NEW HORSE AND RIDER TEAM REINS IN REWARDS
- Mardi Ford
- The Observer
Hard work and perseverance pay off. Ten years ago, when Amber McDowell got her husband interested in reining competitions, the going was a little rough for both of them.
"The first few horses I trained didn't do so well. And we couldn't afford more than $300 or $400 dollars for a horse. But we've always bought the best we could for the money we had. And as I've learned, the horses have done better, too," Matt McDowell, Enterprise, says.
Still, one competition that he and Amber attended just four years ago stands out. Both the McDowells won their perspective events, but that night as they loaded their horses into their old stock trailer to go home, they discovered the lights no longer worked.
"We laughed about it Â— we may not have had the best, but we went, anyway. We competed and we did well," he says.
As Matt got better at training, won a few more shows, the horse flesh improved as well.
"We just continued to trade up and always got the best horse we could afford," he explains.
But now, McDowell is the first to say he is competing on a horse he couldn't afford. He and Amber mostly traded for him with a small capital investment thrown in to balance the deal.
Blessed and winning.
McDowell says he and Amber have already recouped their investment in the 5-year-old quarter horse stallion named Professor Smart. In October, McDowell and Professor finished up the 2006 show year with a huge win at the Western International Mile High Derby in Denver.
Against 20 other horse and riders teams, the young man from Northeast Oregon riding the horse of his dreams won all three non-pro divisions. They picked up three Lawson Bronze trophies, the derby cup and a paycheck of $5,600.
"We had a great run. We were third in the draw when we took the lead," McDowell says. "I can't say enough of Professor. This is an incredible horse. He has tons of heart, when I call on him to stop hard and spin fast, he always responds."
Though McDowell says Professor has only been to the show pen seven times, he has brought home over $33,000 in National Reining Horse Association earnings. In 2006, he took fourth at the All-American Reining Classic in Las Vegas and the Western International Non-Pro Derby Champion in Denver.
In 2006 Professor was the AQHA world show qualifier in Junior reining, earning 30 qualifying points at one AQHA even in Eugene.
"It takes 16 points to qualify for the world finals. Most folks trailer a horse to shows all year long to get those 16 points," McDowell says with a note of incredulity in his voice. He is still amazed at the chain of events that put such an incredible animal in his hands.
Everything McDowell asks of him, he does. He can spin him and turn without a bridle or bit in his move and get him to stop just be saying whoa.
"And he's quiet. I can put little Mason up on him with me and the kids run around and under him and he doesn't move. He is a good-hearted horse. He's not for sale and he's not going anywhere Â— he'll live here forever," McDowell says.
Professor is the offspring of Million Dollar sire, Smart Chic Olena.
Million Dollar sires are those American Quarter Horse Association registered stallions whose offspring garner $1 million in earnings. Once he hits a certain age with a certain dollar amount in earnings, McDowell says he'll be put to stud. There are already dozens of offers from folks just waiting to breed their mares to Professor once he's standing.
So, for Matt McDowell, life is pretty good right now. He spends four to eight hours a day, six days a week training Â— whatever the weather. He still guides hunters into the wilderness with his other business, the Eagle Cap Pack Station. And to top it all off, he and Amber had a new baby boy last week to bring their family to five. They named him Maddox.
What's next? Matt, Amber, Madison, Mason, Maddox and the Professor all will attend both the Scottsdale Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz. and the All-American Reining Classic in Reno in March. Then in May it's on to Oklahoma City for the biggest event of the year for horse reining Â— the 41st NRHA Derby.
For McDowell, the toughest part of competing at these big shows is keeping his nerves under control. But he's learning. Probably the hardest on him physically is what he calls the big stop, which looks like it could give the rider a whiplash on horseback.
"You have to learn to relax and let the body do most of the work naturally," he says.
The big stop is always exciting Â— hearing the crowds whistle, stomp and cheer as the horse gallops full speed and comes to an abrupt halt, spewing sand and dust into the air.
The big stop may be McDowell and Professor's crowd pleaser, but there's nothing stopping these two from a big future in reining competition.