California Chrome

The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel in Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will take place Saturday at Belmont Park in the state of New York.

Here, California Chrome will attempt to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978. He showed us he had the speed in the Derby and Preakness, now we’ll find out if he has the stamina to go the mile-and-a-half distance at Belmont. This will be Art Sherman’s first Belmont starter, while jockey Espinoza (0-for-3 in the race) failed in his 2002 Triple Crown bid with War Emblem.

My regular horse industry news feeds have been blasting California Chrome insights all week and I thought I’d share a few of what I found the most interesting in prelude to tomorrow’s race.

Photo by Bill Brine

Photo by Bill Brine

1. Randall Lane at Forbes Magazine writes, “Those planning to actually make money on Chrome by spitting into the face of the underlay are making one of the dumbest bets possible in a horse race,” pointing out the current 3-5 odds on Chrome (meaning you’ll win $3 on your $5 bet), roughly translates to a horse with a 66% chance of winning – odds, which Lane believes are overrated for the horse. A much sounder gamble might be to hold on to your betting stub. The uncashed $2 tickets from Affirmed’s 1978 Belmont win are currently selling on eBay for around $150 — a very solid 12.74% annual return. 

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1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault.

2. The Kentucky Derby Facebook Page has been posting vintage photos and great bits of trivia on the 11 previous Triple Crown winners all week. Did you know, for instance, that the 1946 winner, Assault, stepped on something sharp when he was young, leaving him with a permanent limp at a walk or trot. But at a full gallop, Assault was flawless.

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3. Also on the Kentucky Derby Facebook Page, you can participate in a history-making share as they encourage you to share this image if you are rooting for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown, and at the same time help the Page break it’s record of 10,936 shares for one post. It’s currently sitting at just under 60,000 shares, so it’s safe to say that record has been shattered.

4. Catch up on Chrome’s past race results at Horse Racing Nation.

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5. Check out his in-depth pedigree at this link. There you’ll find that while his sire’s bloodlines trace back to Secretariat, the bottom side displays a Canadian connection with Northern Dancer displaying a few generations back.

6. You’ll find one of the most comprehensive guides to the rest of the Belmont Stakes Contenders at Blood-Horse.

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1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew.

7. Also at Blood-Horse take a walk down Triple Crown Racing’s impressive history of icons with their Past Triple Crown Winners, including such icons as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation and all of the 11 past winners.

8. A fun read is 10 Things You Might Not Know About California Chrome, including that Chrome was almost called “Seabisquik.” The story goes that when naming their now-famous horse, each of the four co-owners put their favorite name in Steve Coburn’s cowboy hat and had a waitress pick the winner. The options were Lucky at Love (Carolyn Coburn’s name), Big Chapter (Denise Martin’s name), California Chrome (Steve Coburn’s name) and Seabisquik (Perry Martin’s name). The waitress picked California Chrome. Whew.

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9. Stay in touch with Chrome’s final up to race day preparations on his Twitter feed and Facebook page. Latest Retweet by CalChrome: “Champs like us. Baby, we were born to run!”

9. Finally, reader Melanie Crouch wrote in to let us know her friend Templeton Thompson has released a song: Bring It On Home California Chrome. Proceeds from every $1.00 download goes to Old Friends, a retired racehorse charity.

There you have it. Enjoy the race tomorrow!

Stories of Bill

It can be said that horse people, while deeply attached to the trappings of our West, are not overly nostalgic about many things, except perhaps a favorite horse, faithful dog, or particularly memorable run down the pen. Maybe it’s the cowboy in us. We seem to lay our courses through the decades, nodding fondly to good old horses when they leave us, and acknowledging with great respect the work of our kin in the industry, yet always with an eye to the present, and moving on down the trail. Much in the way an old cowboy on the range would bury a good friend who may have come to an untimely end, offering up with a kind of direct sincerity a quote from the Good Book or memory, before swinging himself back into the saddle to complete the day’s journey.

