By Stephanie DuquetteNational Reined Cow Horse AssociationOctober 4, 2013
AQHA Professional Horseman Sandy Collier of Buellton, California, is the very and only female NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity open champion. (NRCHA photo)
The always-popular National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Fame Banquet shone the spotlight upon some of the most significant contributors to the industry, both human and equine. The event, held Thursday, October 3, at the Silver Legacy Hotel & Casino in Reno, Nevada, highlighted the accomplishments of four new NRCHA Hall of Fame inductees, one new Hall of Merit inductee, AQHA breeder Nancy Crawford-Hall.
Massachusetts-born AQHA Professional Horseman Sandy Collier began her horsemanship journey in an English saddle, beginning her show career at age 6 and later moving into the fast-paced world of three-day eventing. In 1972, when she was 19, Collier began working at the Tajiguas Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, where her diverse range of duties included barn chores, shoeing horses, colt-starting, saddle making and rawhide braiding. She started her own training business in 1980.
In 1992, her customers, David and Paula Hunsicker, sent her in search of a Snaffle Bit Futurity prospect. Collier found what she was looking for at the Tejon Ranch, where NRCHA Hall of Fame inductee Doug Williamson was at the time.
"There was one mare who looked a little Thoroughbred-y. I think it reminded me of the old days, because that's what I showed when I did the three-day event horses. There was something about the way she moved that made me think she was 'the one,' " Collier said.
Collier bought that smooth-moving mare, Miss Rey Dry (Dry Doc-Starlita Seguin by Rey Jay), and went on to win the 1993 Snaffle Bit Futurity open championship with her. Collier is the first and only female Snaffle Bit Futurity open champion.
In 2001, Collier took the Futurity open reserve championship, and in 2002, she won the AQHA junior working cow horse world championship riding Sheza Shinette, the exceptional performer and producer now owned by Nancy Crawford-Hall's Holy Cow Performance Horses. Collier, who operates her training facility in Buellton, California, is a AAA-rated NRCHA judge, a member of the NRCHA board of directors, a 2011 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee and now a NRCHA Hall of Fame member.
"These are things I never dreamed would happen to me; being inducted into the NRCHA Hall of Fame. I was just a little cowgirl, trying to learn to show horses.
"The cow horses – it was love at first sight. When I saw my first cow horse, I just knew I had come home," she said. "I can't imagine what my life would be like without horses. They have opened doors to me that would never have been possible without. I've had the most amazing clients, great horses, good friends. It's been a way of life and it's been so special, and it's all because of horses."
Non-pro competitor Dema Paul of Cave Creek, Arizona, was a horse-crazy California girl who remembers, at age 4, standing up in the front seat of the family pickup to point at the picture of the horse on the Salinas rodeo grounds sign every time her parents drove past.
"That started the whole thing," she said.
When Paul was 8, her father began purchasing horses for her to ride and re-sell. The profit went into a savings account, and when Paul was 16, she had enough money to buy her first car.
Paul was 8 or 9 when she began showing cow horses. While she didn't know much about the finer points of training and competing, she educated herself by studying the professionals.
"I learned a lot through trial and error," she said. "I'd sit in the stands and watch, and learn by watching the trainers school their horses, and go home and try it. What worked, worked and what didn't, didn't. I couldn't afford to have a trainer. I just did it all."
As a young teenager, the self-taught rider met NRCHA Hall of Fame horseman Ray Hackworth, who lived 20 miles away. He invited Paul to ride with him on Saturdays.
"I learned a lot from him," she said.
Eventually, Paul began training professionally and achieved some success. But when she met her husband, Jim Paul Sr., in the 1980s, her career really took off.
"He started tuning on me and buying me better horses, and it really made a difference. We made a pretty good team," she said.
The Pauls are now the only husband-and-wife pair in the NRCHA Hall of Fame.
