The Centre Arena Series

"The Centre Arena Series"

... a series that delves into the lives of women that are changing the game in the horse world. Women, that are bold, and brave, and who swing up into the saddle and make things happen for themselves. Women, to be admired.

Marla Gonnet

Marla Gonnet grew up on a mixed far outside of Hanley, Saskatchewan, where her family grain farmed and raised purebred Maine Anjou cattle. She was active in 4-H beef and light horse until she graduated from High School, and always loved animals, but wasn’t passionate about horses in her younger years. Her true passion for horses came when she started working with now husband, Dustin Gonnet, eleven years ago. She witnessed the passion he had for horses, and the response that the horses, in turn, gave back to him. She speaks of her husband with much admiration, “I had always seen the amazing things he could do with horses and had so much respect and admiration for what he could do I guess I just didn’t think that I could do it!” she admits. She credits Dustin for handing her the keys to her success, “he pushes me to learn and connect with a horse in ways that are so simple, yet so challenging.”

However, being a “Trainer’s Wife” is not an easy task, and Marla’s life is anything but idle. The duo behind “Gonnet Performance Horses” works well together and makes sure to communicate - being open and honest, with each other makes them the great team that they are. Their routine consists of waking up anytime between 5 and 6 am, having breakfast and heading outside. The day begins by saddling and turning out horses, cleaning stalls and beginning to work whichever horses need to be worked for the day. Their young son, Destry, generally wakes up between 7 and 8 am, so Marla continues to check on him untill he’s awake, then she feeds him breakfast, and he too comes outside. Destry will help out whenever his parents need, but he also keeps himself busy riding his bike or the sheep! In the summer months, the Gonnets have to also balance moving and checking yearlings, as well as working horses.

Marla acknowledges that, although the small picture looks gruelling and tough to an outsider, the BIG picture is that the family gets to do exactly what they love doing and every day they work towards what they want. Slowly, they are acquiring more land, more cattle and are beginning to breed their own horses. Gonnet Performance Horses is ever expanding, and Marla credits balancing her life by being definite on her goals. She states, “I have goals for every part of my life, whether it be in the show pen, loping horses, being a good wife and mother or just out moving yearlings. I’ve learned to focus on things that I want in life and have found true happiness in that.” It is these goals, and this focus, that has positioned Marla at the top of her game in the cutting pen.

Marla’s earliest success in Cutting came when family friend and customer, Ron Patton let her show his great mare, “Christina’s Blue”, in the 2000 Limited Rider class. She only showed her a handful of times, but in that period “Christina’s Blue” taught Marla a lot about navigating the show pen. That year, Marla and “Christina’s Blue”, ended up the reserve champion for the year end prizes - quite the accomplishment for a new team, and an up and coming cutting horse rider! However, it was the horse that Marla is currently riding, “Dirty Dreamin”, or “Bean” as they call her at home, that has really catapulted Marla into the next level.

Bean came to the Gonnet family in August of 2013 from Jim and Teri Paradis. She was originally brought up to Alberta as a yearling by Mike Santagelo and was a prize for the aggregate for Open Ranch Cutting at the winter series at the Silver Slate Arena. Jim Paradis won the series, and in turn won the great mare - Dirty Dreamin, who was bred by Wingate Ranch and is by “SR Instant Choice”, out of “Saddle My Dreams”. She was started by local trainer, Cody Smith, then went to Brad Pedersen as a 3 year old. After that, Bean headed to Texas to trainer, Kathy Daughn, where Paradis won the senior amateur at the Super Stakes on her. She returned to Canada as a five year old, and ended up at the Gonnet’s barn to see if Dustin could sell her. On a whim, Marla tried her one day because the family had begun to think it was time she had something of her own to show. Marla calls that first work, “an instant connection” between her and Bean. One day, an emotional Marla came home from dropping Destry off at his very first day of kindergarten and Dustin informed her that Bean was her new horse.

Marla describes Bean as “extremely smart, and extremely honest with how she feels about you. If she likes you, she will do anything for you, and if she doesn’t like you, she will make it very clear how she feels!” Like all good horses, Bean is a little quirky, and Marla says that her biggest quirk is that she doesn’t like to be cinched up - you need to ease her into having the saddle tight. Bean is also a total firecracker in front of a cow and the Gonnets work her regularly to keep the “fresh” off of her and ensure she is ready to show. Dustin has also shown, and been successful on Bean, but Marla explains that she loves that Bean is her own personal horse and Dustin wants Bean to be her own to show.

Some of Marla’s favourite moments with Bean thus far have been winning the 5000 Novice Horse Non-Pro in Denver at the Western National Finals in 2014. Then, winning the Classic Challenge at the Calgary Futurity and finally, her favourite win so far - winning the Calgary Stampede Non-Pro this year. Another big moment for the duo was at the Idaho Mercuria show last year, where they made the finals. Marla was pitted up against the best of the bes, and was just happy to be there. However, her great mare, was noticeably excited to be in the show pen, and worked perfectly for her owner. Marla remembers that the music was loud and pounding, and her cheering section was even louder, that when the buzzer went to signal her run over - she couldn’t even hear it! They had a teeny, tiny, bobble at the very end but walked away with a more than respectable 218 for their efforts.

