Reiner With No Trainer

Courtney Boesch “won the world” her first time out, on her own. Here’s the story behind this amateur’s remarkable AQHA World Show victory.

Talk about getting our attention.

When Californian Courtney Boesch stepped up and won the amateur reining class on Northwest Whiz at the 2012 AQHA World Show, we did a double take. 

Credit: Photo by Karen Russell Determined to find a show prospect of the highest caliber, Courtney traveled 18 hours to try Whiz; he repaid her by winning the world.

It was the then 27-year-old’s first time competing at the American Quarter Horse Association’s premier event, plus she’d prevailed in this super-tough venue without the support of a trainer.

Yeah, we know. Wow!

Many factors made her extraordinary achievement possible, among them her own inborn talent and the rich experience of her youth, which included successful trips to the AQHA’s Youth World Show. She was also riding an excellent horse, one that made the finals of the 2007 National Reining Horse Association Futurity with superstar Todd Bergen.

Still, when we asked her to name the most important factor in her World Show win, she said it was “probably the connection I have with this horse.” It’s a connection that seemed almost fated from the start, when she spotted the gelding for sale online and traveled 1,000 miles to try him.

We’re going to tell the story behind that amazing connection—including how Courtney nurtured it and ultimately parlayed it into a stunning, world-class triumph.

Born a Hand

Credit: Photo by Karen Russell Easy to work around, Whiz is a bit lazy—which requires Courtney to concentrate and ride assertively to get the most out of him under saddle.

Courtney Boesch (née Hudson) was raised by active horse-show exhibitors, Tim and Cheryl Daley. Riding from age 4, she grew up in California’s Central Valley midway between Fresno and Bakersfield, in the heart of reined cow horse country. By the time she was about 8 and growing “a little bored” with all-around competition, she rode a reined cow horse for the first time and worked a few cows.

And was hooked.

At that time, she received a few pointers from none other than legendary performance horse trainer Greg Ward, whose Ward Ranch was just 15 minutes away (our tribute to the late horseman is online at Ward helped Courtney prepare to show in the junior buckaroo class at the 1994 National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity, when she was 9.

Courtney’s primary youth coach, however, was Don Murphy, another standout performance horse trainer and NRCHA Hall of Fame member.

“Don’s an amazing teacher,” says Courtney today. “I learned so much from him—how to school and show a horse, how to keep him honest. Don has tremendous patience, and when he explains things, they make sense.” (Murphy’s children, Nelle and CJ, are further proof of the pudding: Nelle has won the amateur division of the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity plus multiple AQHA amateur and youth world championships; CJ is a winner of the AQHA World Show All-Around Amateur title and a top amateur roper.)

Under Murphy’s tutelage, Courtney showed in five American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Shows, starting when she was 15. At her first, she placed third in working cow horse and had a good run in reining—except for going off pattern. By the time of her last Youth World, she had made the finals in cutting, reining, and cow horse.

[RELATED: How to stop and start your reining spin.]

Then her parents relocated to Oklahoma, taking all but one of her horses with them. Preferring to stay in California, Courtney enrolled at local Porterville College. “I was feeling a little burned out anyway,” she admits. Her boyfriend and husband-to-be, fencing contractor Tyson Boesch, was an avid roper, and Courtney enjoyed finding and bringing along roping prospects.

So Dear and Yet So Far

Credit: Photo by Karen Russell Courtney and her gelding have an obvious bond. “Whiz looks to her and trusts her completely…and she’s completely in love with him,” says friend and photographer Karen Russell.

Then, in November of 2010, her interest in reining and cow work resurfaced when she and Ty bought a gelding that had been in training with that year’s NRCHA Futurity winner, Tucker Robinson.

“I loved how that horse worked, and it made me want a cow horse to compete with,” she says. “So I began looking, but I couldn’t find one of the quality and caliber I wanted in my price range—and I didn’t want to settle for something less. So I began looking at reiners, figuring I might find one with the right bloodlines and train it myself for the cow work.”

And that’s when she found Northwest Whiz in an online ad. By West Coast Whiz and out of a Jodies Doc Tari daughter, the gelding impressed her instantly with his performance in the NRHA Futurity video that trainer Dylan Pond, his owner at the time, had posted.

“Whiz was so pretty, and he made it look so easy,” she recalls. “I liked everything about him, including his price.” There was only one drawback, but it was a big one—his location two states away, in Idaho. Regretfully, Courtney set the appealing gelding aside and kept looking.

