Dynamic Dam: CC Surprise
Dynamic Dam: CC Surprise
By Katie Navarra
When CC Surprise drove into the arena, everyone stopped to watch. The 1985 bay mare had a sweeping gait that captivated spectators. “Molly” was the first to bring the flowing, push-from-behind trot into the driving pen.
“She made us all stop and look. She truly turned pleasure driving around,” says Alice Holmes of Goldsby, Oklahoma.
Alice and then-husband Brian Holmes discovered Molly by chance. They transformed a horse who had several false starts in other disciplines into one who revolutionized a discipline with nine world championships.
Molly started her career on the racetrack. In just two starts, her highest speed index was a lackluster 66. Professional barrel racer Mary Burger tried Molly as a barrel prospect. That didn’t work either. Molly didn’t like turning left.
“A friend called to tell me she had a pretty unique mare for sale and that we had to come see her,” Alice says.
Alice and Brian agreed that the mare with an unusual “skunk tail” would have potential as an over-fences and cart horse. The Holmeses loaded the pickup with jump standards and a white gate so Alice could try her over a fence.
“It was true that she was rather stiff to the left, but there was just something about her,” Alice says.
“I wanted to buy her that first day we saw her, but we didn’t,” Brian adds.
The sale was finalized in 1989 without X-rays or a pre-purchase exam. Brian and Alice started training her under saddle and in the cart. Molly propelled herself forward with her back end – a rarity for driving horses at the time – but the mare wasn’t convinced she liked driving any more than she had wanted to run.
Brian converted a trail bridge into a sled with a single tree and sledded her.
“She was pretty scared of anything behind her,” Brian says. “She broke a few lightweight leather harnesses at first and dragged me and the sled up into the manure pile.”
Over time, as Molly’s training progressed, she gained security and confidence when she was in the cart.
“If I was leading her at the Congress and the flags were flapping and the garbage was blowing, I wasn’t sure how she’d react,” Brian says. “Once she went in the cart, she gained her confidence, and those things didn’t bother her.”
The Rise of a Champion
Brian and Alice’s instincts had been right. Molly was a good fit for under-saddle and driving classes. She eventually worked into over-fences classes with Alice and AQHA Professional Horseman Jerry Erickson’s help. Within two years, she had won Superiors for hunter hack and hunter under saddle both with Alice and AQHA Professional Horseman Bob Tweedley.
Brian won three open world championship titles with her. Molly even won a halter grand championship in 1991 at a show in Perry, Georgia. On a whim, Alice entered her in a reining class and came out with a half-point in reining.
That same year, Alice encouraged her father, Chuck Whistler, to climb into the cart at age 67. The retired engineer had driven draft teams on his grandfather’s farm decades earlier. Alice hoped the pair could qualify for the world show. The All American Congress was his warm-up before the World Show. He finished fifth in the class less than a month before the big show.
“He was devastated,” Brian remembers. “He felt like he’d let his kids down. He was so determined to practice before the World Show and get better.”
Chuck traveled out to the Holmeses’ barn a week before the show to practice before the World Show. The extra time in the driver’s seat paid off. Don Burt was one of the judges and was standing with his back to the rail. The crowd gasped when an exhibitor nearly ran into him. Don turned around to see the wheel skirt past him and fanned his backside with his clipboard indicating he could feel the heat. His motion cracked up the crowd, and that horse spooked, which started a chain reaction. Molly was the only one to keep her cool.
“Chuck was unfazed. He drove right down the middle and won the amateur world championship,” Brian says.
Later on at the same World Show, Brian drove Molly to the open world championship title.
That same year, Joyce Saul from Des Arc, Arkansas, had decided that at 50, she wanted to join her family in the show pen.
The entire Saul family was seriously showing in western pleasure. Joyce’s daughter, Jan, and sons Rodney and Dean rode as youths. As adults, Dean and his wife, Kathie, made their mark on the industry when they bred and raised the Hall of Fame stallion Zippos Mr Good Bar. Their daughter, Hayley, is a top all-around exhibitor. Rodney and his wife, Vicki, also stayed active in the industry. In 2018, Vicki won the amateur world championship in pleasure driving with Captivated Style.
While the family was away at horse shows, Joyce stayed home with her parents. And she focused on flying lessons with the goal of earning her pilot’s license.
“I hated that my family would all be gone and that I wasn’t involved,” Joyce says.
