Toni Hagen Heath and Smokum Every Time sure know how to save the best for last.
In a dramatic finish, Hagen Heath and Smokum Every Time scored a 222.5-point fence run to jump up the standings take the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Derby Non-Pro Championship Saturday, June 13, in Scottsdale, Arizona..
The run gave them a composite of 655 (214 herd/218.5 rein/222.5 cow).
Afterward, the rider from La Grande, Oregon, sounded like she still couldn’t quite believe it all really happened. She described it as “surreal.”
“So rarely do you get to have one of those times where it’s just all set up – you’re the last horse and you’re within reach and it’s possible – and it actually happens.,” she said.
Her final tally was just enough for her and homebred Smokum Every Time to overtake Reserve Champions Erin Mendes & Jans Shiney Rey, who had the second-best fence run of the night and finished with a 652 (218 herd/213.5 rein/220.5 cow). That total also gave Mendes the Intermediate Non-Pro and Novice Non-Pro titles.
One of the aspects that made the win so special for Hagen Heath was her connection with the horse, who was bred by her husband, Daniel, and represents three generations of the Heath breeding program.
The horse was ridden in the Open by trainer Justin Wright during his 3-year-old and 4-year-old years, and that partnership included a number of finalist performances at big reined cow horse futurities and derbies.
Wright rode the horse to third in the 2018 National Stock Horse Association (NSHA) Futurity Open, third in the 2019 Tres Osos Derby at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions and also made the finals of the 2019 NRCHA Stallion Stakes.
Hagen Heath said she got the horse back after he was injured in last year’s NRCHA Stakes, and he stayed with them for rehabilitation and then redeployment as one of her non-pro mounts.
The 2020 show season started off with promise for her and the horse, who in February placed third in the Tres Osos Derby at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions. However, the lockdowns and event cancellations due to COVID-19 meant that was his only show of the season.
He spent the first month of the shuttered show season taking it easy at the Heath’s place in Scottsdale. After that, she started taking him three times a week to trainer Shadd Parkinson’s facility for more structured training.
“I did a lot of trail riding out in the desert…lots of just loping around at home,” she said. “He kind of got a lot of down time which was OK probably. It was probably very good for him.”
Going into the Derby, Heath said she just wanted to focus on each individual event. They had the highest score in the preliminaries and were sitting among a top group going into the cow work finals.
A number of the riders ahead of Hagen Heath had low-scoring cow runs, which presented the opportunity for a jump up the standings.
“I thought, ‘Man, now’s your shot, so go do your job. Don’t mess it up. Don’t overthink it. Just go work your cow.’
“You know? Pretend that none of the rest of this stuff happened. You just go do your job and let the chips fall,’ and that’s what I tried to do,” she said.
Combined with his previous winnings, the $7,377 first-place check pushed the son of Equi-Stat Elite $17 Million Sire One Time Pepto’s lifetime record to more than $38,000.
Heath Breeding Program
Not only is Smokum Every Time a homebred, but Hagen Heath showed his mother, Smokums Dream. Like her son, the mare by Smokums Prize also was bred by Hagen Heath’s husband, Daniel.
Hagen Heath and Smokums Dream won the 2012 NRCHA Hackamore Classic Non-Pro and Intermediate Non-Pro. They also won the Intermediate Non-Pro at that year’s NRCHA Derby, and finished as the 2012 NRCHA Non-Pro Hackamore National Champions. Overall, Smokums Dream has lifetime winnings of $33,711.
She said the win in the Derby meant a lot, not only for the years of work that went into the breeding program, but what it meant to see Smokum Every Time succeed.
“I’m really happy for our family, our breeding program and I’m really happy for Rowdy– [that] is his nickname – to kind of have [a show where] there’s no bad luck this time and he actually got to prove how good he is,” she said. “It all came together for him, which makes me feel good because he’s such a trier, he tries so hard every time.
“It’s still surreal though. I really am quite surprised that it did work out this way.”
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