Open Working Western Rail Stakes

Open Working Western Rail Stakes

Gotta Hot Gun and Karen Johnson and CR Justa Lil Tuff and Danielle Lybbert win the amateur and open events, respectively.
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An AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred mare and a gelding that has excelled in ranch horse-related classes were the winners of the first AQHA working western rail exhibition classes Friday, November 6. Sponsored by Headley Quarter Horses, the purpose of working western rail is to reward 3-year-old or older American Quarter Horses that display the natural self-carriage of a working horse; a ground-covering, forward-moving stride without excessive speed; balance; cadence; and ease of use.

Danielle Lybbert and CR Justa Lil Tuff, bred by AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Center Ranch, won the open working western rail. Reining prospect-turned-ranch horse competitor Gotta Hot Gun and Karen Johnson won the amateur class, then turned around and grabbed the reserve placing in the open class.

There were 70 horses entered in the amateur and 68 in the open. Ten thousand dollars cash was added to each class, along with 70% of the entry fee, which was paid out over 10 placings. Additionally, $5,000 in prizes was split between both the open and amateur classes.

“We wanted a horse that looked like a ranch horse – one with a lot of cadence and expression,” said Benny Sargent, one of the five judges that placed the classes. “We wanted a horse that could do all of the gaits and still have self-carriage and forward movement.”

Both winners, Danielle and Karen, were excited about the offering of working western rail, which is not yet an official AQHA class, at the 2020 Farnam AQHA and Adequan Select World Championship Shows.

“This was the first ranch-rail class at the World Show and they brought the horses in down the center of the arena just like a rail class so the judges could evaluate each horse before it was being shown within the entire group on the rail,” Benny said.

The class concept captured Danielle’s attention. 

“This was really fun; it was something different,” Danielle said. “You don’t have to worry about a pattern. You could just get in the arena and show the best of what our horses can do.”

Danielle has had CR Justa Lil Tuff since the 4-year-old mare was a yearling. “Meep” is by Woody Be Tuff and out of Can You Handle A Lil by Smart Little Lena.

“This is her first time to the World Show,” said Danielle, who has been riding most of her life. “I bought her as a birthday present to myself and I just love her. She’s just so good-minded, level-headed and beautiful.”

Danielle was speechless over her win.

“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It means a lot to me. I just focused on my horse and rode her like I always do. It means the world to me.”

The class is judged as a rail class but individuals working off the rail received equal reward. Passing is permissible as long as the horse maintains proper cadence and rhythm. The class is also judged on the horse’s performance, athletic ability and correct movement. The overall manners and responsiveness of the horse in a smooth and correct way will be rewarded. Horses shall be asked to show at a walk, trot and lope in both directions on the rail; extended walk, extended trot and extended lope are required in at least one direction. Horses will be required to back. Horses may be reversed at a walk or trot upon the request of the judges and specifically as directed by the ring stewards.

Also, the rules of the class called for natural turnout of horse (no hoof black, braided/banded manes or tails, artificial tails); cowboy-like turnout of exhibitor; working equipment; and natural appearance of the horse from head to tail.

“The judges really paid attention to the class of horses and stayed true to the overall guidelines and intent of the class,” Benny added.

Karen Johnson, who admits to being a pleasure-horse addict, is no stranger to amateur ranch-horse competition. She and Gotta Hot Gun were the 2019 amateur ranch riding world champions. The duo has also competed at the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships.

“ ‘Roo’ is a once-in-a-lifetime horse,” Karen said of her 2010 bay gelding. “If you get a horse like him once in a lifetime, then you’ve lived a full life. He’s pretty special. He was reiner that didn’t work out. I compare him to the movie ‘Seabiscuit,’ because he started in a kind of bad situation and wound up bringing everyone together. He has won the reining at the VRH World, conformation a lot of times, amateur ranch riding here at the World Show and he’s an NSBA world champion.”

Karen says working western rail is an extension of her love of pleasure classes.

“There’s nothing better than going down the rail on a horse that’s loping pretty and free,” she said.


Winner Stats