Congress Masters Winners Through the Years
October 23rd, 2019Tweet
By Kristen Spinning, The Equine Chronicle
Every show horse has its first show. Often, trainers opt for a small, quiet event to get their feet, err, hooves wet. Others put it all on the line by debuting their youngsters to an expectant and enthusiastic crowd at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Each year, the best maiden horses in the country gather to compete in The Equine Chronicle Congress Masters 2-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle and 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure. It takes a great deal of confidence to enter that arena, along with an extra large helping of talent, to be named the Champion. Many past EC Masters Champions have gone on to have storied show careers, and their riders have had stellar accomplishments as well.
A new display of past Congress Masters champions is taking over the Hall of Fame space at the show this year. It will be located in the lounge by the show office, giving the display a prominent and high-traffic spot right in the middle of Congress Hall. Danielle Stephenson, Marketing and Communications Director of OQHA, oversaw the creation of the display. “The lounge is a popular area for people to gather and watch the live feed. It will be an awesome location for people to hang out and view the Champions through the years.” The display will provide a trip down Congress memory lane for all. Some past Champions are already reflecting on the horses they rode that fateful night when they were named a Congress Masters Champion.
Jay Starnes (2005, 2013, 2014, 2016)
Jay Starnes may be a master at the Masters after guiding four 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure Champions to the coveted title. His first win was on Flashy Looking Lady in 2005, at a time when Jay was fairly new to training. “Honestly, I didn’t know if she was ready enough,” he recalls. He admits that he wasn’t entirely sure that he was ready either. “It ended up that I was ready, and she was ready, and it all worked out. It was a great ride and a lot of fun that night.” The win helped propel Jay’s career, too. He modestly acknowledges by saying, “It sure didn’t hurt.”
Jay’s next Masters win was on Its Best To Be Hot, owned by Rawlings Enterprises, LLC, in 2013. “She was a very nice horse,” Jay recalls. He recalls, “She could be a little challenging at times, but she showed really well. She went on to do a lot of the 3-year-old events and then we retired her to be a broodmare.” Jay and Kristy bought her at the beginning of 2019. “Actually, my Masters horse for this year is out of her and by The Lopin Machine,” he adds.
Jay waxes lyrically about The Lopin Machine. “Ahh…he’s just a great horse. From day one, he was probably one of the easiest horses I’ve trained.” He describes his 2014 Masters win on this horse as though it was yesterday. “That was probably the best ride I ever had, on a maiden horse, in a maiden class. Between all the Reichert Celebration shows and all the Masters, that was the best of them all,” he says. He had known and worked with the stud all his life. “He was born at my mom and dad’s house, and he stayed with us the whole time until he went to the breeding farm.”
“Extremely Late was another cool horse,” Jay says. “He was born here, too. It makes it a little more special when you get to watch them grow up, train them, and show them for the first time. He came along early and want-ed to be good. He was prepared well for the Congress and did great that night.” Jay says that Extremely Late went on to show really well for him in open and for his owner, Brenda Yates, in the non-pro division.
Jay is modest when reflecting on his four titles. “I’m lucky, I guess?” he chuckles. “It’s good horses, really. I’ve been fortunate to have some nice two-year-olds that work out for that one night.” He’s excited and hopeful as he looks forward to his next Masters ride. He says, “I really like him. He’s a good mix of his mom and his daddy. He’s real easy to train like his dad. Nothing bothers him. He’s been a fun horse to start.” With two Masters Champion parents, this horse will surely be one to watch this year.
Jay feels the Masters is good for the industry, but he does admit that he liked the old format where the horse and rider were declared earlier in the year. He states, “I think it made it more of a training challenge. You had to pick early on when you really didn’t know anything about these horses other than seeing them loping around in the pen.” Regardless, he feels it’s a great goal for trainers and owners alike.
Beth Case (2008, 2009, 2015, 2016)
Beth Case has found herself at the center of the arena four times aboard a Masters 2-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle Champion. Her first win was in 2008 with Hot Ones Only, owned by Tammy Dyer and her daughter, Sharnai Thompson. “It definitely kicked off his career really well. He showed in the Junior Hunter Under Saddle the next day and won that, which was pretty amazing for a two-year-old at his first show. Then, he showed in the Amateur Hunter Under Saddle with Tammy and won that, too,” she says. While Tammy, Sharnai, and Beth knew the horse had something special from the start, it wasn’t until that very first class that he proved he had the spectacular presence of a show horse. His first Congress provided a glimpse of things to come. Beth adds, “Hot Ones Only went on to win a gazillion things after that.” His legendary career includes being a nine-time AQHA World Champion and 13-time Congress Champion, and accumulating over $100,000 in lifetime earnings.
Quality Art was Beth’s next Master’s horse the following year. “We sold him at the Congress right before the class,” she recalls. The new owners were thrilled to notch such a notable win right away.
When Beth rode A Boy Named Hoo in the 2015 Masters class, she concedes that she wasn’t sure if he was ready or not. Yet, there was a sense of déjà vu as she piloted the Hot Ones Only colt for owners, Tammy Dyer and Sharnai Thompson. It proved to be a winning combination once again. “That was a cool ride,” she recalls. “He went on to win the NSBA World three times and was Reserve World Champion in Hunter Under Saddle last year.”
Hot Ones Only was the sire of the 2016 Masters Champion, Because Shes Worth It, who Beth rode for then owner, Thomas Lukenbill. The impressively tall, smooth-moving Paint mare has racked up numerous APHA and NSBA titles since.
