First Down Dash Dies at Age 26

American Quarter Horse racing’s most prolific stallion, First Down Dash, died on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, California. He was 26.

“He laid down and went to sleep peacefully. He was missing Scoop and his sunflower seeds,” said Bonnie Vessels, referring to her late husband, Frank “Scoop” Vessels.

Dr. Ed Allred, the sport’s all-time leading breeder, released the following statement: “First Down Dash is unquestionably the greatest stallion of all time. No horse has had the influence of the great First Down Dash. He was an amazing horse. He was a sire of sires. What an incredible and great career…he was in one word ‘amazing.’”

The stallion was laid to rest at Vessels Stallion Farm on November 26. Bonnie Vessels said that First Down Dash was quietly eating hay in his stall when observed by ranch manager Kevin Dickson at 1 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Three hours later, the night man observed First Down Dash taking his last breath.

“The entire family is here and First Down Dash is resting with a set of Vessels Stallion Farm’s silks and an ample supply of sunflower seed in the place which Scoop selected some time ago,” said Bonnie. The ranch crew joined the family at the ceremony.

Bred by A.F. Stanley Jr. and B.F. Phillips Jr. out of the Gallant Jet mare First Prize Rose, First Down Dash continued the legacy at stud that started with his own sire, Dash For Cash. First Down Dash went on to surpass many of the all-time records set by Dash For Cash.

From 20 crops to race, First Down Dash has sired 1,163 winners, which includes 224 stakes winners. His progeny earnings stand at more than $73.7 million, easily the highest total of all-time. Among his offspring are 35 champions, including Down With Debt, Dashing Folly, Ocean Runaway, Corona Cash, Corona Kool, Wave Carver, FDD Dynasty, A Ransom, A Classic Dash, Dash Thru Traffic and Royal Quick Dash.

For most of 2010, First Down Dash was on top of the leading sires of money earners list, and he currently is ranked No. 2 with $3.6 million. He is the only stallion with eight horses that have earned more than $100,000 each and the only stallion with five horses who have earned more than $200,000 each.

First Down Dash’s best year on the tracks was 2006 when his runners included 16 stakes winners and earners of $6,560,242. The 2006 runners were headlined by No Secrets Here, the Vessels-bred runner who was the stallion’s sixth All American Futurity (G1) winner; Ed Burke Million Futurity (G1) winner FDD Dynasty; and Champion of Champions (G1) winner Wave Carver.

First Down Dash is the sire of a record six All American Futurity (G1) winners — Royal Quick Dash, Dash Thru Traffic, A Classic Dash, Corona Cash, Falling In Loveagain and No Secrets Here — and a record six Champion of Champions (G1) winners–Wave Carver, Ocean Runaway, Cash For Kas, The Down Side, A Ransom and Dashing Folly. In addition to being a top sire of sires, First Down Dash is also a perennial leading broodmare sire.

On the racetrack, First Down Dash won 13 of 15 career starts and earned $857,256. As a 2-year-old, he won the Grade 1 Kindergarten and Dash For Cash futurities. Then as a 3-year-old in 1987, he had a near-perfect campaign with six stakes victories, including the Grade 1 Los Alamitos and Dash For Cash derbies and the Champion of Champions. He was named that year’s AQHA world champion in addition to champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old colt.

The Vessels family requested that memorials for First Down Dash be sent to the American Quarter Horse Foundation in Amarillo, Texas.

Hoof Prints


“A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence” ~ Pam Brown

I think all horse owners have or have had that special horse in their lives that leave hoof prints on their hearts.


One such horse came into our lives in 2002, a 9-year-old solid bay breeding stock Paint mare, Three Bars Jazz. Jazz came with her own set of problems, often bucking between barrels or sticking her nose in the air and running wildly through the barrel pattern. My daughter Mary spent several years riding and training Jazz, working her through her problem areas until she became solid and dependable on the barrels.

Mary and Jazz. Photo Courtesy: Tommy Engebretson

When our 13-year-old granddaughter Ashley needed a barrel horse, Mary turned Jazz over to her. Ashley and Jazz became best friends during the 5 years she rode her. Jazz was a small horse that ran like a big horse, winning rodeos, saddles, and buckles for Ashley.

Winning the home town Rodeo

Riding Jazz, Ashley became an accomplished and confident rider. She taught Jazz to run the barrels bridleless and often rode her in the arena without a bridle, loping circles and doing spins. When they were off to a rodeo or barrel race, Ashley would throw the rope over Jazz’s back and Jazz would jump into the trailer, happy to be going somewhere with her young owner and caretaker.

Ashley and Jazz. Photo Courtesy: Bernie Hudyma

Ashley spent many hours trail riding Jazz, keeping her in top physical condition. They jumped fallen trees on the trails and swam in the Quesnel River on hot summer days to cool off. There are many pictures of a smiling Ashley, hugging Jazz or giving her a kiss on her velvety soft nose, just as there are many memories in our hearts of this beautiful horse and young girl, hair flying in the wind as they ran the barrels.

On August 1st, Jazz competed at her last rodeo. After she finished her run, she staggered and collapsed just outside of the gate at the Roe Lake BCRA Rodeo. Jazz struggled back to her feet but seemed weak and disoriented. In a state of shock and fear, Mary loaded Jazz into the trailer and rushed her to the Veterinary Clinic in Williams Lake, an hour and 30 minutes away, praying Jazz wouldn’t collapse in the trailer. Ashley and her friends stayed behind with the other horses, waiting anxiously to be picked up and taken to Williams Lake.

