Dark N Traffic is bred to be a barrel horse, but the buckskin mare and trainer Carter Metcalf are competing alongside cow-bred counterparts at the the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. • Photo by Primo Morales.

Mare Trades Barrel Career For NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity

Dark N Traffic was not supposed to be a cow horse.

The granddaughter of Frenchmans Guy went to trainer Carter Metcalf’s program so she could get broke for her owners, Texas veterinarians Drs. Cameron Stoudt and Josh Donnell. 

She was bred to be a barrel horse, so that’s what she was going to be. Then Metcalf worked the mare on the flag, as he does all his 2-year-olds, and she showed him a little something that changed her career trajectory.

“The main thing, I guess, was she had a good mind and big stop, and seemed to have quite a bit of cow for her breeding,” Metcalf explained.

He showed Donnell a video of the mare working the flag, and got the green light to put the barrel prospect into cow horse training. Now, Metcalf and the mare are competing at the sport’s biggest event, the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity, presented by Metallic Cat.

Midway through the Open preliminaries, they currently have a composite of 420.5 (207 herd/213 rein). The third and final leg of the prelims – and their last chance to make the cutoff for the finals – is the cow work on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Miracle Baby

The fact that Dark N Traffic exists at all, let alone is thriving in cow horse training, is enough to make Stoudt get misty. She only had the mare’s mother a few years, but the broodmare’s sweet disposition and personality was enough to worm her way into Stoudt’s heart. The mare’s struggle to survive laminitis – and Stoudt’s determination to get her through it – is still hard to talk about.

“She wanted to live, but she just couldn’t,” said Stoudt, who owns Dark N Traffic with her husband in the name of Mendota Properties. “I tried to move heaven and earth to try to get her through her founder issue and everything, and she just couldn’t do it.”

When the CFour Black Easter died, they harvested her ovaries and performed Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) to Traffic Guy with three embryos. The first two failed.

“Her mom meant so much to me and so to have this baby here right now is pretty cool,” Stoudt explained. “We had three embryos out of that mare and two didn’t take, and [Dark N Traffic] was the last one that took.”

When Metcalf suggested they put Dark N Traffic into cow horse training, Stoudt was game. She and Donnell have a veterinary practice, La Mesa Equine Lameness Center, in Pilot Point, and also run a rehabilitation center, Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, in Whitesboro. They’re also parents to 1-year-old Bridger.

Stoudt, a barrel racer, didn’t have as much time to ride as she once did. And, though she hadn’t ever had a cow horse or competed in the sport, she was excited to see what her favorite mare’s baby could do.

“Originally, she was gonna be a barrel horse, and unfortunately kind of as life goes on, I got busier. My husband’s busy and we also have a 1-year-old as well,” she said. “And, so, and we got her with Carter and we were like, this is a great fit, and so we’re just going to roll on with the Snaffle Bit Futurity as she is right now.”

Tradin’ Barrels For Cows

The reason Dark N Traffic, whose nickname is “Huckleberry,” was supposed to be a barrel horse is because she hails from a pedigree stacked with horses that can turn barrels. In fact, she’s bred to be a very good barrel horse.

Her sire, Traffic Guy, earned $21,779 running barrels, and so far has sired barrel racing winners of nearly $550,000. As of Tuesday, he didn’t have any progeny with reined cow horse wins on his Equi-Stat sire record, but that could change.

Dark N Traffic is one of two offspring in this year’s NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity sired by the successful barrel horse stallion. The son of Frenchmans Guy also is represented at the show by Martinis In Traffic, a buckskin horse competing in the Level 1 Limited Open prelims with trainer Josey Butler.

Dark N Traffic with owners Josh Donnell, left & Cameron Stoudt, right. She is being ridden by the couple’s son, Bridger Donnell. * Photo courtesy of Cameron Stoudt.

Like Huckleberry, Martinis In Traffic is straight barrel bred — his pedigree features names like First Down Dash, Chicks Beduino and Streakin Six. Bred and owned by Paris Wixon, of Hope Hull, Alabama, the horse finished his Level 1 Limited Open preliminary round in 45thplace with a composite of 603 (200 herd/201 rein/202 cow).

Though there are some stallions that sire winners in barrel racing and reined cow horse – cutting stallion and NRCHA sire Dual Rey, for example, has fathered $162,000 in barrel racing winners —  it’s not someone one normally sees. And, it’s not typical for a barrel racing stallion to sire one entrant in the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, let alone two in the same year.

Metcalf, who had never ridden a Traffic Guy before Huckleberry, has since ridden a few more and likes what he’s seen. Throughout the year, Huckleberry and Metcalf showed in Green Horse classes to get ready for the Snaffle Bit Futurity.

Futurity Adventure

Even though Hucklberry is about a hand to a hand-and-one-half taller than her futurity counterparts, she still pulled off a 207 herd work to kick off the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open preliminaries.

“Her herd work is probably her weakest event, just because she’s a pretty big horse and so she’s a little bit not quite as quick footed as some of these smaller, cow-bred horses. But, still was very representable and minus one little miss on our second cut that kind of got us a negative mark, she’d of probably been right there at a 70, 71.”

They improved their score to a 213 in the reining, a discipline where the mare was able to also showcase her good, trainable mind.

“In the reining, she really came to play,” Metcalf said. “She can stop as big as any of ‘em and turns fine, and just really, like I said, for her (non-cow-horse) breeding was very much, minded-wise, whatever you kind of want to do.”

Going down the fence is the mare’s favorite event. Though she has speed, she doesn’t run hot – she loves to chase that cow.

“On that cow, for sure when she gets going, she wants to go head that cow,” Metcalf said. “She learned that pattern and you can feel kind of that barrel part come out in her where once she figured out the game, she knows what we’re gonna do when I go release that cow down the fence.”

Dark N Traffic’s Future

Watching the mare power down the fence to turn the cow is very exciting for Stoudt.

“It’s just pretty cool to see because this is not what she was supposed to do,” said Stoudt, who thinks the mare’s athleticism would suite many disciplines. “This is not what she was bred for.”

She’s extremely thankful for the work Metcalf has done with Dark N Traffic, as well as to Traffic Guy’s former owners, her friends Troy and Jamie Ashford. Just shy of a year ago they sold Traffic Guy, who is now owned by Chad & Tiffany Beus and stands at Beus Quarter Horses in Spanish Fork, Utah.

It’s natural to ask if barrels are in the cards for Dark N Traffic after her reined cow horse escapades are over. The plan was always for Stoudt to ride her once her own life slowed down, but nothing is written in stone.

“I think at this point we can probably go any which direction we wanted her to,” Stoudt said. “I don’t know if we’ve settled on a certain path for her yet. 

“I think the world is her oyster at this point. So, we’ll see.”

* Josh Donnell is the co-owner of Dark N Traffic. This article has been updated to reflect the change.