It goes without saying that Calgary has become Marla and Bean’s territory - both the Stampede Mercuria Cutting and the Futurity, have seen them take home big wins. Marla credits this to Bean, who “feels different at Stampede then at other venues, she loves the new venue, and she just seems to love the shows!”  Marla has quickly become a main stay in the Non-Pro pen, for her efforts she has won over $45,000 and her mare “Dirty Dreamin” has won over $58,000.

As a Canadian, Calgary is significant because it’s the biggest cutting horse shows that Canada has to offer, but the Gonnets have been enjoying success south of the border as well. Many people say that it’s very hard for Canadian cutters to see success in the states, but Marla disagrees. “We are no different than them [Americans], we all put our pants on the same way! There’s no way to get better if you don’t get out of your comfort zone and go show against the best.” She continues, “The thing is there is way more competitors down there so you have to be good all the time - one little mistake can really take you out when you are showing against guys like Dan Hanson, or Constance Jaeggi (World Non-Pro Champion). It only makes you better showing against them, because they don’t make mistakes very often, so you try to do the same.” Marla credits having a strong competitive streak, and the fact that her and Dustin are constantly striving to be better than they were the day before that helps them state-side. Cutting in the states can be, “mentally tough but very, very rewarding when it pays off.” Gonnet Performance Horses will be showing as much as they can in the US this year, and are fortunate to have 2 horses to show at The Futurity in Fort Worth this upcoming December.

As previously stated, Marla is a goal-setter, and says that her and Bean are “so close to meeting my goals I have set for us this year.” After this year, Marla has plans to breed Bean, and would like to see her crossed with Metallic Cat, for her first foal. She is tentatively looking for a new horse for next year, but is taking her time, as she admits that “Bean has left some pretty big shoes to fill!

When it comes to fashion, and the show pen, Marla sticks to the comfortable basics. Her boots are always the same, whether at home on the ranch, or in the show pen. She sticks to high top Anderson Bean boots. Marla is tall and so her main concern when it comes to choosing outfits to ride and show in, is that her shirts stay tucked in during her runs! So, she has her choice of a few select favourite shirts and jeans that suit her well when it comes to entering the show pen.

Finally, Marla’s advice for female competitors is to be strong and confident. Cutting is a “mentally tough sport, where you can go from hero to zero in a matter of 2 minutes. There’s lots of people out there that will gladly tell you what your doing wrong, or how to “fix” it.” She continues that personally, she is very selective for who she asks for advice, and help, when it comes to showing. “I have picked my support group of people I respect and value their opinion, and I stick with them.” Reflecting on her path in the Cutting pen thus far, Marla says that she has a had a great journey of “ups and downs, that have led me to where I am right now… which I am so happy with.”

Marla Gonnet, mother, trainer’s wife, and fierce Non-Pro Cutting Horse competitor, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Marla and the great mare Bean, are currently closing in on the race to make the Non-Pro World Finals in Fort Worth in December. I think I stand for everyone when I say, Marla, we really hope you and Bean make it - what a terrific team, and outstanding competitor, and woman, you are.

* all photos provided by Marla Gonnet

Alexis Stephas

Alexis and Meeko (Ima Little Ichi) at the World Finals
#Goals pretty much sums up my general feelings for Alexis Stephas. Maybe throw in a little #WomanCrush too, because heck, why not? The 23 year old Tennessee native is a force to be reckoned with in the cutting pen, in both the Weekend and Aged Event shows. Her lifetime earnings are currently sitting at over $500,000, and she has the accolades to show why. In 2011 she won the coveted NCHA Senior Youth title, and from that year onwards she has placed, every single year, in the Top 15 of the NCHA Non-Pro. So why interview her now, this year in particular? Because she killed 2015… that’s why. On the Weekend side of things, Alexis finished 14th in the world in the Non-Pro on her talented and beloved gelding Meeko (Ima Little Ichi), and 4th on her newest acquisition Tonka (Peeka Spice Cat) in the 15,000 Novice Non-Pro Class. In the Aged Events she showed us how to get down in cowtown, at the Super Stakes she was crowned Amateur Champion, as well as the first ever Slot Cutting Amateur Champion, on her gorgeous black stallion Zorro, whose registered name is “Once You Go Black”… I know, how can you not die over that name? It’s perfect. By the way, the Slot Cutting? At $20,000, it was the richest amateur cutting payout to date. Thats a girl boss paycheque if I ever did see one!

