By Julie Mankin for The American Quarter Horse Journal
Talented American Quarter Horses are everywhere at this week’s National High School Rodeo Finals in Gillette, Wyoming. Roughly 1,500 contestants will show up July 17-23 riding top equine athletes from all over the country, plus Mexico, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But one of the winningest Quarter Horses competing in Gillette lives right there east of the fairgrounds.
He’s 22 and was bred as a cow horse. Just days ago, on July 10, the 14.1-hand sorrel gelding carried 17-year-old Ashlyn Goven to the pole bending championship and reserve all-around championship at the National Little Britches Rodeo Finals in Guthrie, Oklahoma. It was redemption for the tiny blaze-faced sorrel, registered as Chic N Smooth but known as “Tex.”
Sold for practically nothing at auction as a pack horse 15 years ago, Tex has since notched an entire handful of reserve national championship times at more than half a dozen national youth finals events – and clocked a 19.7 on the poles in Fort Worth, Texas, in March to earn Ashlyn nearly $35,000 at the Hooey Jr. Patriot.
“He’s the weirdest-feeling horse I’ve ever been on,” Ashlyn says. “He’s super strong but so collected and in your hands the entire time, and he has a really good stop on him. I’ve never tried to spin him, but I’m sure he would do it. When it comes to the big stuff, he knows when it’s a bigger event and gets himself pumped up, so I never have to work in the back trying to get him excited.”
Tex is by a son of Smart Chic Olena and out of a granddaughter of Jet Smooth. He was purchased at a Billings (Montana) Livestock sale at about 7 years old by Wyoming dude ranch owner Dave Bliss, who needed a pack horse. Tex was too skittish, though, to be a good pack horse, so Dave asked his niece, Mattie Hepp of Gillette, to train him in barrels and poles so he could at least get his money back out on the horse. When Tex showed promise, Dave gave Mattie his registration papers. Mattie went on to compete at the NHSFR on Tex in pole bending.
When Mattie graduated, Betty Hough, also of Gillette, bought Tex for her 15-year-old granddaughter, Shay, who had never competed in rodeo. Shay Hough placed eighth at the NHSFR as a freshman, was the reserve national pole bending champion as a sophomore (by one-tenth of a second) in her hometown of Gillette and won that year’s national all-around championship because Tex also placed 15th in barrel racing. In 2018 at his fourth NHSFR, one tipped pole cost Tex his second straight reserve pole bending title. Then he clocked another 19-second run in 2019. All of those feats meant Tex secured a scholarship for Shay to go to college for two years, which would never have happened without him.
Finally Ashley, yet another Gillette teenager, qualified for the 2021 NHSFR in Lincoln, Nebraska, and needed a horse to lease when hers became injured. So she leased Tex that summer, winning the reserve Little Britches national title and placing fifth in last year’s NHSFR pole bending, which also made her the 2021 reserve national high school all-around cowgirl. The Govens bought the little reject pack horse with a contract clause that he would retire with them.
Now, Ashlyn and Tex are at their local fairgrounds, at his seventh NHSFR, to shoot for one more championship – his last time because she’s a senior. Locals have noted Tex’s quirks for years because he eats extremely slowly, is a terrible cribber and needs a constant equine companion. But Ashley doesn’t mind a bit.
“He feels good right now,” she said before the NHSFR started. “We’ll make sure the old boy’s feeling 100 percent. I’m pretty in tune with him right now, and he’s pretty in tune with himself, so I’m excited. Hopefully it’ll be a good Finals for me.”
Ashlyn will study business this fall in Hobbs, New Mexico, on a full-ride rodeo scholarship at New Mexico Junior College, while Tex enjoys a well-deserved retirement in the tall grass. But this week, the tiny 22-year-old sorrel could nail down a national pole bending and all-around championship in his longtime hometown one more time.
“Tex is pretty cool,” Ashlyn says. “He takes care of me, and I try my best to take care of him.”
Read more about AQHA’s partnership with the National High School Rodeo Association on its Horse of the Year program.