Best Little Derby In the West

2015 Best Little Derby In the West

Article in the Wallowa County Chieftain By Steve Tool

Local Matt McDowell wins first major reining event held in the Northwest.
The derby took place at the Ford Idaho Horse Park in Nampa, Idaho, from April 22-26. Exhibitors from as far away as Colorado, Alberta and Utah competed in the derby. It is the first major reining event to take place in the Pacific Northwest.

McDowell is a reining horse trainer. Reining is the western style equivalent of dressage — the European style riding events seen in the Olympics. Reining is based on the athletics of a working cow horse. The horse runs a particular pattern that includes spins, sliding stops, flying lead changes, rundowns, circles, backing and rollbacks. The horses are judged not only on the finesse and speed of their performance, but also on the subtleness of cues it receives from the rider.

McDowell, already a two-time national wrestling champion, still maintains his competitive edge in the reining world. “This was the biggest derby ever in the Northwest. All the guys from Canada came down, and it was a big, big show. The competition was just crazy with run after run of people going full blast with the dirt flying,” McDowell said with a laugh.

McDowell won the event with a score of 148.5 with a two-judge system. His closest competitor scored 147. “I was pretty nervous waiting for the last five horses. I had some pretty heavy hitters like Shawna Sapergia, an Olympian from Canada and Jesse Beckley, another Canadian champion coming up behind me. I ended up holding on for the win, so it was fun,” McDowell said.

McDowell said he appreciated the proximity of the derby as most big reining shows take place in the Southwest. “We’re happy with this event, we only have to go four hours and we’re happy to have big money to go for,” McDowell said. His winning ride on Lorenzo garnered $5,400, a trophy saddle, two Lawson bronze sculptures, two belt buckles and two trophy picture frames.

Other team members who contributed were training assistant Wyatt Shetler as well as Kazzie Dawson, Denny Dawson, Dustie Pickard and Jerry Winegar. McDowell also won the Novice Horse Open circuit on Surprise Ima Chick, also owned by Tamarack Ranch.

Although McDowell raises and trains his own horses, as well as those of others, his main client is Tamarack Ranch, owned by Suzy Simar (pronounced See-mar) of Texas, who also owns Lorenzo. McDowell met Simar while she was a client of his parents, who once owned the Eagle Cap Pack Station. “She really loves horses and has nine of her horses in training,” McDowell said.

Simar is currently building Tamarack Ranch, which includes a large riding arena, at Walker Lane in Joseph. Although McDowell currently takes outside horses, he will work exclusively for Tamarack Ranch when the ranch is finished in a year.

McDowell said he’ll always train his own horses as well. “My kids show, and my family shows and it’s really important to me. This is a big deal for my family and they have to be a part of it. We’ll always have a place to train our own horses.”

McDowell’s children are following in his boots. His son, Mason, won the 13-and-under reining class and tied for the win in Short Stirrup class at the Nampa show.

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