Zorro & Alexis winning the Amateur Super Stakes
So, who is Alexis Stephas? She has serious show-stopping looks, coupled with an impeccable fashion sense, and top it off with the drive of a seasoned competitor. But deep down, she just loves horses. Her love of horses began at an early age at the family house in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where her dad would take her for pony rides during their vacations. However, the rest of her family wasn’t as horse-inclined as she was, but fate would have it that her competitive dance teacher had horses, and a cutting horse trainer that worked out of her facility. The rest is, as they say it, history - she caught the bug and ran with it. She started to become consistent in the show pen around 2007-2008, the latter year she began hauling by herself to competitions, and by 2009 she tried for top 15 in the Senior Youth, where she finished in fourth place. She credits 2011 as one of her favourite years, “I won the Senior Youth world title, and also qualified for the first time in the top 15 in the Non Pro! I accomplished my youth title on Tina Bars Queen, who is now my broodmare, and my top 15 in the Non Pro on my sweet boy, Swing In Time.”Alexis is a self professed horse-hoarder, “I’ve sold one horse, and that was to purchase Swinger (Swing In Time). So, if that says anything all my horses are very special to me.” Her squad of horses at the moment includes Tiara (Tina Bars Queen) who she has now retired to become a broodmare. She currently has two up-and-coming mares from Tiara, Kiss, who will be three and futurity-bound in 2016, and Smooch who is a coming two year old. Her current show horses are Meeko, Tonka and Zorro, who she campaigned throughout the year. Finally, she has a second retiree in the herd - Swinger, who she holds a very soft sport in her heart for. She credits Swinger as the first horse to really teach her, and take her to where she is today. “I could put him in any situation and the tougher, the better. I “retired” him in 2013 when Meeko could step up to take his place as my non pro horse. I turned him out with nearly $150,000 in earnings, and that was earned weekend after weekend. I pulled him out for Eastern Nationals this year, and he was a Non Pro finalist! That might be his one appearance from now on!”

Alexis and Tonka (Peeka Spice Cat) at the NCHA World Finals
It’s no doubt that the time, effort, and money it takes to haul for the world, as well as show in the Aged Events, can really wear someone down. However, Alexis insists that she is happiest on the road, and that her LQ trailer is like home to her. “Every single day that I get to walk to the herd is a great day.” This year alone, she hit over 50 weekend shows, and her absolute favourite is Batesville, Mississippi. She spends 8 days out of each month there in the year, making it a must-hit so that she can win the money she needs to stay in the Top 15. Not just a show, Alexis calls Batesville her second home. She has the same stalls every time she there and she doesn’t even have to call ahead anymore - the crew at Batesville just know she’ll be there. She credits Lee Garner and his crew making sure everyone is happy to the reason she’s so comfortable there - but it also might be the fact that Nick and Angie make the best homemade food everyday. Aside from horses, food ranks pretty high in her “favourite things” list, and who can blame a gal really? There's somethin' about a homecooked meal in the south, I’ll tell you what. Aside from Batesville, Alexis tries to go to Harriman, Tennessee, as much as she can because it was the show she started at, the people there are like family to her, and it’s a nice reminder of why she started loving the sport in the first place.

Each day on the road has become routine for Alexis, who used to spend 6 weeks at a time gone, sometimes longer, when she was still living in Tenessee. Since she has relocated to Weatherford, she can typically get home during the week. During a show she get’s up and feeds her horses, goes back to bed for a few hours, will do her chores, and wait until she gets to show. Her hauling partner is her 7 year old border collie, Kippy, who she purchased before she began hauling alone. Weekend shows, she insists, are still her favourite because of how much she simply loves to show. “I love being able to walk to the herd nearly every day of the year if I wanted to. If something happens in the show pen that day, there’s always tomorrow.”  However, Alexis had a dramatic turn towards the end of the point year where with 4 days left to go, her and Meeko slipped to 16th in the world standings. Her trainer (and conveniently her boyfriend as well) Cullen Chartier, and her, made an unplanned trip to Batesville to try and save her year. She collected $2200 the first day, which gave her a bit of breathing room, and $1700 the third day to secure her in the top 15. It gave her an extra day to rest, before they headed to Fort Worth to show at the Slot Cutting, where they made the finals again! Next year, she professes, she wont change much of her game-plan, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” but maybe will safety up towards the end of the year, “The only thing I will do differently is make sure I’m not hanging low enough to be kicked out of the top 15 with only a few days left!”

Alexis and her beloved "Whale"
Meeko (Ima Little Ichi) deserves some recognition as well for his superstar status. Cullen found Meeko for Alexis at the end of his 5 year old year, and was purchased from Tarin and Katie Rice. He has quite the personality, “he acts like a raccoon! He’s into everything, which is how he got his name. He’s a happy horse that just wants to be fed, or scratched in his favourite spots. I call him my whale. He also grows a massive winter coat every October, no matter what, so he gets clipped every winter. He just got his hair cut - so he’s my naked whale right now!”  At the last show of the point year, in Batesville, Meeko crossed over $200,000 in lifetime earnings while Alexis simultaneously crossed over $500,000. “He’s been a huge part of my success. I won my first Non Pro aged event on him, which is one of my favourite successes in the cutting pen. I get so excited every single day I get to show him.” The 2006 gelding out of Cat ichi is incredibly cowy and smart. “He’s so big, that he traps a cow so easy, it’s pretty cool. He’s gritty and has more heart than any horse I’ve ever watched. That trait means more to me than anything, because I know he's trying and loves his job. When he tell me he’s done, I’ll retire him and turn him out in the same big pasture as my other ones.” (no surprise there!) In their downtime in between shows, Alexis turns Meeko out and wont bring him into the arena. If she exercises him, it’s just in the pasture. She credits this program to why her horses have stayed good mentally and physically. “They’re old enough to know their job, and they need to be horses, just like we need to kick our feet up and hang outside some days! I’m a HUGE believer in that!”