Deanna Searles (2011, 2017)
Deanna Searles rode her own horse, Lastcallfour Alcohol, to a 2011 Masters Hunter Under Saddle win. “He was a big, gentle, sorrel giant. He was sweet, easy to train, and really solid,” she recalls. The gelding, by Allocate Your Assets and out of a Last Detail mare, Jazzy Details, was raised by Deanna and Jim. She adds wistfully, “We knew he was special from the time he popped out.”
Deanna won the class again in 2017 on Best Jazz Album Yet, a full brother to Lastcallfour Alcohol. She muses, “I’ve ridden five full brothers and sisters. They’re all very different and, at the same time, they’re all very similar. It’s kind of like raising kids! Each one is unique.” While they may have looked very different, these Champion brothers shared the trait of being very strong from the outset. They also shared an easygoing personality. But, most of all, it was their movement at an early age that signaled that they were well-suited for the Masters. Deanna says she didn’t have to train them to lope or trot the right way. “They were naturally gifted. We like real strong, pretty lopers and easy trotters,” she says. “For me, I also have to feel very safe on them. They can’t be spooky.” She says that after doing this for so long, she gets a gut feeling about whether a particular horse can handle the pressure and excitement surrounding the Congress without an issue.
Deanna acknowledges the impact those two horses have had on her career. She says, “Both of those horses helped me to get into the Quarter Million Dollar Club for NSBA, so that was pretty exciting.”
Lastcallfour Alcohol placed well at the AQHA World Show after his Congress win. “I didn’t show him a lot. He was ginormous- 18-plus hands. So, I didn’t haul him all over the country.” Sadly, Lastcallfour Alcohol was badly injured when he was seven years old and had to be put down. Best Jazz Album Yet is now four. Last year, he continued to do well with limited showing. Deanna’s daughter, Taylor, has been successfully showing him as well. Deanna doesn’t have any two-year-olds this year, so she will not be making a Masters run in 2019. “It’s one of those marquee kind of classes. When that special one comes along, that I feel I can show like a winner, we will be back in it.”
Rusty Green (2009)
Rusty Green has fond recollections of Certainly Inspired, the horse he rode to a Masters Western Pleasure win in 2009. “She stayed good the whole time we where there,” he says. “She really peaked at the end of the horse show and from there went on to win the World Show. That was a nice horse.”
The horse’s owners, Steve and Susan Thompson, brought her to Rusty about the end of January that year. “It was the goal all along for her to be a Masters horse,” he adds. Rusty saw her potential from the very beginning. She displayed a natural talent. He says, “She just did so many things on her own that you knew weren’t going to change. There were only a few things that we needed to work on to get better.” The mare went on to have a very good career after her Masters debut and the Thompson family still owns her. Rusty says, “We leased her and my son showed her for the last couple years of his youth career. He won the Congress twice on her and placed really well in the Youth World.
They also won at the NSBA World.” The mare was retired after that and has produced some nice babies. Rusty is a proponent of the Masters classes and feels they are very beneficial for the horses. He explains his reasoning. “It’s a maiden class at the end of October, so it gives those babies all year to get acclimated. They’re so much stronger by that time.” He feels that the Masters has inspired a lot of owners to debut their horse at the Congress. “With 100% of the people in the industry being at the Congress, it’s something people want to shoot for.”
He adds that owners have gotten really good about waiting with their horses rather than rushing them. “We have some really nice three-year-old events now, too. It’s not like you’ve lost out if you don’t get your two-year-old shown in the middle of the year. Their whole future is still left ahead of them.” He advocates for two-year-olds to mature before showing. He says that pushing a horse too early doesn’t work out really well for some of them. “You just burn them up. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good horses; it just takes them a little longer to grow up.”
Judy Davis (2007)
The Masters Two-Year-Old Hunter Under Saddle debuted in 2007, and Judy Davis rode WD Good Fellow to win that inaugural event. Judy recalls, “It was very exciting because Wayne and I owned him. Everything fell into place to make it happen that night.”
She says, “Wayne actually went to look at a yearling Paint and George was at the same farm. Wayne came back and said that he bought my Congress horse.” The big red sorrel was green broke, but Wayne saw right away that he was the complete package. Judy elaborates, “He was big; he was pretty; he was a great mover; and he was great minded. He was probably one of the easiest horses I’ve ever shown.” In those days, owners had to declare their horse for the Masters in June. “We didn’t even know if he would be broke enough, but we figured we would try.” They took George along to several horse shows that summer since they were on the road so much. It was the only way they would have time to ride him. Along the way, George learned what horse shows were all about without having to show himself. “By the time we got to the Congress, it was no big deal to him,” Judy says. “I was so pleased with his ride. The crowd didn’t bother him and the other horses didn’t bother him. It was a lot of fun.” To add icing on the cake, Judy says, “I was a limited rider back then. I not only won the $75,000, but I got an extra $5,000 for being a limited rider!”
She shares that she had an early class the next morning, and she didn’t get to celebrate their big win. “Wayne did though,” she laughs. “He went to the Green Wall bar with his buddies. They all bought him drinks… I went to bed.”
George was sold to Jessica Greaves after that, but Judy showed him through his 3-year-old year. He went on to be the NSBA High Point 3-Year-Old and won most of the major futurities. He returned to the Congress and took home a Championship. “Then, Jessie showed him for a couple years and did really well with him. He was a special horse,” she says.
Judy says she would try for the Masters again if she had another horse like George. “It takes a horse that is physically strong and mentally strong to do that. They have to have the right mindset. It’s a lot of pressure.” She adds that they have to be there for two whole weeks before they show and that can just be too much for many horses. While she doesn’t have a Masters horse this year, she gave a hint as to who we might see her riding next year at the Congress. “I have a yearling filly out of Just Like June and by Do You Have a Minute. It’s my favorite mare and my favorite stud. She’s pretty and a great mover. If she trains up, I might try her for the Masters next year…”