“Smarty Jones” circles, slides and spins to the freestyle reining win at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
By Larri Jo Starkey
Three years ago, Laura Mae Schoeller won the All American Quarter Horse Congress freestyle reining competition on Pickup Chic with a routine to music from “Phantom of the Opera.”
Then she became ill and was unable to compete. For her fourth ride in competition since her return to riding, Laura chose “Pickup” again dressed as a jockey on the Thoroughbred racehorse Smarty Jones. As music from the movie “Spirit” played interspersed with Tom Durkin’s race call from Smarty Jones’ Kentucky Derby win.
Riding in two-point, even for the slides, Laura and Pickup had the crowd on its feet by the time they finished their freestyle “race.”
“It’s a crazy little world inside my head,” Laura said, tapping her head with a finger and laughing. “I wanted to do Seabiscuit, but the quality of the sound was so old that it wouldn’t have the effect that I needed it to have. So I started researching every Kentucky Derby winner in the past 10 years.”
Laura also considered Secretariat, because she knew the movie about him was appearing in theaters this year, but the sound was again too old.
“I came across Smarty Jones, and Tom Durkin was the commentator, and it gave me goosebumps, and I said that’s my race,” she said. She pulled Pickup, her father’s horse, out of semiretirement and started planning her moves, concentrating on his best one: his stops.
The audience couldn’t stop cheering, and the judges agreed, scoring the ride a 228 and giving Laura the freestyle championship.
The reserve champion, Alyssa Boender of Lake Village, Indiana, wanted to be sure everyone in the crowd would have something to enjoy. She picked a medley of Beach Boys music and talked her husband, Russ, into riding “water skis” pulled by A Sunny Sunrise. At the end of the tune “Wipeout,” Russ wiped out on his sand skis, and Alyssa really took off, guiding “Sunny” through hard stops and fast circles before reaching up and taking off his bridle for a few bridleless maneuvers to end the program with a 225.
“Sunnyis a cool horse,” Alyssa said. “Not the best horse for the regular patterns because he knows what he’s doing, but when you change it up, he gets pretty dynamic. He has a lot of fun when it comes to something like this.”
The morning didn’t start off fun, though. During the first practice session in the coliseum, Sunny got nervous and threw in a buck. Alyssa came off, and Sunny landed on her thigh.
“The medic saw me,” she said. “I have a big hematoma on my leg. Possible concussion. But we got through it and (the competition) was so much fun.”
She’ll be back next year, she says, with more for Sunny to do.
Pete Kyle of Whitesboro, Texas, had two horses in the competition, placing third on Whizs Bronze Star with “Pirate Pete” reining to music from “Pirates of the Caribbean” music. His swashbuckling horseback duel with another dastardly villain was a crowd-pleaser as well, scoring a 224.
To see more photos from Congress, check out the Journal slide show below. Click on each photo to see the caption.
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