Her lifestyle totally centres around horses however, she also works for CR Ranchwear, which has become the darling clothing company of the elite cutting crowd. Alexis takes care of a lot of online orders and all of the social media for the company. She has been with CR Ranchwear from their early beginnings, and has become their poster child as well, she loves watching the company grow and of course - sporting their shirts in the show pen! She also takes time and consideration into how she looks in the show pen. “I am HUGE on matching my shirt with my Yucca Flats saddle blanket. I feel we need to walk to the herd like it's the one time we'll be remembered for. My parents are stylish people and I know I got that from them. I always have my hair in a ponytail behind my hat, too. I want to look like I care about what I do and how myself and my animals look. Yes, cutting isn't judged on looks, but a little eye appeal never killed anyone. It's a “cocky” way to describe it, but that's how I feel. Look the part, feel the part, do the part.” She also maintains a level of comfort in the show pen as well, quipping “if you’re not comfortable, it shows pretty quick in this sport.”

Alexis and Once You Go Black
For her fellow female competitors, Alexis’ advice is to always be your toughest competitor and put as much into it as you want to get out it. She advises to take one thing from every single run and try to get better at that one thing for the next time, and most important of all - never give up. Alexis has learned this advice from her competitors in the top 15, they are consistently there for a reason and she takes bits and pieces from everyone she comes in contact with. “You can never stop learning in this sport, or any sport for that matter, the moment you do - you lose not only your competitive edge but your competitors respect. That's one thing I tell myself often.”Now that 2015 is coming to an end, Alexis’ 2016 is a little undecided. She wants to show enough to stay in the Top 15 in the Non Pro, and will show Kiss in The Futurity, but that is about as far as her plans go for now. Mentally, I'm sure she deserves a little bit of a break this holiday season! Just thinking about her schedule this year makes me dizzy! Alexis is just one of those women you want to follow, she's come so far since 2008, a mere 8 years ago, it’s anyone’s best guess where the next 8 years will take her. If I can tell you one thing, I'm sure it will be in an impeccably matched CR Ranchwear shirt, a Yucca Flats saddle pad, and a seriously competitive horse with a big personality, or eye-catching name. Like I said, #goals people, watch out for this one.

Modeling for CR Ranchwear
*Photos provided by Alexis Stephas

Jennifer Webster

Jennifer Webster, after securing her championship at the Canadian Supreme, with family in tow.
Photo Credit: Barb Glazer

In late November I opened up my Facebook feed to see Western Horse Review had shared a blog post entitled, “Reflections of the Ride.” I eagerly opened up the piece and dove in, WHR is one of my most favourite horse publications, and the fact it centres in the West, and in Canada, makes it even better. Written by then Editor-in-Chief Ingrid Schulz, it was a beautiful, albeit slightly shocking piece, because it detailed the newest change in the magazine. Jennifer Webster, who was at the time Managing Editor, had purchased the magazine alongside her husband and was now Editor-in-Chief, and publisher. Wow, I thought to myself, now isn’t that something.

So, what do I have to do with any of this information? Well aside from my loyalty as a reader to the magazine, not much. However, I feel like I really know both Ingrid, and Jennifer. Do I? Absolutely not, but am I connected to both of them in weird and wonderful ways? Well, yeah, I kind of am, in the brilliant way that so many people recite everyday, “it’s a small world out there.”As a loper in Arizona, my trainer and Boss’ barn was next door to the training centre of Arizona cutting horse trainer, Mike Wood. I had heard rumours that Ingrid, and her daughter, rode with Mike. I was at a show in Queen Creek, AZ, watching a client show, when I felt someone walk up next to me. I turned, and Ingrid was standing beside me. “Hi,” I stammered, “I’m Louisa, I work for so-and-so, I really love your magazine.” She smiled, thanked me kindly and walked off shortly thereafter. I remember thinking, I just introduced myself to one of my idols. Earlier this year, an intern position came up at Western Horse Review, I applied but because my degree isn’t in journalism, I couldn’t be considered due to subsidies. However, in an email response back, Ingrid told me “It’s really too badI think you would have been a great fit.” Her response made me hungrier, and in the ashes of the job application came the idea for the Centre Arena series.

Jennifer, I of course knew as one of the writers in the magazine, but also of one half of Clay Webster Performance Horses. Jennifer’s husband, Clay Webster, is a very well known Reining and Cow Horse Trainer, and there barn is a stones throw from my own. As anyone from the Okotoks, Alberta area would say, “Just on the other side of the overpass.” When I first started wanting to better myself as a rider when I was around 17, I sent out emails to every cow horse, reining and cutting horse trainer I could find inquiring about lessons, and lesson horses. Most trainers didn’t respond, but Clay Webster did, he was kind and apologetic when he said they didn’t have school horses. It always stuck with me, he didn’t have to take the time out of his day to even respond to the blundering 17 year old that wanted to “better herself as a horsewoman and hopefully show in some regard” (my words, back then). Most trainers in fact, hadn’t taken the time, but he did and that spoke volumes.

When I created my first equestrian focused blog “Time in the Saddle”, I was hooked on a blog that Western Horse Review shared on their website, “My Stable Life.” It was Jennifer Webster’s blog, about the trials and tribulations of being a horse trainer’s wife, of showing and ultimately of getting pregnant with twins. It was the first equine-blog that I really loved and I used it as inspiration for my own foray. My soft spot for the Webster’s continued, they just seemed like all around nice people.