But when it comes to Bill Collins, it seems even the toughest of the cowboys among us can get teary-eyed and wax poetic on the subject of our personal acquaintance with this iconic figure of our West. Perhaps it is rightfully so, as our love affair with Bill has spanned over decades and even generations of our collective western roots.

Bill was born in 1924 into a ranching family and grew up working cattle and horses north of Drumheller, Alberta. It was a neighbor, Phil Bischoff, who became Bill’s mentor, teaching him the nuances of livestock trading, and taking the wide-eyed young man to his first Calgary Stampede in 1945. Soon after, he began to compete in calf roping, winning several Canadian championships in the 50’s, as well as trying his hand in chuckwagon racing, as both an outrider and driver. But it was in 1955, when fate appeared to step in – in the form of a friend who asked him to help out at a cutting demonstration in Bassano, Alberta.

The rest truly is history. The stuff of legends.

Bill’s legacy in cutting spanned over half a century, and he may very well be Canada’s most unanimously considered hero of the sport of all time. It is simply quite unimaginable what the sport might be today, had it not been for Bill’s devout hand in it. As one of the country’s esteemed trainers of today, Gerry Hansma tells it, “There will never be a more devoted man to the sport of cutting in Canada.”

Longtime cutting enthusiast, and much admired for his work with Canada’s pinnacle western performance events, Dave Robson enjoyed a steadfast relationship with Bill over many decades. He recognizes, “Bill made several contributions to the cutting industry. Firstly, he truly was a pioneer to the sport and worked very hard to become good at it. He fostered relationships with many of the greats in the industry to advance his knowledge. Secondly, Bill had a very strong value system. His integrity and passion for the sporty was unwavering. And anyone who deviated from these areas would be dealt with directly or indirectly.”

Bill and his wife, Pearl are largely credited for bringing cutting to the Calgary Stampede in the mid ’70s, while a decade prior, his cutting escapades with Prince Philip and the 1964 Royal Cutting Horse Tour in Great Britain are well documented.

As profound as his influence on the sport was, he remained a steadfast critic of the three-year-old futurities in Canada. Any spectator sitting next to Bill and Pearl in the stands of a cuttin’ might soon find him or herself on the receiving end of a tremendous insight – or as Pearl would teasingly call it, with a twinkle in her eye, “Bill’s lecture.”

At the heart of his objection to the Canadian three-year-old futurity stood the athlete. Bill didn’t believe our young horses could stand up to the same pressure as their Texas counterparts, and there were several facts of climate and country supporting his side in this philosophical debate. He explained them in this excerpt from the 1990’s book by author Maggie Glynn-Jensen – Alberta’s Best.

“The three-year-old futurities are one of the biggest disasters we’ve ever had in the country. Tom Fox and myself and several of the older cutters fought the three-year-old futurity in our country for so long that finally the younger people come on and voted us out. If you stop and analyze it, a lot of our three-year-olds are six months younger in maturity and work than the ones in Texas that go to the NCHA Futurity in December. We have our colts born in May and June up here, sometimes July. We work in indoor buildings with these colts for six or eight months of the year when we can’t be outside, and in Texas they work 10 months of the year outside, and their colts are born in January, February and March. They already have three months over ours. Then our management start having these futurities in September and October, which is three months earlier than the big one in Fort Worth. Now we’ve got six months off them (Texas) colts. It just isn’t reasonable.”

Collins believed that one of the greatest cutting horses of his career, Peponita – two-time World Champion under Matlock Rose, would never had made it if Bill had asked the three-year-old futurity of him.

“I won the Four-Year-Old Futurity [Canada originally began with a four-year-old futurity, later evolving to the three-year-old aged event] on him [Peponita] in 1973 and went on and won the Novice and Open Championship on him in 1974. It was the first time it had ever been done by one horse. I did it again on a daughter of Peppy San that I brought along in the same way. Peponita was sold to Matlock Rose in 1977, and he won the NCHA Open World Championship, and an American Quarter Horse Association Championship in the same year. They used him for breeding in 1978, and in 1979 he came back and duplicated it again. It’s never been done before. There again, it’s those babies not being pushed and just doing with the horse what they are capable. Things come full circle, but for me this has never changed.”

