Regan Plendl just won the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Summer Spectacular Classic/Challenge Non-Pro on her family’s homebred Cats Lightning Rey. Here’s a throwback to the day Quarter Horse News caught up with the cutting-crazed teenager and her twin back in 2017.
Ten years ago, twin sisters Reyly and Regan Plendl sat in front of the television at their home in rural Iowa and watched the 2007 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity. And they didn’t just watch it once.
Their father, Rick, figures his daughters – 8 years old during that show – watched a tape of that broadcast hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Even now, the twins – who will turn 18 during the NCHA Futurity – know the order of finish by heart.
“Austin Shepard [won] with High Brow CD,” Regan said without hesitation. “Reserve was Bubba Matlock and third was June Bug Dually, and then it was Gary Gonsalves…”
Back then, all they could do was watch and wish that some day they’d compete against the sport’s best in the Will Rogers Coliseum. It would have been hard to believe that only a decade later, the girls, now high school seniors, would be preparing for their third trip to the sport’s most prestigious event.
“It’s pretty nerve-wracking,” Regan said. Although they began their show career in Youth classes, the family quickly shifted its focus to Non-Pro and Amateur classes and, a few years back, moved toward the higher stakes of limited-age events. It was a much more intense atmosphere, Reyly said
“That environment’s a total different environment,” she said. “You have to act a lot older and show a lot more… experience.”
The move out of the Youth and into a focus on limited-age events was, in part, a result of where the Plendls live. The family farm is near Kingsley, Iowa, a city squarely in the middle of Northwest Iowa’s farm country. Acres and acres of corn and soybeans line the country blacktops and gravel roads, only occasionally broken up by trees clustered along a river bottom, pastures dotted with cattle or fields covered in alfalfa or grass hay.
Closer to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Lincoln, Nebraska, than it is to the Iowa capital of Des Moines, the town of roughly 1,400 residents is a long, long way – some 800 miles – from the “Big Pen” at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.
It also was a long drive from any kind of regular, organized cutting. Even now, local venues for the sport are few and far between, and three to four months out of the year, the girls have to ride in their indoor arena to escape the bitterly cold temperatures of the harsh northern winters.
The twins hauled for the Youth World Championship once, and both made the top 10 in the Junior Youth in 2014. Regan finished seventh. Reyly was ninth.
However, although the girls’ parents, Rick and Michele, were glad their daughters got to haul for the championship, they say the experience taught them the grind really isn’t practical considering how far they live from regular shows. And, Reyly and Regan were educated in the local public school system, Kingsley-Pierson Community Schools, which meant the family couldn’t leave for shows until Friday nights.
“We’re a long way from where we need to be for doing this, but we did it,” Rick said. “It wasn’t so bad Friday night driving all night, but Sunday night when you came home, it sucked to [have to] work on Monday. But, you do it.”
So, they refocused. Reyly and Regan instead began showing in the Novice Non-Pro at weekend events. The twins won their first major championships at the 2014 NCHA Western National Championships in Denver.
Regan and Rey Nounce, a son of Dual Rey who Regan’s mother, Michele, describes as “the love of her life,” took the $35,000 Non-Pro and Junior Youth championships. Reyly won the $50,000 Amateur with Dual N Tuff (Dual Rey x Cats Little Gal x High Brow Cat).
They also continued to show in Youth, though they didn’t haul, finishing just outside the top 15 in Junior Youth in 2015.
Once Regan and Reyly got comfortable with the new level of competition, they moved into the limited-age events.
“We decided that we were going to do the aged events, not run every weekend, not burn up the road and wear ourselves out,” Rick said. “You go to an aged event, you show up, you set up, you’re there for three to four weeks, you’ve got the same routine every day and you go home.”
It didn’t take long for them to find success, and the sisters are both coming off an exceptional season in the show pen.
Reyly won this year’s The Non Pro Plus The Open Derby Amateur Co-Championship aboard Sunday Drive, a 2013 mare by Hydrive Cat and out of Jena Doc (by Peppy San Badger).
Regan won the Arbuckle Mountain Futurity’s Derby Non-Pro and Unlimited Amateur titles in February aboard Mr Metallic Rey, a homebred 2013 son of Metallic Cat out of the Plendls’ Dual Rey mare Rey Of Oak. They also won the 4-Year-Old Unlimited Amateur Championship at The Non-Pro Plus The Open.