So where does this ramble about two women in the horse publishing industry get us? Well, when I discovered that Jennifer was taking over the reins at Western Horse Review, I thought, what a wonderful interview that would be for the Centre Arena series. Not only has she had some major wins in the show pen in both Reining and Cow Horse, she is a celebrated journalist, now an Editor-in-Chief, and somehow manages to ALSO be a mother of twins, and the wife of an accomplished horse trainer. If that isn’t someone you wish to emulate, who is? So, I’m excited, and very grateful, to welcome you into reading the newest instalment of the Centre Arena Series, an interview with Jennifer Webster.

Jenn with her adorable twins
Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman
Jennifer Webster seems to be one of those people you just want to sit and have a cup of coffee with. However, finding the time in her busy schedule to have that cup of coffee, may be a bit of a stretch. The newly minted publisher and Editor-in-Chief of celebrated Canadian equine magazine, Western Horse Review, is also one half of Clay Webster Performance Horses. Jennifer, herself, is an accomplished showman, she’s extremely competitive in her respective divisions and has won numerous titles in both Reining, and Reined Cow Horse. Not only that, but she’s the devoted mother of 4 year old twins, a boy and a girl, and after discovering she gifted both toddlers mini Australian shepherd puppies for Christmas, I’m wondering if perhaps, she’s a bit crazy too?

Jenn grew up in Okotoks, Alberta, and was a self-professed, city kid. However, growing up, her grandfather had Belgian draft horses who she loved driving and riding, the bug bit at an early age. Her parents hoped she would grow out of the “horse crazy phase” as she grew older, but as most of us know, it doesn’t really work that way. At 13, Jenn was gifted her first horse for Christmas by her best friend, Jaime and she never looked back. After High School, she became involved with the Calgary Polo Club as a groom, then went to work for Jonathan Asselin and Nancy Southern at Attache Stables in the jumping industry. From Attache Stables she attended Olds College and acquired an Equine Business Management Diploma. Her first internship was at Western Horse Review, but wasn’t as glamorous as one may think. She spent her first day moving heavy boxes of magazines, and felt frustrated and unsure of her early steps into the magazine world. One lunch break, she called her mother and cried on the phone to her. Her mother told her, simply, “stick with it, do any job they gave me to the very best of my ability - no matter how insignificant it seemed at the time - and to have faith.” 

Jenn rose in the ranks of WHR, and in 2000, set out to interview the man who had just won the Canadian Quarter Horse Nationals, Clay Webster. Despite the interviews behind held over the phone, they hit it off immediately, and Clay and Jenn would eventually be married. Jenn found herself moving from polo and jumping horses to reiners and cow horses, but calls it a “natural progression to my life with Clay.”  Riding reining horses, and with Clay as her new trainer, she learned more about body control and the subtle cues riders have in their seat, achilles heel and hands. She couldn’t believe how advanced a horse could be in its training, and was soon addicted to the exceptionally broke reining horses.

So, what does the “average day” look like for a mom, wife, competitor, and publisher? Hectic. Jenn’s days usually start with a coffee, a quick check of her emails, and the hope her twins will continue to sleep a little longer than usual so she can get even a tiny bit more done of the computer. She has done her dues as a stall cleaner, and horse-feeder extraordinaire, but thanks to great help around their barn, she rarely finds herself having to do horse-chores as well anymore. Unless, of course, she needs too - then she's there too.

Once the kids are up and at ‘em, she cooks breakfast, attempts to clean the kitchen and prep for dinner. In the meanwhile, you can find her chasing the kids around, chasing the aforementioned christmas puppies, and attempting to get work done on the computer when she can. Some days, the kids go to preschool, allowing her some “interruption-free” time to work on the magazine and other ventures. She also does the business administration side of Clay’s training business. Once the kids come home, it’s supper time, and if there is a show on the horizon, Jenn will ride at night. However, if a show isn’t close, she doesn’t ride, there’s just not enough hours in the day. In an average year, she’s lucky to ride 5 months out of the year because, in her own words, “everything else has to come first.” The nights she does ride, the kids get a bath because you can usually find them covered in arena dirt from playing in the barn, and they go to bed. She then returns to the computer, and continues to work until midnight, or as late as 2 am to get everything done. It takes a village, and Jenn recognizes that the team’s she has cultivated are a big part of her success. “I am truly blessed to be surrounded by a great team of people (on both the Western Horse Review side of things, and the Clay Webster Performance Horse Inc. side.) So that helps a great deal. And I’m not afraid of hard work - in some ways, I suppose I am a work-a-holic. But that attitude has taken me far over the years.” 
Family is important to both Jenn and Clay, and they are both good about taking time every week to be a family. Usually on Sundays they go swimming, or skating, and manage to both take a break from their businesses. The kids are growing up fast, and taking the time to be a family, do crafts, read to them, cook healthy meals - these are all important things to the Webster’s. Some of her personal favourite activities are travelling, snowboarding and listening to music, but because of her lack of spare time, she loves to do all these things with her family, because they are her life.

