It was a wild ride to the title of “Superhorse” on the final night of the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City.
Essentially the MVP of the World show, the “Superhorse” has to have the highest composite score after competing in at least three different categories.
“They're all gunning to be the very best,” said Jim Bret Campbell, director of marketing and publicans for AQHA. “There are 94 world championships awarded at the World Show, but only one “Superhorse” and they all want it. People shoot for it for years. If you go out in the parking lot right now, you'll find trailers that say “Superhorse” from fifteen years ago, because it means that much to them.”
Forty-nine horses were in the running for “Superhorse” at the beginning of this year's World Show, but by Saturday only three were left who could win it all. Eric Dunn, of Norwich, Kan., was in the enviable position of owning two of them. Both were mares that had made it to the Senior Working Cow Horse final Saturday night.
His 6-year-old roan Pink Jeans already had been through the finals in three roping categories — Senior Heeling, Senior Heading, and Senior Tie-Down with J.D. Yates, of Pueblo, Colo., throwing the loops. She had enough points to earn the title of “Superhorse” if she could finish at least seventh in the Senior Working Cow Horse final.
But Dunn also had a bay mare named Rising Starlight with an outside shot at winning “Superhorse.” Way outside.
The 7-year-old bred by Casey Dearie, of Weatherford, Texas, would have to win the Senior Working Cow Horse Championship.
Rising Starlight by Little Bay Starlight had been ridden by Steve Orth of Maysville to the finals in Senior Heeling and Senior Heading — where she was third.
Both of Dunn's entries would be ridden in the Senior Working Cow Horse Final by Corey Cushing, of Scottsdale, Ariz.
The leading competitor for “Superhorse” going into Saturday night was Sexy Dirty Money, owned by Janet and Kent Martin, of Wells, Texas. The 5-year-old gray gelding had earned points in Junior Working Hunter, Junior Hunter Hack, and Junior Pleasure Driving.
Needing only to finish seventh or better out of 15 horses seemed to give Pink Jeans the better odds, but in the rough-and-tumble world of working cow horse, the cows always trump the numbers; and when all 15 horses had gone, Pink Jeans had finished in 11th place.
Rising Starlight, ridden by Cushing, was sitting in a tie for first with Cushing's good friend, Jake Telford, of Caldwell, Idaho, and a fancy roan stallion named Nabisco Roan bred by Polo Ranch in Marietta.
The rules required each to work another cow, and both were held in suspense while the judges announced which horse and rider had won the “work-off.”
For Cushing and the Dunn family, both the Senior Working Cow Horse and “Superhorse” titles were on the line.
After several agonizing minutes, the announcement finally came that Rising Starlight was the winner; and about an hour later, Cushing galloped her into the arena without a bridle to pick up the trophy.
“To win the AQHA World Championship Show “Superhorse”, that's exactly what she is. She's one in a million,” Cushing said. “For it to end up the way it did — the work-off, the excitement, the energy … it's something we'll never ever forget.”
“What this award means to me is a legacy. You can't buy it. You have to earn it,” Dunn said afterward. “For my grandkids and their grandkids, this award is going to be sitting with my family forever.”
The $25,000 check that goes with the “Superhorse” title will buy a nice case for that trophy. As for Rising Starlight, her career being shown by professionals is over. Dunn says next year he'll try his hand riding her.
Cushing and Telford will put it all behind them, as cow horse guys generally do. Theirs is an old-school cowboy sport in which friendship still trumps titles. In fact, according to the announcers, they and their wives are headed for a vacation in Belize.
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