By Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse JournalSeptember 23, 2012
Scott and Shelley Rystrom with Tracy Harl and his year-long project mare, Hairpin Sterling Sis. (Journal photo)
By day's end September 22, Tracy Harl of Hastings, Nebraska, was “the happiest guy on the show grounds.”
He and Hairpin Sterling Sis had “survived” ranch pleasure and novice amateur reining and “didn’t get disqualified!” as Tracy put it.
Those expectations might not sound very high, but to fully understand Tracy’s relief you have to know that about a year ago, his mare was 4 and largely untouched by human hand. To say she wasn’t halter-broken was an understatement.
A purebred livestock auctioneer, Tracy had agreed to give summer pasture to about 15 mares that some friends bought through the Leachman Cattle Hairpin Cavvy dispersal. “Mindy” was in the bunch and caught his eye. When it came time for the herd to leave, he bought her.
“I just liked her and I thought I needed a project,” he explains. “I just wanted a horse that I could take up into the Sandhills to brandings or to go gather cows.
“She was sure a project!” he says, laughing. “Let’s just say she was just very alert. She heard everything and saw everything; you couldn’t sneak up on her.”
Tracy did everything he could think of “just to get a hand on her,” working to “get her humanized.” The dark bay mare had a brand on her jaw and several on her rump, and that had apparently been her sole, close-quarters human interaction.
“Thank heavens I had neighbors like (trainers) Scott and Shelley Rystrom to come to my rescue when I needed help,” he says.
When Tracy took her to the Rystroms’ place down the road, you couldn’t catch her in a 10x10-foot stall. But Scott put her in the middle of the barn, and made a barn rule that Mindy had to have a pat every time someone walked by her.
Taking it slow, they halter broke her, then worked her on a longe line and started her under saddle.
Tracy’s “project” became even more special to the Rystroms when they looked closer at Mindy’s pedigree – it turned out that Shelley’s mom, Kris, had raised her sire, Dallas Sterling.
“One of the proudest moments for me was when we felt OK about turning her loose in the big outdoor pen for free time,” Shelley recalls, “And knowing we could catch her again.”
When Scott and Shelley saw the call for entries for the 2012 Region Two Championship in Rapid City, South Dakota, they thought that would be a great place to see how far the mare had come, and convinced Tracy to enter.
“This is her first out! Hers and mine both!” Tracy says with a proud smile. “Everything we’ve tried to do with her, she’s retained. She seems to want to respond and learn new things.”
“She trusts us now,” Scott says. “Even just in this show environment, she trusts. The whole time we were up there (at the arena) she put her head down and acted like she’d been in that pen a million times.”
Tracy can’t wait to see where project Mindy takes him next: “We’re just going to keep working with her and let her tell us what she’s willing to do.”
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