The family behind the very successful, Clay Webster Performance Horses
and NOW Western Horse Review as well.
Photo Credit: Natalie Jackman
As an equestrian, she has also gone far over the years, but a lot of these accomplishments came from hard learned lessons. As a mother, Jenn has little time to spend in the stirrups and therefore tries extremely hard to listen to her husband’s instruction and execute her maneuvers correctly the first time. Although she get's nervous when she shows, or works buffalo, she says she’s fond of the “Just Fricken’ Do It” approach to showing and riding and believes that confidence is really the only thing you need with you in the show pen. When it comes to riding, her guilty pleasures in fashion and function are her goat hide roman reins from Avila's Pro Shop, her black Lucchese boots, and her favourite turquoise custom shirt by "Sister Act Custom Show Shirts.”
Ten years ago, Clay wanted to expand his business, and started to get into cow horse, Jenn followed suit. She loves the finesse of reining, but cow horse is just plain fun and pushes her outside of her comfort zone and shows her how tough she can, and has to be some days. In cow horse, one of the portions is fence work, or to “go down the fence”. Where a rider will, at a high speed, take a cow down the fence, and then turn the cow sharply. Clay, loves the adrenaline aspect of the sport, but Jenn, as a mother, can’t fully commit to the fence work portion, and instead stays in the rein/box classes of cow horse. This division allows competitors to do the reined work portion of the sport, and follow it up with a “boxing” portion of a cow on the end of the arena only.

She has found quite the amount of success in cow horse as well, one of her fondest memories to date was winning the Reserve World Championship Title at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions in Fort Worth, Texas in 2014. She qualified to attend in the $5,000 Non-Pro Rein Box class aboard her mare, MS Tyson Chic N Nic, and then advanced to the finals. That morning of the finals, she woke up with a fever but decided she had dragged her family too far in a truck to go home empty-handed, they finished off with the Reserve Title overall.

Then, this past year, she began showing Clay's stallion, Whiz N Starlight. Together, the pair has secured wins at the 2015 Alberta Championships and the Canadian Supreme. They also qualified for the Celebration of Champions again this year, in Texas. Jenn confesses that Whiz N Starlight, or Bob, as they call him, is by far the best horse that both Clay and herself have ever had the privilege to ride. The 2004 stallion (Starlights Wrangler x My Lucky Moonstone) has 65,000+ LTE and is a cherished member of the Webster family. He is included in the annual family photo shoot every year, and the twins even ride him without worry from their parents.

I think Jenn herself sums up her feelings about Bob, the best, with this sweet quote, “This might sound strange, but sometimes after winning a class I have a hard time taking a compliment about the run. The reason is because Whiz N Starlight is such an amazing animal that for me, I’m not sure I deserve to take any kind of credit. I become uncomfortable and I try to change the subject. That horse is so amazing that as long as I don't fall off - we're good. He is an incredible athlete. His mind is tremendous.”
Jenn showing Porsche in Reining
Photo Credit: Tracey Eide
When it comes to showing as a mom, and a wife, it takes a lot of balance and preparation. She hates leaving her kids on the sidelines to go show, and worries they'll need her. Some of her favourite moments at shows are having the kids jump on with her after the fact to cool her horse out. As far as mom-management tricks and tips, she says to bring several changes of clothing for every child, kids get dirty ya'll! Take as many toys as you think you might need, and don’t even give a second thought to anyone who rolls their eyes at you, makes comments about your mothering skills or whatever. Ask for help when you need it. Be good to your fellow competitors. Do what you think is right to look after your family. And ride the horse you have, to the best of your ability, on that day. Beyond that, Jenn says, nothing else matters. As a horse-trainer's wife, one of her least favourite aspects is having to witness her husband break bones, and hurt himself, in the pursuit of training horses. Now that Clay is a father, it worries her daily that he will get hurt, and terrifies her because she wants her husband to be around for a very long time - no matter how tough he is, we're all human, and that's something that heavily resonates with Jenn. Finally, after the show is all said and done, if it hasn't gone well, she allows herself 10 minutes to be upset about it. Then, it's time to check her emotions and get back to reality and figure out how to perform better next time.

As a journalist, Jenn’s favourite articles she’s worked on vary, but one of her favourite pieces was interviewing Country Music Star, George Canyon, back in Sept./Oct. 2014. She has also interviewed the likes of female jockey phenom, Chantal Sutherland, Pheonix, AZ Coyotes captain, Shane Doan, World’s Greatest Horseman Bob Avila, NRHA $4 Million Dollar Rider Andrea Fappani, and the $5 Million Dollar man, Shawn Flarida. Now that Jenn is taking over the reins for Western Horse Review, she says she doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel in 2016 because she believes it’s already such a fabulous publication. She wants WHR to continue to deliver useful information, to be cutting edge in terms of delivering the newest health, training and industry information and be the “go-to” magazine for western riders. She prides herself that the team at WHR are horse people, they are the same as everyone in the industry, they have the same problems as readers do and attend the same events. However, she does have some exciting and cool ideas coming up in 2016 that she’s excited about, but of course - can’t share with us just yet - we’ll have to grab the newest issues to find out! 

