A little back story…
The World Equestrian Games is an event I remember watching as a kid. Much like the Kentucky Derby, it was the chance for a dreamer of a little girl like me to watch the very best horses compete at the highest level. It has always been mesmerizing to watch horses and riders represent their country on the world stage. What an honor. What a dream come true. Never did I think I would be sitting down at this laptop actually connected to one of those very horses. Connected in the most intimate of ways, and here to tell his story to the world. The guts of this story…. Your fears can do one of two things… they can intimidate you from taking full advantage of the moment. Or they can illuminate and inspire you to spend every ounce of those moments to your advantage. This is the story of a son of Katie Gun that inspired my inner dreamer to keep on dreaming….
My “job” these days, if you want to call it that (I seriously love what I do) other than being a full time mom to Savannah Rein, our 3 year old, is to match people with their “unicorns”. I spend hours and hours a day on the phone, emailing, networking, designing ads, etc with clients who become good friends from all over the world helping them find EXACTLY what they are looking for in their new horse. Right down to the color and markings sometimes! Hey, if you are going to spend the money…. Spend it on exactly what you want!
Two years ago I set out to purchase a breeding stallion with some friends and clients of mine. He had to have a STELLAR maternal line. He had to have a PROVEN pedigree – one that made money when crossed more than once. He had to be pretty. He had to be attractive to the market. He had to be versatile enough in breeding and family produce history to give foals multiple market options. He had to be good minded. He had to have size. Most importantly he had to have the “intangibles” we look for in a special horse. The one that speaks to you.
I think we looked through 100 head or more of stallions. We radiographed quite a few. None of them seemed to check ALL the boxes on this unicorn list. And then I stumbled across a son of KATIE GUN… my interest immediately perked. Who doesn’t love Katie Gun? I mean this is a mare that is easily the most dominant maternal line in reining today. Not only from show pens but to produce records. Heck she is the only mare to produce two NRHA Million Dollar sires. This stallion had almost $20,000 in earnings and his video was magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I bet I replayed it 100 times. Sired by triple threat $2.4 Million Dollar sire Nic It In The Bud – a unicorn in his own right – one of the very few million dollar sires that won money himself NRHA, NRCHA, and NCHA and has sired money earners in ALL THREE divisions as well. The cross of NITB on Katie Gun done by genetics mastermind Eric Storey produced FIVE money earners: Over A Barrell – Earner of over $32,000 NRCHA and still showing today winning with a youth, Night Time Nic who died early in his career – Earner of over $30,000 NRHA shown by the great Todd Bergen, Guns R Reddy LTE $1681 – now a leading NRHA dam currently with PE over $150,000 NRHA, and Stick Em Up Nic – an NRCHA Money Earner.
The ad was old. I wasn’t sure he was still on the market but I was going to find out. My email inbox lit up. He was still available. Unshown in over 2 years. He had an old collateral ligament injury in an ankle that was treated and rested, but he had hardly been used since. We weren’t looking for a show horse anyway. Just a sure enough breeding stallion. The owner was ready to sell. I knew this big red horse with the signature blue eye was THE ONE.
The deal was done. And honestly I was a little sick to my stomach. This was my first “Big Time” purchase as WhoaZone. Why not a son of Katie Gun. This Guns For Nic (known to those who love him as “Azul”) was moved to Jarvis Anderson Performance Horses to get in shape for breeding season. Get this – he was a son of Katie Gun that hadn’t yet bred a SINGLE mare. Can you believe it? I couldn’t wait to introduce him to the world via WhoaZone! What a find I thought to myself. And little did I know my story telling was just beginning!
The good stuff…
Jarvis called me after having him a couple weeks to tell me what a nice horse he was. It was a relief. Most of this deal was done over the phone, viewing radiographs remotely, and by word of mouth on this horse. If you ever want to know what people think of a horse – mention them in casual conversation. Every person we talked to that had worked with Azul from yearling sale fitting time, to training as a 2 year old and beyond, had nothing but positive remarks about him. Jarvis was now a fan and we couldn’t have been happier about our stallion choice.
Azul was SOUND and happy to be back under saddle. If you know Jarvis and his program, you know most any horse would be happy in his care. The proof is in the longevity of the careers of the horses that he has trained. An example being his own stallion Pretty Peppy Chec – earner of over $103,000 and an FEI Bronze Medalist. So when Jarvis asked to take Azul to a couple shows we thought why not?! If the horse was happy and sound. Let’s do it! The two were simply electric from the start – 5th at the NRBC Open Challenge, Won the Tulsa Reining Classic Open, Top 10 at the AQHA World Show in Open Senior Reining, and were members of Andrea Fappani’s winning Silver Spurs Shootout Team at the NRHA Futurity. All in all adding over $10,000 to his NRHA earnings as a 7&Up horse. The best part is we aren’t sure who had more fun doing it – Azul or Jarvis!
