Trying Something New

Managing Editor Nichole Chirico gets out of her comfort zone by trying a completely different riding discipline.
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For nearly 15 years I competed in the AQHA all-around events, but when I sold my last horse and walked away from the show pen in 2011, I wasn’t sure when I’d be back. I thought that when it came time to buy my next horse, I would be finding another all-around prospect and going back to the only industry I knew, but as I ventured into the equine media world where I got to work with some of the industry’s top professionals, I realized there were so many other disciplines I wanted to try.

I was excited to get out of my comfort zone and try something completely different from events like the showmanship and horsemanship, but I wasn’t sure how to get started. I eventually started producing the training content for Horse&Rider OnDemand and a few weeks before one of our scheduled shoots I called OnDemand expert Brad Barkemeyer to see if he would agree to letting me take a lesson from him and create a series around introducing a rider to cow work.

That idea changed my life, but I didn’t realize it at that moment. When it came time to shoot, we went to Diamond Double T Ranch owned by Janiejill and Bill Tointon, and I was handed the reins to legendary stud Shining Lil Nic to introduce me to the sport. Not a bad way to start my cow horse career.

Nichole Chirico riding cow horse stud Shining Lil Nic on a flag for the first time during Horse&Rider OnDemand video shoot.

My first cow horse experience included riding world champion stud Shining Lil Nic for Brad Barkemeyer’s Horse&Rider OnDemand series.

The following day I got a text message from Janiejill inviting me back to the barn to ride. I didn’t think anything of it at first, because I’ve always been the person who will ride anything if it means I get to be around horses. When I showed up, I found out they had a broodmare that needed to be exercised. For several months I spent my weekends at the barn hanging out with friends, watching them work cattle, and soaking up as much information as I could.

Then one day I showed up at the barn and was told to catch a big bay gelding named Shinee Hot Wheels that was out in the pasture. I didn’t know anything about this horse other than he had a long, successful career in the NRCHA, and was semi-retired after he started to become anxious around cattle.

There was no plan when I first started riding him—other than enjoying my time in the saddle—but as we started to trust each other and build a connection, everyone began to realize he might just let me work cattle. Eventually I started incorporating more cow work into my riding, and things continued getting better to the point to where it was decided that I could show him in the boxing if I wanted to.

We went to our first horse show last fall and, not only was he the most honest horse I’ve ever shown, we even managed to win a couple of classes. I had no expectations walking into the arena—there’s so much that can happen when you’re working cattle. But he took care of me, and I like to think he knew I would take care of him.

Fast forward to this year. I had another video shoot lined up with Brad Barkemeyer, but this time back at his house in Arizona. Instead of hopping on an airplane like I normally would do, my good friend (and fellow OnDemand expert) Monique Potts and I decided to take a load of horses to Scottsdale so we could escape the cold in Colorado and work cattle with some of our favorite trainers for the week.

This time I would get to do a video series that included my own horse and continue to further my education in the process by creating a video series about introducing a rider to fence work.

During that video shoot Hot Wheels once again took care of me, and now I’m working toward my next goal of being able to go down the fence in the show pen. When I pitched that original video series to Brad, I had no idea that it would snowball into what it has become, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to continue learning and get out of my comfort zone to try something new with my horse.