When I first reached out to Jenn to interview her, she wasn’t sure if she was the right fit for the Centre Arena series. I’d have to (politely, and graciously of course) disagree haha. Not only can the girl rock a pair of Old Gringos, take a reserve World Championship title at the Celebration of Champions and dominate her show year with her newest partner, Whiz N Starlight. She also manages to be one half of a serious power couple, mother to four year old twins, and editor-in-chief, insightful journalist and publisher of a titan in the Canadian publishing realm. The whole point of the series was to set out to interview women that are dominating, and killing it, in their own respective worlds and avenues in the horse industry. I think, Jennifer Webster, is doing just that.

Jenn at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions in Fort Worth, Texas
Photo Credit: Primo Morales

Rieta Dufurrena

If you haven’t heard the name “Dufurrena” before, after the astounding year the family has had, I bet you’ve heard it now. The Dufurrena family has been successfully breeding, raising, training and showing cutting horses for years. The family is helmed by NCHA Trainer Ed Dufurrena, a million dollar trainer, his wife Shona, and their two children, Brandon and Rieta. For the family, it’s all about the horses, and the success they have achieved can be attributed to a strong family body, belief in their horses and above all a unrelenting work ethic that they all share. This past December though, may have just been the families biggest month yet. Rieta Dufurrena, a Non-Pro in the cutting horse world, with LTE of +$230,000 calls December, “one wild month” and the NCHA Futurity and World Finals as the “show of a lifetime.” 

Team Dufurrena celebrating Stevie Rey Von's Open Futurity Win

Rieta congradulating her father on a big win
Photo Credit: Cutting Horse Central
        The Dufurrena crew stormed Fort Worth this year. In the NCHA Futurity their stallion Stevie Rey Von (Metallic Cat x Miss Ella Rey) rose to the occasion and tremendously won both the Open Futurity with Ed, as well as the Limited Non-Pro with Rieta. In the World Finals, Ed made it aboard their great stallion, Auspicious Cat. Brandon won the show on Stevie Rey Von’s full sister, Purple Reyn, and was awarded NCHA Horse of the Year, Non-Pro for his efforts. Rieta, to tie up the family affair theme, made the finals on Miss Ella Rey, Stevie and Purple Reyn’s mother. I watched the Futurity intently, and after seeing Rieta run out to congratulate her father, and her beloved Stevie, after their win, I knew there was a story there. For this year, atleast, that story centres around a cutting-obsessed woman, and her beloved roan stallion, Stevie.
           Rieta, of Gainesville Texas, grew up on a horse. From the early age of three she was riding alone and started running barrels and poles right out the gate. Her first horse, Sassy, was her babysitter, but it was when she was 8 and received her first cutting horse, Docs Playboy Rio, that she was hooked from there on out. In her senior year of high school she hauled for the NCHA youth world in 2012 and was awarded the Senior Youth Champion. After finishing high school she headed straight to cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu and graduated with a pastry chef certificate. Then, she took two years off from school to campaign Miss Ella Rey in the Non-Pro Top 15, and to focus on Stevie. That strategy worked, in 2014 she became the AQHA World Champion, a year after her brother, Brandon, did the same, both of them on Miss Ella Rey. Now, in 2016 she’s back in school at NCTC enrolled in a business and management degree, and is also on their stock horse team.
An average day in Rieta’s life is a hectic one, she generally works out in the mornings, then has class, then goes to the barn to ride or goes to her stock horse team practice. Most weekends you can find her at a cutting horse event, and in her free time she’s probably baking something really, really good. This year though, is looking to be a bit quieter than 2015. Last year Team Dufurrena was at a show every weekend campaigning for the world. This year, her plans are to go to a few weekend shows here and there, but to focus on the aged events with Stevie. For some one that has done a lot of showing in both realms, Rieta enjoys both the weekend shows, and aged events. Weekend shows she loves because she gets to show her older horses that already know how to have fun. Whereas aged events she finds more exhilarating because of the challenge of showing a young horse. Overall though, Rieta says that the Mercuria shows are her absolute favourite, “They usually bring in big crowds with music playing as you show, so the energy level is unreal and I really enjoy that excitement! I feel like, along with showing at the Futurity, showing at a Mercuria show should be on everyone’s bucket list!”

Rieta and her beloved, Stevie
During a show, Rieta says that one of her pre-show rituals is to never, ever eat before she shows. She also makes sure to work her horse two or three moves on the flag before she shows to help settle herself in. In the show pen, she says the advice she get’s more often than not is to “SLOW DOWN”, and to breathe. Her advice to other women competing in cutting, her advice is mostly to be confident. “When you show with confidence, even if things aren’t going as planned, it still makes it picture perfect.”  As far as fashion in the show pen goes, Rieta favours a “tasteful look” accompanied by a sleek, well fit shirt. She does admit though, that “every now and then i’ll get a wild hair and wear something crazy!” Don’t we all though, right there with you Rieta!
         As we’ve seen, family is centre to everything the Dufurrena’s do, and Rieta says that showing alongside her brother and father is “shockingly pretty great! They are both very supportive, even if I don’t do great.” They also obviously spend a lot of time together on the road, while their mother and wife, Shona, holds down the fort at home, but Rieta claims that, “surprisingly, my brother and I hardly fight, and it’s a rare occasion if we do.” Her father is also very much in her corner, and she considers herself a “daddy’s girl”. Ed, she says, “always allows me to be a part of everything in the business and teaches me how to manage situations.” The biggest thing she has learned from both her brother and father are how to be a team, and how to be a great team player.

