Miller standing with her prized mare Shiners Hot Flash. • Photo by Cam Essick.

Breeding and Beyond: Making My Introduction

It’s Nikki Here! Most of you know me from my work with some of the most well-known breeding facilities in the Western performance horse industry, but my life is changing. Along with a relocation and job change, I’ve accepted an offer to bring you this new monthly column, “Breeding & Beyond.” I look forward to this new task and sharing my adventures with you. 

I became involved in the performance horse world when I up and moved to Gainesville, Texas, to work for Carol Rose in 2002. Then in 2013, I moved to Weatherford, Texas, to work for “The Great Oz” (aka Oswood Stallion Station). Recently, though, I closed that chapter. 

I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and took a job with Dr. Jerry Longworth at Scottsdale Equine Reproduction Center. Sometime during my life at Carol Rose Quarter Horses, I picked up the title of office manager and it has stuck all these years, but I tend to assume different roles and adapt where I’m needed. It’s a small world; thanks to all of my adventures, I’ve been invited to share some of my experiences and stories with all of you. 

Growing up in Indiana, all I can remember was everything horse. I was the typical horse-crazy kid, but I couldn’t afford my own horse. Instead, I worked off the fees for weekly riding lessons. 

My biggest breakthrough came when, at 11, I found a pony whose owners allowed me to work off the cost of a lease so I could show at the fair. After that, I was bitten by the horse show bug; I submerged myself in the world of competition. 

I completed 10 years of 4-H, and up until the last couple of those years — which I spent with my special partner, Shadow — I never had the same horse for more than one season. I always had the project horses … something with a questionable past that I needed to work through to get shown. I didn’t realize
it at the time, but it really taught me how to adjust to different personalities. 

I didn’t have years to get to know a horse. At the most, I had just a few months. When my youth days came to an end, I moved to Texas to work for Carol. She wanted me to be the night foaling person and at that point in my life, I had been around just a few foals. The only ones I’d seen born were those I caught by accident or by sleeping on the barn floor (and those mares still tried to wait for me to leave).

In the months leading up to foaling season, Carol prepared me for my new tasks. She shared various foaling stories, emphasizing the importance a healthy delivery in each one. It’s important to remember that there were no cameras back then. No foal alerts. It was all up to human eyes. 

Every day, Carol checked in and we talked about what the mares who were due looked like, what foaling signs they were giving and my thoughts on it. Then she would say something like, “No one has ever seen that one foal.” 

It was like a fire was lit within my super-stubborn self! I wasn’t going to miss any on my watch! I think my years as a youth, dealing with various horse personalities, paid off here. In the quiet of the night watch, I noticed subtle patterns. Sometimes it would be something weird that told me a mare was thinking about foaling, not the obvious waxed-up, dripping milk signs people typically look for. 

We had a mare that one day pulled all her hay out of her manger without eating it. That was different from all the nights before, so I predicted she was going to foal. Since she wasn’t showing any other “signs,” not every- one believed me. To them, I seemed silly — until the next morning, that is. 

When the rest of the crew came to work, they found her with her new filly. It became a greater challenge to not miss a birth with each and every mare that came through. I won’t say I didn’t make my share of mistakes, and it sure wasn’t all pretty, but a fellow Rose Ranch employee would bet me a soda on whether a mare was going to foal or not. So far, he still owes me a few cases. 

The following year, I only missed one. Almost 16 years later, I will never forget crawling into bed after my night shift was over and the phone ringing. Our breeding manager called to ask what time No. 96 foaled because it wasn’t written down anywhere. In my exhaustion, I said, “Wait, what?” 

The last time I looked in her stall, there was a very quiet mama-to-be standing with her hip cocked in the mare motel. She wasn’t even in a foaling stall; she was not due for a few weeks and certainly was not on my radar as one that was about to foal! I almost didn’t believe the breeding manager, so I raced down to the barn. Sure enough, there was a new filly. Luckily everything worked out, and she was the only one I missed that year. 

I’m already known for being a person who doesn’t forget, but this story is one for the books and one I will NEVER forget. Why? Because that little sorrel filly by Shining Spark was later named Shiners Hot Flash, the first Quarter Horse I ever owned. 

I picked a good one and bought her fair as a yearling out of the Snaffle Bit Futurity Sale. She won the 2009 National Reined Cow Horse Association Limited Open Hackamore World title and has a produce record of around $150,000. I lost her in 2018, but she plunged me into life as a Quarter Horse breeder. I learned so much from her and gained even more. Most importantly, I was her person and I loved her for that. 

This Breeding and Beyond column was published in the January 1 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.