The Arbuckle Mountain Futurity marked Regan’s first Non-Pro finals. It was an intimidating experience, she said.
“That was basically the first time against them, and all these guys were watching cows and taking it so seriously, and I’m like, ‘I have no chance here,’” Regan recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got Lindy Ashlock in there, and she’s won how much – $1.3 million or something like that?’ And I’m thinking, ‘This is not good,’ and I was scratching my head a little bit, but it turned out good.”
In 2016, Regan won the NCHA Super Stakes Derby Amateur riding MK Kenli, a 2012 Smooth As A Cat mare out of MK Little Miss Trona (by Little Trona) she’d ridden to a sixth-place finish in the 2015 NCHA Futurity Amateur.
The twins train with Nick O’Dell, of Fort Scott, Kansas. Cutting is their primary focus, but they still manage to wedge some school activities into their schedules. Reyly is on Kingsley-Pierson’s volleyball team and Regan, annually ranked among Iowa’s top discus throwers, is on the school’s track and field team.
“Those three months of volleyball just kill me, because [Regan] always gets to show my horse,” Reyly joked. “During track season, she’s always coming along no matter what, because she has a for-sure spot [on the team] since she’s gone to state three times in discus and she’s the No. 1 thrower in the state right now.”
Despite all their successes in the cutting pen – Regan’s won $158,090 and Reyly’s banked $124,481, according to Equi-Stat – the twins are still fans first. They used to hunt trainers down for autographs – “We thought they were celebrities,” Reyly explained – and still laugh about convincing Equi-Stat Elite $8 Million Rider Lloyd Cox, who now often turns back for them at big events, to take a picture with them after he won the 2010 NCHA Futurity Open on their birthday with One Time Royalty.
Another time, they convinced their trainer to get Beau Galyean’s autograph while the Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider was eating dinner at a restaurant.
“On a draw sheet,” Regan said. “It’s probably still hanging on our fridge.”
Now, their sights are set on building their own name at the sport’s biggest venue.
Reyly hasn’t had much luck at the NCHA Futurity – no score in four runs – but she hopes to change that this year aboard MK Jessie Rey, a horse they call “Monster.” The 2014 son of Dual Rey is out of Jessies Starlight Ms, a Grays Starlight mare that is the mother of 13 performers with earnings of $553,339. One of those earners is MK Little Miss Trona, the dam of Regan’s 2015 NCHA Futurity horse, MK Kenli.
Regan, who has earned $15,078 at the NCHA Futurity, will be riding homebred Cats Lightning Rey. Nicknamed “Gene,” the horse is from the first crop by NCHA Reserve World Champion NRR Cat King Cole and out of Rey Of Oak, the dam of Mr Metallic Rey – the horse Regan rode in the 2016 NCHA Futurity.
She and Mr Metallic Rey won $5,929 in the Futurity Unlimited Amateur and Amateur. Overall, he’s compiled an EquiStat record of $83,268.
Regan said she and Reyly are excited about this year’s NCHA Futurity prospects because of the caliber of the horses, as well as the sisters’ increased skill level. She credited several people, including Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider Cara Brewer, with helping the twins hone their skills. Tracy Barton, of North Ridge Ranch, has also been helpful over the years.
“I feel like we’ve kind of stepped up our showmanship through small tips from Tommy Marvin, Nick O’Dell and Cara,” Regan said of their limited-age experience. “I’ve also felt like Nick has just done a really good job on all of our horses.”
No matter how well the twins do this year in Fort Worth, there’s a chance none of it would’ve happened if Rick and Michele hadn’t played a trick on Regan years ago to get her to try cutting. Reyly was fully on board with the idea, but they knew Regan – having broken bones in riding wrecks – would not be easily convinced. Rick and Michele had to get creative.
“They told me they were going to eat; that we were going out to supper,” Regan said. “And they lied.”
Instead of dinner, they drove down to see a cutting horse trainer – Dennis Ginkens – in nearby Anthon, Iowa. There, Regan met a horse named Bubba White. In addition to cutting, he was well trained to do tricks for treats.
That was all it took to get Regan hooked. And now, she might be the most cutting-crazed Plendl of the bunch.
“I love it,” Regan said. “I think it’s all I think about.”
This article was originally published in the December 1, 2017, issue of Quarter Horse News