The first foals by Azul were born in 2017 and we couldn’t be more proud of them. They all had low hock set, extremely strong top lines, and that intangible presence. The class of 2017 has found their way into the hands of NRHA professionals and top Non Pros like Katsy Leeman. She bought an Azul filly out of Who Whiz Baby Blue bred by myself and Barbara Blair. Who Whiz Baby Blue is a mare purchased from another mentor of mine, Clint Haverty. Katsy had success on another foal out of the daughter of Who Whiz It, out of the mare Glendas A Smokingun – a 3 year old filly by A Shiner Named Sioux – Odds In My Favour whom she won the Congress Non Pro Futurity on and over $15,000 to date. We can’t be more excited to see this crop under saddle in 2019.
Now for the good stuff. The World Equestrian Games were on our radar. However, qualifying for TEAM USA was right smack dab in the middle of breeding season. We could have left the mare owners hanging or forced them to use frozen semen. However, on a stallion in his sophomore year in the breeding season and under the guidance of Jarvis we chose not to put more on his plate. Then, I got a message from some customers in Australia who had bred to Azul…
“Is Azul retired from showing?” was the question. My answer “Not necessarily, he sure still enjoys going in the pen.” On the other end of the line was Bernard O’Sullivan an Australian based trainer and his partner Julian Kingsford. They were looking for a horse for Ben to show at the WEG and represent Team Ireland. Ben had qualified for the WEG by traveling to Chile and Canada and obtaining qualifying scores on different horses. Now he just needed a horse to compete on here in the USA. The wheels in my head were going a million miles an hour. After a conference with Jarvis, we all decided it was worth a shot. Azul already had his FEI passport and qualifying runs. We then turned our heads to all the other requirements that come with going to the games.
So what are the qualifications of a reining horse? The horse must be over 7 years old. The horse must abide by the FEI Clean Sport rules. That means no NSAIDs, no steroids, no medicinal help for soundness what so ever. They must be microchipped. They must have a series of important veterinarian administered vaccinations with diligent record keeping. They must also be inspected from nostrils to tail for every single whorl, scar, mark, bump, hoof color striation etc. It’s quite the overwhelming process and one that requires insane detail and planning. We are so thankful for Dr. Justin High DVM of Reata Equine Hospital for his attention to detail and preparation of all needed records for Azul to get to the games. We would have been so lost without him!
When Azul was done with breeding season he went straight back to Jarvis Anderson to work off the “dad bod” and get into the best shape possible for his international debut. With the help of Jarvis Anderson’s sponsor Equine Aqua Spa (EAST), fitness was achieved by both riding and swimming. About 10 days before his departure for Tryon, North Carolina, Ben and Julian arrived to meet and get to know Azul. They spent the days learning and getting coached by Jarvis. They learned how to cue him, where to push him, and above all else… establish a connection. They would ride and/or spa in the morning, and come back in the evening to hand walk or lunge and just spend quality time with Azul. It was clear they had the horse’s well being and happiness first, and all the rest second. The care and genuine best interest at heart these days is so very rare, and quite frankly refreshing. Ben has only been riding reiners 3 years. He made the transition from 3 day eventing when he decided falling off wasn’t so fun anymore. Jarvis and Ben worked hard together to get Azul ready. He was in true form, all heart, and just wanted to please.
Eleven rides total. That is all Ben and Azul had prior to the games. Some of the horse and rider teams they would compete against had been together years, or months at minimum. This wasn’t the typical path a horse and rider team makes to get to the games. But, we just had a feeling it was the RIGHT one. Travel time came. Yonathan Baruch was kind enough to let Azul travel with them to the WEG. We are so thankful for his generosity and for taking care of him while traveling with his own mount – High Roller Whiz for friends and owners Stuart and Stoney Russell. Azul traveled as he always does like an old pro, and got off the trailer fresh and ready thanks to their care.
The moment was here…
September 11th, 2018 – Jog Day. I was holding my breath up until this point. If you have been around horses very long (or spent 10 years in equine surgical practice like me) you know that ANYTHING can happen. Over-reach. Sleep wrong against a wall. Pull a shoe. Not drink enough water. Stock up. The list is endless. Horses are always looking for the last place you could dream of to do something you would never expect. Insert the cartoon of the gal wrapping her horse in bubble wrap here. My trip to the games was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. Although it was heart-breaking I couldn’t be there to cover the journey of this horse and rider team at the WEG, it was the right decision for my family, and we knew the horse was in the BEST OF HANDS.
Regardless, I’m pretty sure I could have used a tube of Ulcerguard by the time I got word that he had indeed passed the jog and veterinary inspection! They did get put in the holding box to palpate his larger ankle from the old injury we knew he had. But after that he was cleared for competition. Even better… 100% of the reining horses entered PASSED their veterinary inspections and jog. A HUGE kudos to our industry. This was it, it was REALLY happening now. I think all of us here in Texas, Australia, Ireland, that were rooting for these two could feel the electricity around this horse and rider. None of us could be happier for the horse or for Ben who was checking something off his bucket list. He was riding the youngest breeding son of the legendary Katie Gun on the world’s stage. It was in that moment, getting photos courtesy of the wonderful Erin Gilmore Photography, I realized the magnitude of this moment.
