2002 NCHA Eastern National Championships Widows Freckles scores a double

Widows Freckles, owned by Dr. Robert and Debbie Middleton, of Summit, MS, made a clean sweep of the 2002 NCHA Eastern National Championships on March 22, in Jackson, MS. The 9-year-old stallion won the non-pro division under Lauren Middleton, 16, then came back one set of cattle later to take the open under ...Widows Freckles, owned by Dr. Robert and Debbie Middleton, of Summit, MS, made a clean sweep of the 2002 NCHA Eastern National Championships on March 22, in Jackson, MS. The 9-year-old stallion won the non-pro division under Lauren Middleton, 16, then came back one set of cattle later to take the open under ...

Story originally posted by: Sally Harrison

Widows Freckles, owned by Dr. Robert and Debbie Middleton, of Summit, MS, made a clean sweep of the 2002 NCHA Eastern National Championships on March 22, in Jackson, MS. The 9-year-old stallion won the non-pro division under Lauren Middleton, 16, then came back one set of cattle later to take the open under Austin Shepard. It was just the second time in the event’s 26-year history that one horse captured both championships in the same year – Handle Bar Jane accomplished the feat in 1996.

"I was a little nervous because I know he’s such a good horse and I had a really good chance," said Lauren, who scored 222 points for her win over second-placed Jim Johnson, with 220. This was just the second time Lauren has shown Widows Freckles; she also rode him to win the 2001 NCHA Summer Spectacular Junior Youth Scholarship Cutting.

Shepard claimed a decisive 225-point win over four riders who tied for reserve with 219 points each. "The second cow acted like it was starting to get mad," said Shepard, referring to his Finals run. "It was getting closer and closer and not respecting my horse. It tried to trick him and I could fell him just drop down and start moving his head back and forth, trying to figure it out. He was trying really hard.

"I don’t think he knows anybody is up there no matter who is riding him," added Shepard, who is well over six feet compared to the petite Lauren Middleton. "When you get a cow in front of him and he gets serious about what he’s doing, he’s going to get the job done. He has a lot of heart."

Widows Freckles arrived for the show just a day before the go-rounds, after having bred mares that morning. His first crop of foals are 2003 three-year-olds, including Shepard’s favorite pick for the 2003 NCHA Futurity.

Shepard, who was 2001 Eastern National $3,000 Novice Champion riding Missis Trona, has shown Widows Freckles for the past two years. Robert Middleton, who purchased the Freckles Playboy son in 1999, rode him to win the 1999 Southern Futurity Non-Pro Classic. Widows Freckles also won the 1999 Eastern National Championship $10,000 Novice title under trainer Robert Rust.

Lauren Middleton, daughter of Robert and Debbie, was 2001 NCHA Junior Youth World Champion. She placed tenth among the 2002 NCHA Non-Pro Top 15 and rode Colonels Lil Pepper in the 2002 World Finals this past February.

In a National Championship Finals first, four horses tied for Open Reserve Champion: Unos Smart Alma, ridden by Evan Wells; Scratchin, ridden by Jo Ellard; Vibrant Docogold, ridden by Mark Mills; and Miss Genuine Ote, ridden by Todd Gann.

If there was a pattern to this year’s event, it was the dominance of young riders in all divisions. Like Lauren Middleton, Co-Reserve Open Champion Evan Wells, 16, and also participates in the Youth division.

"It felt pretty good to qualify in the Open," said Wells, whose father, trainer Gaylon Wells, qualified two horses for the Open Finals. "It was a last minute deal. We had a horse that needed to be ridden, so I got to step up and I was glad they asked me to do it."

Rachel Johnson, whose father, Jim Johnson, took reserve in the Non-Pro Finals, as well as the $10,000 Novice Non-Pro, was another young rider who gave the adults a run for their money. Riding her 10-year-old mare Finally Got Smart, Rachel, a 16-year-old high school student from Lewisburg, WV, won the $50,000 Amateur division and was reserve in the $20,000 Non-Pro. Rachel is a former Eastern National Championship Junior Youth Champion.

Sutton Eddings, 18, claimed the $2,000 Limit Rider championship on Rude N Sassy, a former Eastern National Open Champion. Sutton, who lives in Somerville, TX, grew up in the world of rodeo competition and counts steer and calf roping among her regular events. She took up cutting, now her favorite sport, less than two years ago.

Yet another young rider to garner a 2002 division championship was Jill Farmer, who won the $10,000 Amateur on Freckles Half Acre. Jill, who started riding cutting horses two years ago, is an accounting major at the University of Louisiana.