Reining competitors traveled north to Nampa, Idaho, to compete in the Best Little Derby in the West, where 58 horse-and-rider teams were slated to show in the Derby Non-Pro.
The 19th draw featured Loveya, ridden by owner/breeder Cam Essick, of Clements, California. But the draw nearly went unused.
“I wasn’t confident at all going in. Honestly about five minutes before I went in, I was going to scratch my horse. I was out in the warm-up pen and it was not going well,” said Essick, who took a deep breath and decided to slow things down in a last-ditch effort to get Loveya to hook up.
Her tactic worked, and she and the gelding marked a 219.5. The score held strong until the 56th draw, where Skeets Steppin Out and Sally Sutherland circled, spun and slid to their own 219.5. Essick and Loveya were later called back into the arena to duel it out one more time with Skeets Steppin Out and Sutherland.
During the thrilling run-off that followed, Loveya, a 2013 Gunnatrashya gelding who is out of the Smart Little Lena mare Love Em N Lena, left everything in the arena and earned a 220.5 from the judges to defend their 2018 titles and again claim the Derby Levels 4, 3 and Prime Time Non-Pro titles, along with a check totaling $5,281.
“Thank goodness George King had my phone number,” Essick said. “I had left! I was an early draw and it was going to be a late night, so I put my horse away and headed out to get some food because we were hungry!”
According to Essick, they drove up, slammed on the brakes, tacked up Loveya and trotted a few circles around a laughing King before heading back in for their successful run-off.
“It was the best I could do so I wasn’t going to sweat it,” Essick said. “I just went in there. I just wanted to be correct, and not over show my horse.”
Loveya is a really good-minded horse Essick said, adding she has a lot of confidence in him and an appreciation for what a good horse he is.
“First of all I felt lucky to be in the money at all. I never go into anything thinking I’m winning anything,” Essick said. “It’s such a privilege to even get to ride horses. Every time I swing a leg over a horse, I’m thankful.”
The Best Little Derby in the West is a favorite show of Essick’s.
“It attracts a diverse cross-section of the reining competitors, and I think the one thing that is so unique is people go there and they feel good. It’s kind of a contagious feeling that they are able to compete and not in a huge group that is out of their league,” Essick explained. “I’m excited to get there and show around a group of happy people because I appreciate the art of competition and good horsemanship. You’re winning by just being there.
“It’s a very, very unique environment, and it’s because of the way George’s staff acts from the time you go into the show office, walk through the back gate, even the people who are selling food. It’s just a positive group of people. It makes people want to compete and feel like they are at their best.”
Derby Level 2 Non-Pro
Following the run-off, where they marked a 211.5, Skeets Steppin Out (Wimpys Little Step x Smart Lady Skeet x Smart Chic Olena) and his owner, Sutherland, rode out of the arena as the Derby Levels 4 and 3 Reserve Champions, along with taking the Derby Level 2 Non-Pro title.
The 2013 stallion, who was bred by Marc and Kathy Gordon, of Elgin, Illinois had $25,665 in lifetime earnings prior to the derby, where he added another $4,870 to his coffers in Idaho. Part of his previous earnings were collected by trainer Nicole Hutchings, who rode Skeets Steppin Out to the Washington Reining Horse Association Classic Derby Novice Horse Level 2 Open Co-Championship in June of 2018.
Sutherland’s own $22,871 in lifetime earnings prior to the Best Little Derby in the West has been growing right alongside her flashy mount’s as they spin their way to the winner’s circle.
Derby Level 1 Non-Pro
After Lindsay Kovick and her 4-year-old palomino stallion Bulletproof Shiner ran down the arena and slid to their final stop, the dust rose along with the crowd’s applause, and a 217.5 secured them the Derby Level 1 Non-Pro and 4-Year-Old Derby Level 4 Non-Pro titles.
“He’s just been a pretty awesome little horse. It was fun!” Kovick said after they also tied for third in Levels 4 and 3, and took the Level 2 Co-Reserve title alongside Jenna Kellmer and Custom Spook Berry. “This was the first show that we’ve had together, so that was pretty fun! Earlier in the week was a bit of a learning curve, but we put it together and finally, when the chips were down, he laid one out there. I still had lots of horse left to go out and build upon — pretty excited about it!”
Bulletproof Shiner indeed could be considered tougher than the rest. Watching the pretty horse work, it’s hard to imagine Kovick found the stallion, who is by Shiners Voodoo Dr and out of the Smart Lil Ricochet mare Smart N Bulletproof, starving to death in a cornfield in Iowa not so long ago.
“We found him in Iowa, and we knew the breeder, who lived in Georgia, obviously did not know what was going on. I reached out to them and told them the situation, which was quite unfortunate,” Kovick explained. “His before pictures are pretty terrible, but we brought him home and took a chance on him.”
“Stuff,” as Bulletproof Shiner was affectionately named by Kovick’s children after their favorite T.V. show “Mutt and Stuff,” was later sent to trainer Arno Honstetter, of Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Arno just fell in love with him as well and kept telling me he was a good one,” Kovick said, noting Honstetter proved it by making the National Reining Horse Association Futurity Level 3 Open finals with the stallion in 2018. “I call him my little unicorn. He’s a pretty special pony.”
According to Kovick, she hit the jackpot with Stuff, who added $4,891 in Idaho to his prior lifetime earnings of $13,609.
“I always said I wanted a feely one. At the same time, I like a lot of rate, and usually when you get feely, you get hot. I somehow got a super feely horse that is super rate-y,” Kovick explained. “Honest to God, that is the coolest thing about him, and just his overall disposition. He’s just a fun horse to be around.”
Kovick, who has earned $25,311 since collecting her first check in 2007, came into the Derby Non-Pro at the Best Little Derby in the West with no expectations for Stuff.
“I just wanted to go out and have some confidence-building runs. I just simply wanted to get through the pen,” Kovick explained, saying she has three more years of derbies with Stuff, so her goal was to make sure all the pieces were there. “I just wanted to go have fun, which is what it’s really about. Winning was totally a bonus. At the end of the day, he’s such a fun horse to ride. I don’t even care if I ever win anything on him.”
Things were looking up for Stuff as he rode out of the winner’s circle into the warm embrace of a loving family. According to Kovick, none of her success would have been possible without Honstetter.
“I can’t thank Arno enough for literally building my dream horse,” Kovick said. “We’ve been looking for a horse like this for a long time, and we just knew he was special. Arno and Laura took him into their program and treated him like their own. I would send him every horse under the sun and keep sending him more and more. We couldn’t be any happier.”
4-Year-Old Futurity Level 4 Non-Pro Red Shirt
Gotta Hot Candy & Jordan Knudsen
15M (Boom Shernic x Candy Coated Gun x Spooks Gotta Gun)
Owner: Jordan Knudsen, Custer, MT
Breeder: Silver Spurs Equine, Purcell, OK
Derby Youth Non-Pro
Little Voice & Brogan Hill
14M (Spooks Gotta Whiz x Custom Night Time x Custom Crome)
Owner: Brogan Hill, St. Anthony, ID
Breeder: Steve Simon, Marietta, OK