After a week of examinations, tests and phone calls to New York, it was determined Jazz had congestive heart failure. Not knowing how bad this was, we were still in hopes that we would be able to bring Jazz home, where she could spend the rest of her life retired from competition and possibly give us a foal to remember her by. But this was not to be. Even though she looked beautiful and healthy on the outside, her condition was deteriorating. She became dizzy when she was walked and the vet counselled us that it would be best to euthanize her. With love and kindness, Jazz was euthanized on September 16, 2010.

On October 23, Ashley spread Jazz’s ashes on the hill overlooking the trails and river where she loved to ride.  This is her post on facebook  “ just set Jazz free ♥ soo pretty watching her ashes lightly fly down the hill, thanks jeliza and gloria for the support =)”

Ashley has a memorial box with some of Jazz’s ashes, the last set of shoes she wore, her halter and rope along with a lot of wonderful memories to help her deal with her loss. Through Jazz, Ashley gained the confidence and knowledge to train other horses. She is currently working with our weanlings, achieving a sense of accomplishment with the progress they are making. Life goes on and while you never forget the one you lost, your heart heals.


A Beautiful Woman

A few nights ago, my friend Dave e-mailed me with the news of the passing of Mona Rae Elliot. Mona left this world on September 11. She and her husband, Vern ran The Cowboys Choice, a western shop in Vernon, B.C.

I never had the chance to meet Mona. Our paths didn’t cross. That is the way it sometimes is. We often do not have the opportunity to meet the gems of our horse world, separated not only by our vast geography, but so many genres within the western lifestyle. Regardless, this morning I woke up thinking of a fellow woman who was also a mother, a friend, a wife and a lover of all that is a part of our lives on this earth. I don’t know what it’s like in your part of the country, but here, it is a radiant morning. And so, if I may, I’d like to dedicate these precious few moments of a gorgeous autumn to Mona, and to her family and friends.

Our friend, Melissa Sword compiled this post to Mona. Thanks so much, Melissa, for doing this.

Says Melissa, “Having only met Mona briefly at The Cowboys Choice store years ago, I am coming to know her through the words of her friends and family.  This tribute is based on the shared memories of just a few of the people who were fortunate enough to know her better than I.”

“Our Mona passed away yesterday afternoon (September 11) at home with all her boys. They will take her home to Buffalo, Alberta, for the service as both families are there and Mona’s mom and Vern’s Mom and Dad can’t make the trip here. She was very at peace and had lots of company, hugs and kisses and even laughs in her final days. She was and is an amazing woman and Vern’s love for her was a true gift for all of us to witness.” ~ Diana Raffan

“The Elliot Family and friends and the rodeo world has lost such a beautiful, kind hearted woman.”~ Katie McCullough

Melissa: “The news of Mona’s passing after a courageous battle with cancer, was shared in hushed voices among her friends and acquaintances throughout Canada and the U.S.  Mona was held in high esteem by all those who knew her.  She had a gift of making people feel welcome with her big, beautiful smile and warm personality.”

Jennifer Hohmann remembers the first time she met Mona in 1997. “My mom and I were at the Falkland Rodeo and decided to do a little shopping at The Cowboys Choice booth.  We started talking to Mona; she was so approachable and friendly and she invited us to have dinner that evening with the family.  She just took us two stragglers in, fed us and made us feel right at home.  What Katie said is just how I will always think of her; ‘a beautiful, kind hearted woman’.  God bless their family and friends.”

Finally, we are sharing this poem, written by Tanner (Girletz).

Always the one, who said hi with a hug,

You could tell it was real, she meant it with LOVE.

A mom to us all, no matter how much we needed,

Never mattered what, a bed, some food, or a guilty case pleaded.

She always had time, and never got mad,

But really how could she, her boys weren’t too bad.

She traveled the circuit, never missing a show,

Cheering on Ty and Clay, and watching them grow.

With Vern always there, the boys made them proud,

Whether it be out in Vernon, or in front of a crowd.

Seems different now, just doesn’t seem fair,

But you still make us smile, even from way up there.

She lived every day, with style and grace,

She was never unhappy, never a frown on her face.

Every breath of wind, every leaf that does fall,

We know that it’s you, the sweetest angel of all.

This poem was written for my dear and true friend, mother, and hero, Mona Elliot.

~ Tanner Girletz

Melissa relates there is a Facebook page entitled Mona’s Cowboy Inspiration Fund, which gives direction to those who wish to contribute to a fund, from which the proceeds will go towards Mona’s true passion of “helping people.”

Remembering Laurel

Do not shed tears when I have gone
but smile instead because I have lived.

You can remember me and grieve that I have gone
or you can cherish my memory and let it live on.

~ David Harkins

Photo courtesy James Hudyma

We lost our friend Laurel Wood on Sunday, April 18. Our greatest sympathies to Tim and family. Please join us in remembering Laurel – a horsewoman who lived with joy, passion and courage.

Photo courtesy of James Hudyma

Photo courtesy of James Hudyma

Photo courtesy of James Hudyma

Photo courtesy of Sandy Hansma

Photo courtesy James Hudyma

Photo courtesy James Hudyma