Problem was, no other horse could measure up.

 “I compared everything to him,” she explains. “Every horse in his price range had already shown a bunch or had holes or didn’t do every maneuver the way he did. The horses that did compare favorably were priced $10,000 or $15,000 more than he was. It was driving me crazy!”

Finally, on the basis of two different videos of Whiz—his futurity video and one from a recent show, with Pond—she decided she had to go see him, distance or no. “He was exactly the same in those two videos, even though they’d been made four years apart.”

[RELATED: Trainer Brad Barkemeyer’s method to perfect your circles.

Gotta Have Him 

She and Ty made the trip up to Idaho, pulling a trailer, as soon as they could…in November. 

“It was cold and snowy,” Courtney recalls. “Dylan wasn’t there the night we arrived, but he’d told us Whiz would be in this particular barn with an indoor arena, and a stable hand told us to go on in.” When they got to the stall, however, Courtney began to doubt her intuition after all.

“He didn’t look anything like his videos!” she remembers with a laugh. “He was a little bay horse, and one of the ugliest horses I’d seen in my life. I said, ‘I can’t believe we just drove 18 hours to look at this horse!’”

Then the stable hand came back and said, “Oh, no—that’s not him. He’s over there.”

“Right then,” Courtney continues, “Whiz put his head over the stall door and I thought, Oh, yeah. That’s him.”

Excited, she rode him that night in the frigid indoor arena and was wowed. “As soon as I got on him, I wanted him. He was out of shape, but he just put his head down and did his deal. He was so cool, so broke, so much fun to ride. Ty and I have really nice rope horses, and coming from a horse show background, I’m used to having horses that stop, turn around, and work a cow. But none of them were ‘show broke’ the way this horse was.”

Then, too, there was the difference between a reiner and a cow horse. “I’d never really had a true reiner,” she explains. “They carry themselves differently. Cow horses have to be agile, ready to move to catch the cow. Reiners are more laid back. Low-headed and classy.”

The next morning, with owner Pond watching, Whiz felt just as good to her. “He was a little lazy, and I like lazy—I don’t get along with hot-minded horses. Plus, everything was ‘there.’ You just had to get it out of him.”

Pond, watching Courtney ride, thought the two of them were well matched. “He needs a rider that can be somewhat aggressive, and I thought they gelled well,” he says.

The arena she was riding in was too small to get a true feel of how Whiz worked a pattern, but Courtney wasn’t fazed. “From what I could feel, and from watching his videos, I knew he was it. I had to have him.”

She didn’t even have him vet-checked. “Dylan told me everything about him—including that he’d had a bowed tendon as a 4-year-old. The amateur owner who bought him from Todd Bergen put the money in to do stem cell treatment, plus gave him time off, and he came back beautifully. Dylan really liked him and had shown him successfully, but he wanted derby-aged [younger] horses. So we got Whiz’s health papers and took him home.”

‘Really? *That* Bothers You?’

Credit: Photo by Karen Russell Courtney avoids over-drilling Whiz in the arena. “Just enough to keep him framed up,” she says, adding he much prefers trail riding.

It was a good a match, Whiz was well broke, and Courtney was thoroughly smitten. Still, it’s not as if there weren’t challenges.

“He’s a funny horse, and can be quirky,” she says, laughing. “He’s a little fragile-minded. He has a routine, and if you mess with it, he can’t handle it. Stuff bothers him—but not the stuff you’d think. He doesn’t like tractors, but four-wheelers are OK. And then it’ll be some minute thing on the ground that frazzles his brain cells, and you’re like, ‘Really? That bothers you?’”

Most spooks she just works through, but she also uses her connectedness with Whiz to know when and how to avoid fighting with him.

“If he starts out really silly, looking at everything and getting upset, I know he won’t be paying attention to me,” she explains. “Sometimes I work through it, but sometimes it’s just better to put him away and start fresh the next day.”

Then, too, she doesn’t have a covered arena at her and Ty’s place in Porterville, and that means inclement weather results in time off. But this relaxed schedule agrees with the gelding.

“He doesn’t need a lot of riding—he knows his job. When I was first figuring him out, I ran more circles and turned him around and stopped him more. But now I do it just enough to keep him framed up. He could probably handle a lot more showing than we do, but not if left in training or if someone was picking on him all the time.”

