By Steve Tool
Wallowa County Chieftain
It may seem like a long way from being one of the nation’s top wrestlers to top reining horse trainer, but local reining horse trainer Matt McDowell says it all comes down to dedication either way. The two-time former NAIA 150-pound wrestling champion recently placed among the top competitors at the super bowl of the reining horse world at the 2015 National Reining Horse Association Derby held in Oklahoma City, Okla., from June 20-27.
McDowell, of Enterprise, earned his awards riding FM Shine N Tag Chex (barn name Lorenzo) owned by Suzy Simar, who owns Tamarack Ranch in Joseph. McDowell competed against 208 other riders from around the U.S. and countries as far away as Japan and Portugal.
McDowell placed 3rd in the Level 2 Open and 6th in the Level 3 Open at the event. “It’s the most elite and biggest show of the year for 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. It was the first time I’d made the finals at the derby. It was exciting,” McDowell said.
More than exciting, it was actually a testament to McDowell’s determination and drive to make the finals. Just before the derby McDowell was helping his daughter catch a 4-H sheep and tore the tendon that anchors the bicep muscle to the bone. “It was a little hard because it was my reining hand, and it was a little weak, but it’ll heal up,” McDowell said.
McDowell had nothing but praise for his horse. “He’s a great horse and I’m fortunate to be able to show him. We really click together — I know what he’s going to do, and he knows what I’m going to do,” McDowell said.
Thankful for the opportunity to ride the horse, McDowell had words of thanks for Lorenzo’s owner. “There’s a lot of great showmen who’d be happy to show that horse, but Suzy’s put a lot of confidence in me to get the job done.”
Another point of pride for McDowell was that his son, Mason, accompanied him on the trip, driving down to Oklahoma with him. On the drive back, both father and son competed in a reining show in Nampa, Idaho. Matt McDowell did well with some colts in training, while Mason won the 13-and-under reining division. “He’s really into the horses,” McDowell said with obvious pride.
He also said that his entire family gives him the confidence to compete at the highest reining levels. “My wife, Amber, was going to fly down if I made the finals. I ended up calling and asked if her and the baby couldn’t fly down before the preliminaries, and she did, which really helped me settle down. Without Amber, and the rest of my family believing in me, I’d have never made it as far as I have,” McDowell said.
Next on McDowell’s list is the Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association Futurity in Denver, which takes place in a week. “I’ve got a couple of really great 3-year-olds, one of the best group of horses I’ve ever had. They’re some real superstars,” McDowell said.