Gage Gardiner had big plans for this spring and summer.
The 17-year-old aspiring actor from Ashland, Kansas, was set to appear as the villain in a play in Wichita and attend college prep events in New York and Pennsylvania. In fact, he had so much going on that he sold his reined cow horse, Mr Stylish Cat.
Those plans went out the window pretty quickly with the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down pretty much all live performances this spring and early summer as well as large gatherings like conferences or scholastic events.
“I thought that I was going to be sort of slowing down with rodeo because I wanted to focus on acting and getting into college for that, but when the whole virus thing happened that sort of shut down any plans for any shows or anything acting-related in the future,” said Gardiner, who is preparing for college and plans to pursue musical theater. “So then, when all that happened I kind of thought I don’t have anything else to do, I might as well get back into rodeo and finish out the year.”
That meant competing at the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association State Finals on May 29-30 in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Problem is Gardiner didn’t have a show horse. Enter Soula Jule Forever, a 14-year-old mare by Soula Jule Star known as “Roxanne” around Gardiner Quarter Horses, a ranch owned by his parents Garth and Amanda Gardiner.
Over the past several years, Soula Jule Forever has become one of the cornerstones of the Gardiner Quarter Horses broodmare operation.
At only 14 years old, the daughter of broodmare Forever Sparked (by Shining Spark) has produced earners of $317,904, including 2017 National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Reserve Champion Bet Hes Black ($138, 241, by Bet Hesa Cat) and $68,042-earner Pepe Le Wright (by Hes Wright On).
It only looks to grow from there, as the mare has several offspring – including five 2020 foals – in the pipeline. Two of her offspring are entered in divisions of this month’s NRCHA Derby: Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity Intermediate Open Champion Jule Of A Time (By Hickory Holly Time) in the Open and Wright On Forever (by Hes Wright On) in the Non-Pro Limited.
“She hadn’t been shown in maybe six years and we’d been flushing embryos out of her and she had tons of babies in between then and now,” Gardiner said.
Soula Jule Forever last competed in 2013 with Gardiner’s father, Garth, at the NRCHA Derby. She won $34,553 during a show career that began in 2009 with Equi-Stat Elite $4 Million Rider Todd Bergen. It was with Bergen that Roxanne won the 2009 Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity Open and made the finals of the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity.
Soula Jule Forever’s Return
Her journey back to the show pen started at Gragg Ranch Reproduction Center, where Gardiner said Trudy Demming ponied Roxanne alongside a 4-wheeler to start getting her into shape. Then they started riding her at the ranch.
Gardiner said he agrees with his father’s assessment of Roxanne: the mare is like a machine.
“She doesn’t forget her job. She’s going to do her job no matter what, no matter what you do and that really shows when you ride her and when she shows, because we were working with her and I remember the first time we did a sliding stop on her,” he said. “I was kind of expecting her to have a little front end or for her not to be able to slide as far but she went down there and she was ready to go and came out and made a big stop.
“I looked at my dad and he was like, “Yep, that just happened.”
They had a good showing at the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association State Finals, earning enough points during the event for Gardiner to be the state’s year-end champion in reined cow horse. Their performance also qualified him for the National High School Finals Rodeo.
Whether that event happens remains to be seen. The rodeo association announced in May they were seeking a new venue for the 2020 National High School Finals rodeo because public health officials – fearing the spread of COVID-19 — would not allow them to hold the event as planned in July in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“If they have Nationals, I think me and Roxanne are going to go and do our best,” Gardiner
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