She didn’t want to ride, though. When she attended a show in Wisconsin, her husband, Darrell, encouraged her get in the cart with Dianne Eppers. The pair drove around the fairgrounds for an hour or more, Darrell recalls.
“When they got back, Joyce said she thought driving was something she could do,” Darrell says. “Dianne knew the Holmeses had Molly and that she was the best. If it hadn’t been for Dianne, we wouldn’t have gotten her at all.”
Driving suited Joyce right down to the ground.
“I feel more comfortable driving than riding and I thought it looked like a fun class because I’ve always liked to dress up,” Joyce says. “My mom and dad had a department store, and I loved the clothes and wearing the hats. All that made me interested in driving.”
When the couple purchased Molly in 1992, Darrell went from riding to longeing. He spent hours exercising Molly before Joyce was scheduled to show her. Molly knew her job and was hard to beat, but she was never an easy horse.
“We were at the Gold Coast one year and the weather bad – it was cold and stormy. I had been out longeing her all morning and wondering if I should hook her up,” Darrell says. “We did, but it looked like her feet never touched the ground. She held it together and won the class.”
At a different show in Missouri, a wind gust that blew dust into an open arena door rattled Molly, and the Sauls were thankful that Alice happened to be at the same show.
“When the wind kicked up, Molly took off, and Alice took off to get her,” Darrell says. “Alice spent an hour with her getting her to quiet down in her stall. This was the only time she acted like that, she never had a wreck or ran away.”
The Sauls enjoyed abundant success in the show pen with Molly. Among numerous high-point awards and world championship titles, Joyce also won the Justin Intermediate of the Year 50-&-Over title.
“We just loved her color and the way she moved,” Joyce says.
Turning Into a Legend
When the Sauls purchased Molly, they agreed to keep the mare in training with the Holmeses and allow them to flush an embryo. The resulting foal, Surprise Me Moxie by Mr Moxie Man, was Molly’s first. That filly went on to earn 131 points in four events, and Jerry won senior hunter hack with her at the Congress in 1999.
In the mid-’90s, the Sauls took Molly to their farm in Arkansas so they could show her in local shows while also flushing embryos for future prospects. She produced seven foals, including Surprise What by Regal Lark, a 1998 bay mare who was third at the 2017 and 2018 Lucas Oil AQHA world championship shows.
Molly also produced Cee Regals Surprise by Regal Lark.
“Most of her babies look just like her and move like her, too,” Joyce says. “It’s been a lot of fun to see them do well.”
Both Joyce and Alice still drive horses or have broodmares that trace to Molly. Alice owns Queen For The Blues, a regional winner and now broodmare, and Hoo Got The Blues, the 2017 Level 2 junior driving champion. Joyce continues to show Molly’s daughter Surprise What and grand¬daughter Huntin For Blues, a gray mare she has also won a world championship with.
“It’s great to see Joyce continuing to compete with some of Molly’s grand foals,” Alice says.
Honoring a Legacy
Nearly two decades after the Holmeses first purchased Molly, Brian was driving through Arkansas on his way home from a show and called the Sauls to see whether he could stop by and see Molly.
“Of course, was their response,” Brian recalls. The whole family went out for pizza and at the end of lunch, they said, “We need to talk business.”
The family had been discussing Molly’s retirement. Because she had spent the majority of her career with Brian, they wanted him to have her. He picked her up that day.
“When I walked her out with a halter and lead, she walked up to the trailer and looked up at the carts on top, and the look in her face was almost like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” he laughs.
By this time, she was in her early 20s.
In 2011, while Brian was in the hospital for hip replacement surgery, he got a call that she had been found lying dead next to her feeder.
“She had been waiting for her breakfast and had gone real peacefully and happily,” he says.
Fortunately, Brian had enjoyed one last drive prior to surgery. He’d pulled the 25-year-old mare out of the pasture and hooked her up.
“It was kind of neat to drive her,” he says.
In 2014, Molly was inducted in the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame.
The honor paid tribute to her 483 open points and 210 amateur points. She produced seven foals, many of whom went on to become winners. All told, the mare won nine world championships and earned an AQHA Performance Champion title; Superiors in driving, hunter hack and hunter under saddle; and multiple high-point titles under saddle and in the cart during her entire career.
“Even on a bad day, she was supposed to win, and she usually did,” Brian says.