If the movers and shakers in the association boardrooms had any grievances with Bill’s quiet outspokenness on the subject of the futurity, they sure didn’t show it, placing him in nearly every Hall of Fame known to the western horse world; the Canadian Cutting Horse Association (1987), Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (1994), National Cutting Horse Association (1995), and the American Quarter Horse Association (2007).

In 1997, he joined the ranks of one of his admirers, musician Ian Tyson, when he became a member of the Order of Canada, and in 2000, the Horse Industry Association of Alberta bestowed its grandest award on the man – the Distinguished Service Award. Peter Fraser, President of the HIAA, discloses, “The truth is, Bill was given so many distinguished awards and honours during his lifetime that it’s hard to imagine he was shortchanged, unless they break tradition and finally issue Sainthood to a cowboy.”

When this magazine interviewed Bill in 1997, he let the writer know his most prized possession was not an accolade from the competitive ring, but a bronze sculpture commanding a prominent position in the Collins’ then Bearspaw home. Titled Pro Talk and created by British Columbia sculptor and cowboy, Len Monical, the bronze depicts Bill’s life in all its glory – cowboy, cutting horse trainer and stewart of the horse. It was presented to Bill in the ‘80’s during a casual steak-fry amongst friends and colleagues, who wanted to honor Bill “while he still had his boots on.”

Long after his competition and judging days were over, Bill continued to impart what affectionately became known as his “Collinisms” – valuable lessons, cherished advice, a little banter and friendly torments – always projecting in that soft-spoken demeanor, often beginning the invitation to sit down and prepare to be party to some invaluable lesson with the words, “well, folks. . .”

Trainer Brad Pedersen recognizes Bill as the ultimate gentleman, who “was never afraid to offer advice if you were struggling with training a horse. He always approached you in such a manner as to never make you feel like a fool, and he always made sure to tell you when you were doing something right too.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing with Bill, for he backed up his lessons not only with the empiricism of a lifetime, but proving his training methods consistently in the arena. Trainer and founding member of the Canadian Supreme, Gary Coleman recalled in a 1997 interview, “We all know the great things that Bill has done on some great horses, such as Peponita. But as I’ve watched him over the years, I’ve always marveled at what Bill did with the average horse. Bill beat a lot of us on a lot of horses that were average, and to me that’s a great credit to his training methods.”

Trainer Kevin Tienkamp concurs, “I always admired his ability to get a really rank horse trained. I can recall a few that he showed that nobody else wanted to be around.”

Above all the accolades and awards, the horses and strength he bestowed upon a budding horse industry, most will remember the consummate gentleman. In an industry often marked with a cliquish standoffishness, we could count on Bill to greet each of us with a smile, and as sincere a handshake as we’ll perhaps ever know. Competitor Heather Pedersen reminisces. “I personally will never forget how he always grabbed my hand with both his hands and would look directly at me. I even remember the look on his face. I would always walk away wiping tears from my eyes because he was always so nice to me.”

Bill Collins passed away on Dec. 31, 2013 at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, a timing that somehow fits the quintessential Bill; his final assignment, flawlessly taking his leave before a minute of daylight was to be wasted. He would have been 90 on March 25. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Pearl, his children: Russell, Billie-Lynn, Philip and Gary Coleman, as well as numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

It’s said the good ones never live long enough, but a few of us in the equine world can honestly say that several generations of our families were given the opportunity to be present for the accomplishments and teaching of this great Master firsthand.

That’s a pretty good lifetime.

Excerpted from the March issue of Western Horse Review.  A Celebration of Bill’s life will be held this Friday, May 9 at 2:00 p.m. at the Palomino Room, at the Calgary Stampede grounds. Friends and admirers of Bill and his lifetime of accomplishments are welcome. 

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Bill Collins and Peter Fraser enjoying a moment at the Horse Owners and Breeders Conference.