Rieta on Miss Ella Rey at the 2015 World Finals
It’s that team player attitude that led Rieta to have the outstanding year she had on two of her absolute favourite horses she’s ever shown, coincidentally enough, a family unto themselves, Stevie Rey Von and his mama, Miss Ella Rey. Miss Ella Rey (Dual Rey x Huggs Olena x Smart Chic Olena) was bred by LKC Ranch in Nebraska, a ranch that Ed Dufurrena used to work for. When the owners dispersed their stock Ed scraped up the money to buy Ella as a yearling. Ella has payed that initial investment back, the mare now has LTE of $375K, and has guided each member of the family to massive wins in the show pen. As far as her personality, Rieta says that “for a Dual Rey, she’s actually super laid back, every now and then that Dual Rey stubbornness will come out, but it’s very rare. She is sweet and enjoyable to be around, and she’s my favourite to just pull out of the stall and ride around.” Her most memorable moments with Ella have included making multiple Mercuria finals in Las Vegas, Idaho and San Antonio.
Ella’s son, Stevie Rey Von (Metallic Cat x Miss Ella Rey), is Rieta’s pride and joy. “Stevie was Ella’s second baby, and first colt, I love boys more than girls so I was instantly attracted to him. However, he just has some way of drawing my heart! I cant even really explain why or how it happened, it just happened.” Both mother and son are incredibly strong horses to ride, but manage to also be sweet and laid back. Ella, Rieta says, has a very aggressive way of moving, whereas Stevie is smoother and carries a big self confidence about himself. If you don’t understand what Rieta means by that, go watch their winning run in the Limited Non-Pro at the 2015 NCHA Futurity, and you’ll understand. A lot of three year olds have trepidation going into the big pen for the first time, Stevie, it seemed, knew that he was meant to be there and was he ever right.

Stevie Rey Von & Rieta in the Limited Non Pro
Photo Credit: Cutting Horse Central
Incredibly, Rieta was also the first person to start Stevie on the flag, and then on a cow, in his two year old year. She said that he was easy to start because “he is just so chill about everything, he didn’t care about much until he truly figured out how much fun the flag was. Just about anything I asked him to do, he would do it - no arguing. He is smart, and for the most part, was easy to train. He has always been a very mature horse.” Heading into the futurity, Rieta had high hopes for Stevie but says, she never dreamt he would win both the Open, and the Limited Non-Pro. For the Dufurrena’s, it was the show of a lifetime, “with having my dad, my brother and I showing in the world Finals as well as all of us showing in the Futurity, we were very busy.” The success the family achieved this year proves to Rieta that hard work really does pay off in the end.
During the go-rounds of the Limited, Rieta astoundingly scored a 220 each time. The first round she said she did not know what to expect, but she did know that she could trust Stevie with anything she threw at him, they played it smart and it worked. The second go round Rieta wanted it to be a similar run, and easy, but she admits the second go round was a little bit more nerve wracking going into it with such a big score. For her final, and winning run, Rieta said she was focused on reading her cow and sitting her stops. After her run she says, “i was so excited because I marked ANOTHER 220, but I was afraid someone could still come back and beat me. Honestly, I didn't think I would win it at all.”

Getting Low with Stevie at the Futurity
Photo Credit: Quarter Horse News
 In the end, as we all know, Stevie and Rieta were victorious and took home the title of Limited Non-Pro Champions. Now that Stevie has proven himself to be such a big deal, the Dufurrena’s plan to campaign him for horse of the year. The stallion has already amassed earnings of $248K with only a handful of shows under his belt since the futurity. His trajectory for horse of the year is looking good, with Stevie currently leading the pack with 292 points. Matt Miller, and Amandas CD are the closest to him, trailing with 208 points. Stevie will also be shown at most major aged events in hopes to achieve this goal. The most recent on the horizon being Super Stakes where both Ed, and Rieta, will show Stevie in the Open and Non-Pro respectively. As far as up-and-coming prospects, like we’ve seen the Dufurrena’s like to keep it in the family… literally. “I plan on sticking with my boy for now,” says Rieta, “but I do have my eye on his full sister that's a 2 year old we call Razz.”

I’ll sum up this edition of “The Centre Arena” with a quote that Rieta says she loves, and I have to agree. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” She continues, “if we all give our little extra every day we can develop to become a better individual overall.” When I think about Rieta Dufurrena, the themes that come to mind are hard work, perseverance, believing in yourself, believing in your horse and believing in your family and support system. The Dufurrena’s, and Rieta, seemed to capture the key to success in 2015. Realistically though, that key was not gifted to them, they worked hard to obtain it. They continue to craft their breeding program, and how they train and show their horses, the way they want to. They are creating their own niche in the cutting horse world, and clearly, they are doing something very right. For me, that's exemplary and something to be admired. Rieta Dufurrena may have had one of her best years yet in 2015, but she shows no sign of slowing down, and is definitely on track to continue having more and more major years to come.

The story of a huge-hearted horse, and a hard working family... it's a good one.
Photo Credit: Quarter Horse News


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