradual rehabilitation and four months of turnout, Burns began riding Sturgis with Tim McQuay.

“I was riding him and about two weeks into riding him, Tim said, ‘Why don’t you turn him [Sturgis] around and see what he does?’” Burns recalled of one of Sturgis’ first rides back. “So I turned him one way, and he turned pretty good considering he hadn’t turned in 18 months, and then he said, ‘OK, try the other way.’ So I tried the other way and the next thing I know, Sturgis is lying down. We were in the dirt!

“So I got off him and he got up, and Tim said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘I have no idea!’ I went to turn him again and he just folded up. He didn’t fall, he just folded up and laid down. Tim looked at me and said, ‘It looks like he’s learned to do that!’ And I said, “Oh my gosh, Pedro taught him how to lay down, but not [with you] on his back!” And Tim said, “Well, he’s going to have to stop that!” And he did; he has never done that again.”

Today, Sturgis continues to warm the hearts of many by still performing his smiling, nodding and hat-retrieving tricks. Since his recovery, Sturgis has had a very successful reining career and has high hopes for continued success.

Although he was not able to start competing until his 5-year-old year in 2017, no time was wasted in making a resilient recovery. The gelding was ridden by Cade McCutcheon, McQuay’s grandson, to the United States Equestrian Federation 14-18 Youth Reining Championship in 2017. As a 6-year-old, he made the Levels 2 and 1 Non-Pro finals at the 2018 National Reining Breeders Classic and Levels 3, 2 and 1 at the National Reining Horse Association Derby, and tied to win the Tulsa Reining Classic Levels 3, 2 and 1 Non-Pro. Sturgis currently boasts earnings in Equi-Stat of $12,796.

After a very successful year in 2018, Sturgis has a bright future ahead of him. The faith Burns placed in Sturgis from when he was first injured is an inspiration to persevere no matter the obstacle.

“There’s no question about it that he loves his job,” Burns said.