What Makes a Legend?

Hall-of-fame horses are few and far between. I was fortunate to ride one his entire career.

On September 29, Chics Magic Potion was inducted into the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Hall of Fame. “Magic,” owned by Ken and Laina Banks, spent his entire career in my barn. He was part of our family.

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Cinch When I was showing Chics Magic Potion, I had no idea that he’d one day be inducted into the NRCHA Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed on him during the 2016 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity.

Very few horses have all the qualities it takes to make a mark on the horse world and join prestigious halls of fame. Looking back on my time with Magic, I’d say there are a few key things that stand out about truly legendary horses and how they reach the accolade of joining a hall of fame.

You Can’t Predict It
From his first major win—the 2003 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Championship—to his retirement as the highest-earning cow horse at the time, I knew Magic was special. But I didn’t look at him the first time I saw him and say, “He’s going to be in the hall of fame.” That’d be like having a child, looking at him, and saying, “He’s going to be President.” You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than predicting either situation!
You can’t go out and buy a horse and recognize at 3 years old that he’ll be a legend in his time. You just get lucky enough to stumble upon one.

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You Can’t Make It Happen

You can’t do anything to make a hall-of-fame horse. It’s not something you can plan on. In fact, while a horse is becoming a future hall-of-famer, you don’t even know it’s happening. You might know he’s winning a lot and people are paying attention to him, but it’s not until late in a horse’s career—or even after his retirement—that you can look back and say, “He was really something.”

That being said, a horse must have thoughtful care to reach his potential. Our horses, including Magic, always have and will come first so we can give them the best opportunities to succeed. We keep them comfortable on the trailer, and bed their stalls and feed them before we think about ourselves when arriving at a show. We give all of our horses the chance to be their best by giving them the absolute best care.

They Have Something Special
Legendary horses have something special about them. It’s hard to put your finger on it, and it’s difficult to explain. Athletic ability, brains, willpower, desire, heart. If we knew exactly what it was, we could re-create it over and over again. But you can’t create what makes a legendary horse.

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Credit: Photo by Primo Morales At his retirement, Magic was the highest-earning horse in the NRCHA standings. His ability to pull through, even when we were in a tough spot, led him to earn many prestigious titles.

Magic always had something about him. When I was having a bad day, I’d go ride Magic and he’d change my outlook. He was good-minded and like a pet to me. I don’t have that close of a relationship with most of my horses—they work hard and they get the job done. But Magic was great to be around. People outside my barn noticed. That’s what makes a hall-of-fame horse stand out.

They’re Not Always the Winner
I’m not going to say that Magic—or any hall-of-fame horse—is the best horse at every show. They probably don’t win all the time, but they’re in the hunt and they come out on top when it matters.

I called on Magic a few times. I’d get us in a jam and have to work our way out of it. We competed in events like the World’s Greatest Horseman and Magnificent Seven—those that require herd work, reined work, fence work, and sometimes roping. I’d make a mistake in the herd, and I’d think there was no way we’d be able to make it up to get into the finals. I’d sleep on it and remind myself that Magic was that good and he could come back. And then we would. We’d mark 227s and 230s in the reined work, and that put us right back in the game.

You hear about great professional athletes who maybe weren’t superstars early in their careers, but they had the heart and desire to persevere and never quit. Then they become legendary. Legendary horses are the same way.

Heart Makes the Hero
Ability. Talent. Training. All of these things help make a legend, but they’re not the No. 1 quality. First on the list is heart.

Credit: H&R file photo

Heart is one of those things that’s hard to explain. When other horses slow down and get tired, legends don’t give in. Behind the scenes—loading up after a show, hosing down his legs after schooling, during small moments—other horsemen notice that heart, even outside the competitive arena. Heart makes a horse stand out above the rest, and it surpasses his titles, earnings, and championships. Heart is what made Magic magic.

A multiple AQHA world champion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurities, the NRHA Futurity, and two World’s Greatest Horseman titles. He received the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year honor. His Avila Training Stables, Inc., is in Temecula, California. Learn more at bobavila.net.

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