Here was a son of Katie Gun it took me all of a year or more to find. He had not been shown in almost 3 years prior to us bringing him to Jarvis Anderson. An Australian based trainer competing for Team Ireland who hadn’t been showing reiners even a handful of years. A group of supporters quickly forming around him from mare owners, to other Teams, and strangers I had never spoken to…all drawn to one special blue eyed horse. It was then I was reminded of why we do this in the first place. Why we get up early and stay up even later. Why we study produce records and the trends of the market. And why we invest our money and time into this sport. I promise at the root of it all, the very seed of the passion is simply: WE LOVE HORSES.
Whatever came the next day we were going to be so proud of the horse who never says no, his trainer and coach Jarvis Anderson for ALWAYS bringing out the best in horses – especially this one. Forever grateful for the support of his wife, Stephanie Anderson, making sure all things got done when he came home from the breeding farm as they needed per regulations and requirements. Incredibly thankful for this horse’s connections who have trusted my insight and knowledge from the very beginning and allowed me the opportunity to be a part of this story. Equine Aqua Spa for their stellar care and fitness preparation in getting Azul ready. Dr Justin High, DVM for jumping on board for this FEI adventure without hesitation. And most of all Ben, for setting out to achieve a goal at the highest level of competition just 3 years into making a discipline switch. To Julian, thank you for being the biggest support pillar of this horse and rider team of all, and stepping up into roles you had not planned. At the end of the day we had already made dreams a reality. The rest was simply icing on the cake.
203 was their score – If you are well versed in reining you are probably thinking. Well, what’s all the excitement about? Allow me to explain. In that 203, dreams came to fruition for a trainer. A horse “beyond his prime” that had essentially been “turned out” proved to the world not only that he is game to compete at the highest level of competition at 11 years of age, but that he has the disposition to take care of his rider no matter how much experience they had in the pen. For me, the little girl inside me that was a dreamer smiled ear to ear to see a stallion I had found reach that level of competition. Last but not least, a trainer in Jarvis Anderson got to showcase the confidence he found and pulled out of this horse by bringing him back to the show pen. The moment also allowed the opportunity to showcase the honesty and consistency in the horses he rides. 203 may have been a disappointing run on paper in a outsider’s eyes…but sometimes you have to take a step back and look at those score cards and check out the plus stops this team had. You have to find the good stuff. Consider the pressure of the event and the ELEVEN rides these two had together. It’s the best dang 203 we have and will ever be associated with. I promise you that!
As soon as the ride was over my phone began to light up. Congratulations texts and messages from friends and from people I had never even met or talked to. They were complimenting the mind on Azul and the care Ben had shown him throughout the process. All of them commenting on Ben’s kind gesture of pointing to Azul in appreciation of the moment as they walked out of the pen. A moment I don’t think anyone associated with this story will forget. Then a text from Ben “I am so proud of him.” And a message from Stuart Russell who was sitting on the stall floor with Ben after the run and went out of her way to congratulate him. She went on to tell me how thankful Ben was for this horse and the opportunity as they fed Azul apples and iced his legs after the run, and that he couldn’t stop expressing his gratitude. This folks, is the good stuff. This is what we need more of in this ever so trendy industry.
So, after all this rambling and story-telling what is it exactly that I am trying to get across to our readers? Follow your heart. Remember why you wake up to feed everyday. Remember why you put your body through the stress of riding for hours. Remember why you make late night airport runs to pick up semen to breed your favorite mare or helping a foal to his or her feet. Remember where you started. Remember WHY you started. It’s all for the LOVE of horses at the end of the day. Be grateful. Be humble. Be open to learning more, and helping others along the way. Sometimes in this industry it’s an easy point to forget. Stand up and cheer for that guy or gal you see working their tail off to earn a 70. Stand up and cheer for someone you don’t know. Go out of your way to compliment someone on the little things. Show your horse that extra inch of “I care” with an ice session or his favorite cookie. At the end of the day it’s not the scorecards we remember but the memories and moments we witness in the process. Strip it all down, enjoy the moment, and take it all in. We only get this life once… enjoy it and surround yourself with the people that want you to succeed and enjoy the ride with you! In the words of one of the greatest athletes to ever walk this planet – Michael Phelps, “You can’t put a limit on anything, the more you dream, the farther you get.”
This Guns For Nic will stand to the public in 2019. His fee is $1000.00 if paid in full by 12.1.2018 this includes your first shipment. He is 5 Panel Negative and Splash Sw2. NRHA LTE $30,631 – AQHA ROM – Top 10 AQHA World Show Open Senior Reining – visit him at http://www.ThisGunsForNic.com or find him on Facebook at THIS GUNS FOR NIC!