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Bill exemplified the cowboy way and ethics.

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The iconic photo of Bill bridle-less cutting in England, during the 1964 Royal Cutting Horse Tour. The mare he is riding is Bonita Tivio, dam of Peponita.

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Bill and Marion Stav at the Canadian Supreme in 1981.

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Bill cutting at the Canadian Supreme in 1990.

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Bill and Pearl at the Canadian Supreme.

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Bill Collins and Peponita in 1973.

Reader Survey – April

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We’d love to get your feedback on our April issue. As a thank-you for your time, we’re offering up a pair of Professionals Choice splint boots as a prize – we’ll randomly draw one winner from all the responses received.

The survey closes after a definitive number of responses so don’t delay. It won’t take but 5 minutes and we truly appreciate every response we receive.

Click here to take survey

(Readers and subscribers to the print or digital magazine only, please)

P.S. – congrats to Kimberly Quam, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – winner of the March issue Reader Survey giveaway!

A Must See Event

No matter how often we try to tell each other the moisture will be good for spring growth, the generous helping of snow I see falling down on our pastures, arena and barnyard this morning is not exactly the Easter treat I envisioned.

All the same, there’s plenty to get excited about today, for this afternoon, the newest Cavalia presentation – Odysseo – comes to Calgary. Trailers carrying the precious cargo of an impressive cast of 70 horses representing 11 different breeds including Appaloosa, Arabian, Canadian, Holsteiner, Lusitano, Oldenburg, Paint Horse, Quarter Horse and Spanish Purebred will soon be unloading at Canada Olympic Park this afternoon in preparation for Calgary’s edition of the equine extravaganza.

We were so pleased to be invited to tour the grounds and photograph the horses emerging from their trailers and settling into their new spacious homes, which I believe they’ll have until early June, before moving on to Edmonton.

If you haven’t seen this production, you are truly missing out. Regardless of what genre or discipline of horse lover you are, I promise you, this show will awe you. Tickets are now available at http://www.cavalia.net/en/odysseo, and yes, we will have a few to give away in the next few weeks as well, so be sure to stay tuned.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of the tent raising of Cavalia which took place a few weeks ago, in advance of the cast and production arriving this afternoon. They were shot by Adelle Ellis, a SAIT photojournalism student we had the pleasure of hosting through her practicum.

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The Open Door to Solitude

solitudeFirst: last week we ran a little contest regarding headwear preferences.

Thank you for participating.

Andrea Williams, you’re the winner of the Professional’s Choice splint boots. Andrea’s response was:

“Felt hat for fancy places, straw for summer but helmet whenever I ride!”

Congratulations, Andrea! Contact editorial@westernhorsereview.com with your shipping details.

Second: The Open Door to Solitude. I came across this film through a Facebook friend. Simple words, deep message. Gorgeous. A must-watch.

Reader Survey – March

Mar2014coverWe’d love to get your feedback on our March issue. As a thank-you for your time, we’re offering up a pair of Professionals Choice splint boots as a prize – we’ll randomly draw one winner from all the responses received.

The survey closes after a definitive number of responses so don’t delay. It won’t take but 5 minutes and we truly appreciate every response we receive.

Click here to take survey

(Readers and subscribers to the print or digital magazine only, please)

And remember you still have time to enter our fun Straw or Felt survey from last week. We’ll be doing the drawing for that later this evening!

Straw or Felt?

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Photo by Krista Kay Photography.

Because it’s a gorgeously warm Wednesday morning, and the first real inklings of spring are finally manifesting themselves in abundance across the country, I thought it would be a good day for an impromptu contest.

This week the enquiring minds at the magazine want to know about your hat preferences. So, in the comment section below, please answer the following question:

What sort of hat do you prefer to ride in?

1) Straw

2) Felt

3) It’s a seasonal thing – straw in summer, felt in the cooler seasons

4) Riding in my ball cap is preferred

5) It’s always a helmet for me when riding

And, finally . .  is there a specific time of year you prefer to purchase a new hat? Answer this, and you’ll receive a double entry into the draw!