Courtney takes advantage of the 10,000 acres surrounding the house she and Ty rent. “We have fields, creeks, cattle, coyote, bobcats. I take Whiz out on a few hundred acres, where we trot, lope, and just cruise along, letting his mind relax. It’s his favorite thing—he walks faster to the pasture gate than to the arena gate.

“You can’t rope on him, though,” she adds. “He’s scared to death of the noise a rope makes.” He’s also shown no interest whatsoever in cows, but even from the outset Courtney didn’t care. She figured she’d just take him reining, instead.

[RELATED: Warwick Schiller’s new take on desensitizing your spooky horse.]

On Top of the World

Credit: Photo by KC Montgomery Standing fourth going into the World Show amateur reining finals, Courtney pushed Whiz and wound up tied with Shevin Haverty and Who Whiz Who. In the run-off, despite being tired, Whiz gave his all. “He ran the exact same pattern, only harder,” says Courtney. “He could’ve been bad, but he was really honest.”

Getting Whiz qualified to compete at the World Show was straightforward. “We did it in two shows,” Courtney reveals. “At the first, we won our class both days under both judges, and I thought, OK, we’re competitive at this level.”

At the next show, they were bested by Dana Avila, wife of veteran world champion Bob Avila, on an Avila-trained horse. “That was understandable,” Courtney allows, “plus Whiz got spooked at that show and wasn’t as good as he was before. Still, he didn’t get beat by much. So I was thinking, If he’s that good when he’s not at the top of his game….”

Courtney’s philosophy on winning and losing belies her young age. “It’s OK if I get beat,” she explains matter-of-factly. “As long as my run is clean and I know we did our best, I’m happy. I wouldn’t say I always had that mindset as a youth. But now I know it can always get better—it’s a learning experience. Plus, the moment you think you’re unbeatable….”

When the World Show rolled around in November of last year, Courtney and Ty drove 22 hours straight through to Courtney’s parents’ place 45 minutes south of Oklahoma City. At the showgrounds, she stalled with Todd Crawford, a family friend and someone she’d ridden with briefly as a youth. One of Crawford’s assistant trainers, Trevor Dare, gave her a few pointers and encouraged her.

“I didn’t do much schooling,” she says. “Just enough to exercise him. I didn’t want to try to change anything at the show.”

She joked with her mother that, given this was her first trip to the World Show, she hoped she wouldn’t do what she did her first time at the Youth World—go off pattern.

Playing it safe in her preliminary run, she didn’t push Whiz. “Walk-in patterns are sometimes hard because he’s lazy. He didn’t turn as well as he has in the past, but he was clean, and I wanted to save enough horse for the finals. I wound up fourth, which surprised me, but my mom, dad, and husband all said I needed to go faster in the finals.”

So she did and, perhaps as a result, “we had bobbles. He didn’t guide as well in the middle, so I was surprised afterward that I was tied for first with Shevin.”

Shevin was Shevin Haverty, daughter of Steve and Dori Schwartzenberger and wife of Zane, the son of Clint and Liz Haverty—reining royalty all. Shevin was riding Who Whiz Who, a handsome buckskin gelding that excels despite being blind in one eye.

In the run-off, Whiz had another bobble, pushing for the gate in his first circle. Courtney said she could hardly blame him. “He was tired and over the horse show deal! He guided back and then was perfect, running the exact same pattern, only harder. He could’ve been bad, but he was really honest.”

And, with that, the pair beat Shevin and Who Whiz Who for the championship by a point and a half.

[RELATED: How to leap into showing—or move up a level.]

Still Connected

Back home a few months later, on a California-warm January day, Courtney and Whiz greet a photographer who’s come to take photos for a feature in Horse&Rider. Karen Russell, from nearby Tulare, shadows the pair, snapping candids and set shots throughout the day.

“I could really see how Courtney cares about that horse,” Russell says later. “The relationship reminds me of a young kid with a first horse—she’s completely in love with him. It’s not just a horse to her; it’s her baby.”

Russell, who’s seen Courtney with other horses, says she hasn’t before noticed this degree of connectedness. “Whiz looks to her and trusts her completely. I’d be trying to get his ears up for a photo, and he’d get all nervous and upset. Then Courtney would just touch him and he’d calm right down.

“It’s really why they’ve succeeded, even without a trainer pushing them,” she adds. “This is a true partnership.”

That comment, like the duo’s big win, got our attention…and we certainly couldn’t agree more.

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