Paul eventually re-acquired her non-pro status and became a dominant force in NRCHA competition. She was the Futurity non-pro reserve champion in 1999 on Cant Find My Sock, then won her first non-pro Futurity championship in 2000 aboard Missn No Chex. In 2004, Paul took first and second place, winning the Futurity non-pro championship on Shiners Dulena and finishing as reserve champion on Maggie Hickory. In 2008, she again won the Futurity non-pro title on Smart Shiney Lena.
"The whole industry's been pretty good to me," Paul said. "It's like one big happy family. It's such an honor to be included with these horsemen who are already in the Hall of Fame. It's a complete honor."
The very first time NRCHA Hall of Fame inductee and AQHA Professional Horseman Benny Guitron laid eyes on Kit's Smoke (Mr Gun Smoke-Mac's Sujo by Fourble Joe), he knew she was something special.
"There was just something about that mare that grabbed you," he said.
Kit's Smoke was foaled in 1973, bred by Laura Bruce of Grayson, Georgia. Guitron heard about the filly and flew to Georgia to look at Kit's Smoke for his customer, Bert Crane, who liked the Mr Gun Smoke-bred horses. When he saw her, the petite filly had 30 days under saddle.
"I called home, and I said, 'Bert, you probably aren't going to like her because she looks like she belongs on top of your fireplace, but there's something special about this little mare,' and he said 'Go ahead and buy her.' "
Three weeks later, around May 1, 1975, Kit's Smoke arrived in California to begin training as Guitron's Snaffle Bit Futurity prospect.
"She just adapted and kept coming. I was very fortunate. She never had a bad day. She was so willing and tried so much," Guitron said. "That's the thing about that little mare that is so special. It seemed like everybody loved her. My fellow horsemen loved her as much as I did. They wanted her to win. She was kind of like a Secretariat (TB) to all of us."
Kit's Smoke and Guitron made the 1976 Futurity open finals, receiving a standing ovation as they entered the arena for the cow work. They won the championship by 4.5 points, a record-setting margin at the time.
Kit's Smoke and Guitron continued to win together in the hackamore and bridle. She went on to become the first NRCHA supreme reined cow horse, and had three foals by Dry Doc.
"Every major event she won, she left no doubt. She was truly a great show mare. She did everything a horse is supposed to do. She made it possible for people to gain faith in me," Guitron said.
He looked like a "little red skinny horse when he was born," according to NRCHA Hall of Fame inductee Jim Paul Sr., but the 1957 gelding Right Now matured into what Paul and many of his peers believe was the greatest cow horse who ever looked through a bridle.
Right Now was sired by Poco Willy, a son of Poco Bueno, and out of a Thoroughbred mare, Lark Satin, a daughter of Satin Coat (TB). Right Now was bred by NRCHA Hall of Fame horsewoman Barbara Worth, who was married at the time to the famous cow horse trainer Don Dodge, another NRCHA Hall of Famer.
The gelding was originally registered under a different name, one that "didn't sit well with the owner of the mare, so they changed it to Right Now. We don't know how he got that name, but we think she probably said 'Change his name right now!' " Paul said.
Worth and Dodge divorced by the time the colt came of riding age, and Right Now stayed in Dodge's program. The meticulous horseman coaxed out Right Now's talent in a manner that NRCHA Hall of Fame inductee Benny Guitron said would be unlikely today.
"That horse was so bold. He was all horse. Don knew if he kept riding him and taking his time, it was going to come. We were very fortunate in that era; our owners allowed us to nurture and take our time with horses. He would have been a throwaway today, and it would have been a crime to the horse industry, because that was a great horse."
Dodge rode Right Now to a multitude of titles, and then the gelding was sold to American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Carol Rose, who continued his formidable performance career.
"Carol won just about everything on him that she showed him in," Paul remembered. "You couldn't get him wrong. He was so cow smart. If you got him tight, he'd get himself shaped to turn. If you were a little off in the wrong spot, he got in the right spot. He was just a unique horse; he'd figure the cow out in spite of you."
Rose eventually sold Right Now to his last owner, Ken Sutton, who kept the gelding for the remainder of his life.
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