At the end of the week, we’ll do a draw from all the answers and the lucky respondent will win a brand new set of Professional’s Choice splint boots!

A Visit to Wickenburg

Wickenburg

Photos by Deanna Kristensen

About 60 miles northwest of Phoenix and nestled into the Sonoran Desert lies the cowboy town of Wickenburg, Arizona. With a population hovering around 7,000, this town is all about good country living, with a healthy measure of Wild West thrown in. We visited just this past week to deliver a few of the issues containing our first Snowbirds Guide to Riding in Arizona.

While there we decided to pop into the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. The space is small and intimate with the first floor housing one of the most impressive collections of western art. Just about every iconic western painter and sculptor of the 20th century is represented here in original work, including works by George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt, Joseph Henry Sharp, Oscar Berninghaus, Joe Beeler, Harrison Begay and several stunning bronzes by the likes of Earle Heikka and Gib Singleton. Right next to Charlie Russell’s iconic The Navajo, is Frederic Remington’s 1890 Vaquero. That sort of thing. It took our breath away.

Heading out of town we stopped at a recommended and local favourite – the Cowboy Trading Post. Another worthwhile stop, it’s a divine little mix of gear and cowboy accruements.

“We call it Cowboy Ecletic,” said owner Connie Lynne, who explained the town of Wickenburg really comes alive with horse activity from late October to March. Known as the “team roping capital of the world,” the town is buzzing all winter long with ropings every day of the week. Connie and her partner Tim Pearce, know their clientele well. Pearce is a local farrier, horse trainer and roper, who has been involved in the local horse community for 30 years. With all the staff combined, Lynne notes the store has a century-plus worth of experience among all of those who work here.

By the time I left I was privy to some local western trivia, had a rundown of the incredible western performance talent in the area, such as cutter Todd Adolf, Buddy Uldrickson, and new talent in the area like Jaton Lord, Ray Hunt’s grandson,  who had just returned to his place at nearby Skull Valley from this years Legacy of Legends in Las Vegas.

Finally, I made a sweet birthday present purchase. All in a day’s work. (smile)

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Owner Connie Lynne, left, and one of her knowledgeable crew.

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Team Roping at Rancho Rio in Wickenburg.

 

American Mustang

AM-Horses-in-Pen-JumpingThe subject of the management of wild horses remains a hot topic in mainstream media on both sides of the border. Here in Alberta, the provincial government’s decision to issue permits for the capture of 200 wild horses has triggered outrage and protests. In the past few days, Jann Arden added her voice and celebrity to the drive against the cull when she took to the skies with a local rancher and veterinarian to conduct her own count of the horses (the provincial government puts the population at just under 1,000, while opponents state this is an exaggerated figure).

Down south, the problem is magnified with over 32,000 wild horses roaming the rangeland, and upwards of 50,000 held in Bureau of Land and Management government holding facilities. The new film, American Mustang, examines this issue in what is described as “an artful blend of exquisite nature documentary and character-driven narrative.”

The film premiered last November to critical accolades at the Denver Film Festival, where one reviewer wrote, “His (Director Monty Miranda) breathtaking images, shot in 3-D on the open ranges of eight western states, bring us a deep appreciation for the life of the mustang running free and are juxtaposed by the Bureau of Land Management round-ups and the captivity that is often their heartbreaking reality.”

The film stars Luke and Jim Neubert, the sons of California-based cowboy and clinician Bryan Neubert, as well as Julia Putnam, Allison Eastwood (daughter of Clint), and is narrated by long-time mustang activist, Daryl Hannah. The film is the brainchild of its producer, Ellie Phipps Price, who wanted to create a film that would stir action by bringing the state of the American Mustang to the attention of the general public. Price does more than just wear the t-shirt – she has been an active and dedicated steward of wild horses for decades. In 2009, Ellie adopted 172 mustangs and has since created a sanctuary for wild horses on 2,000 acres of property in Northern California.