Steamboat Springs Two years ago, Jason Patrick left Reno, Nev., with two young horses, eager to see what they would become.
“When you buy a little, long-legged, pot-bellied baby, you have no idea what they’re going to be,” said Patrick, a ranch manager and trainer at Whispering Willows Ranch just outside Steamboat Springs. “You know what you’re going to hope they can be, but you don’t know. It’s really fun to see them develop their own styles and their own athleticism. That’s why I love the cow horse.”
Patrick was speaking Saturday from Reno, where he had returned to the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s largest futurity (3-year-old horses) cow horse show in the country.
Those spindly-legged foals, named As Smart as Spook and Nita’s Lucky Charm, were in the back of his trailer again, and this time, Patrick said the horses are ready to compete on the highest level against some of the most athletic horses in the world, judging by their several awards at this year’s Colorado State Fair, which took place the week before Labor Day.
“I think the exciting part is that our Routt County, Yampa Valley horses are out competing with the best in the world,” Patrick said.
At the state fair, Patrick rode three horses — including Nita’s Lucky Charm, As Smart as Spook and another young horse named J-Lo — throughout the week.
J-Lo earned first- and second-place finishes, Nita’s Lucky Charm earned a first-place finish (in his first show) and As Smart as Spook earned second- and fourth-place finishes.
“It is a big event,” he said about the state fair. “It’s the first big event we target every year to see how we measure up and if we’re ready or not.”
Then, it’s off to the annual cow horse show in Reno, which begins this week.
He said that in his three years competing at the Cow Horse Association's Reno cow horse event, he hasn’t won anything.
“This year, it feels like the horses are the most ready they’ve ever been,” he said.
Patrick, who was born and raised in Routt County, started showing in the ranch horse versatility circuit eight years ago, but the cow horse events caught his attention.
“They were the most athletic horses I've ever seen,” he said.
Cow horses compete in three events. In the fence portion, the horse runs a single cow down the face at a breakneck speed, completes two turns, then holds the cow by turning circles around it.
In the reining event, the rider shows off the horse’s ability to respond.
“They’ll run down the pen and slide 30 or 40 feet when they stop, they’ll turn around so fast it makes you dizzy,” he said.
Then in the cutting portion, the horse separates a cow from a herd and tries to keep it from going back. This is the part where the rider lets the horse loose to show off its finesse and athleticism.
Patrick said he hopes to breed the cow horses he’s been training for years and put Routt County on the map as a hotbed for what he calls an addicting passion.
“It’s very challenging,” he said about showing cow horses. “To teach a horse to do the things that these horses do, it takes such finesse and timing. I'm a long ways from getting it figured out. You really compete against yourself to try to get better at it all the time."
Routt County also was represented at the Colorado State Fair by a strong showing in shooting sports from local Routt County 4-H youths.
Routt County Extension agent Tami Thurston said 11 shooters traveled to the state fair in Pueblo three weeks ago because of a $200 per student donation provided by the Lorna Farrow Memorial Group, a local shooting sports nonprofit.
Kendra Halder, 13, came in fifth place out of hundreds of competitors in the .22-caliber rifle competition.
“I was extremely nervous, but I had a lot of fun,” the Soroco Middle School student said. As for the rifle competition, she said it was practice that paid off in the end.
“I shot my best and happened to come in fifth,” she said.
Also competing were Logan Bankard, Kollen Decker, Richard Hallenbeck, Tyler Hockaday, Taylor Kirby, Hunter Mihaich, Cole Miller, Kent Miller, Garrett St. Clair and William Valora.
Halder said she’s been shooting for six years and hopes to make it to the national level of competition one day.
“I get to go every week and shoot with my friends,” she said about her love for the sport. “We have a lot of fun shooting.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com