“Please Make My Check Out To My Husband”

By Jennifer Wenzel
“Please make my check out to my husband.” How many of us would love to repay our husband, our wife, our significant other, our parents or our friends for their undying love and support for our own personal journey.  A journey that not only encompasses many years of hard work and sacrifice, but many hours spent on the road to fulfill that dream.

But that is exactly what Nancy Slater; the American Competitive Trail Horse Association 2013-2014 Open Champion who along with her Quarter Horse mare Shaman earned $7,000 from Cavallo’s Year end awards pot, a new saddle from Tucker Saddles worth $2,500+ and the respect of all whom competed against her in ACTHA stated when she was told of her accomplishment.  So serious was she about repaying her husband that she actually sent her check back to Cavallo to be reissued in her husband’s name.
But Nancy didn’t start off to become ACHTA’s open champion; she had other plans for her little mare. An experienced horsewoman in her own right Nancy was looking for a "clean slate" when she bought Shaman as an untouched 2 year old.  She wanted a filly and a Quarter Horse, "America's Favorite Breed", to join her family of rescues; a mule, a Breeding Stock Paint, and 2 young Florida Cracker horses.  Color didn’t matter; she’s a red bay with a star and soft eye.  As Nancy says “she was a bargain because I bought her from a man breeding duns, and she wasn't one!  Shaman was my first "don't have to fix a lot of issues" kind of horse.  She went forward quickly with me starting and developing her using the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Method.” Nancy originally planned on training Shaman for reining, but after a half day at her first and only reining clinic she pulled her saddle off and found a hole in her withers the size of a silver dollar.  
Unable to find a saddle which would fit her unusually round back and withers Nancy decided to pursue a different course, one that wouldn’t be so demanding on Shaman’s back. I, as many others applaud Nancy’s decision to put her horse’s needs and well fair over her own goals.
Thus began her journey into competitive trail riding.  As a three year old, Shaman won her first Competitive Trail Challenge.  Searching for more Nancy discovered an ACTHA event in Okeechobee, an hour away.  Again Shaman won in the Pleasure Division at age four.  After two more wins and prior to the start of the 2013-2014 competitive season Nancy decided it was time to move five year old Shaman up to the Open Division.  Over the course of the season, Shaman and Nancy attended 40 rides, traveling all over Florida, competing in their last 5 rides in Tennessee.
Nationals were not on Nancy’s radar, training her horse was.  As most people discover they and their horse develop over the course of the season, regardless of the discipline.  
After each ride Nancy and Shaman would go home with something to work on, homework.  While Nancy and Shaman have their most entertaining obstacle in the hat pick up, they also had their most challenging obstacle, backing up and stepping onto a ledge.   Nancy had not prepared Shaman to step up backwards onto something about a foot to 18 inches high.  At the challenge, she backed up and felt it with her hoof, turned to look at me as if to say, "I can't go any further!"   We went home and practiced backing up into the stock trailer, ditches, logs- you name it!  Now she can!  But that was only part of Nancy and Shaman’s homework.  Shaman started the season terrified of barns!!  
If ACTHA had a barn obstacle they would have been in trouble!  Every other horse was fine.  As a ranch raised horse, pastures and cows are what Shaman knows.  It took her an entire season to get over her fear of all those scary stalls and figure out that she would live through the night!  But at the last event, she walked confidently into the barn, and basically proclaimed, "I got this!"  Phew!!  Nothing like exposure and experiences to round your horse out!  It was this work ethic and putting sound principles together that allowed Nancy and Shaman to create a lasting bond of trust and leadership.
While sitting in her pajamas looking at the ACTHA website Nancy told her husband all the top finalists were headed to Tennessee.  The response from her devoted husband and constant supporter was “let’s go!”  It was a long 15 hour trip, not only did Don drive both ways but he was Nancy’s groom and grazer.  This along with many other reasons is why Nancy INSISTED her winning check from Cavallo be made out to her husband to offset his financial and emotional support.  As Nancy says “the trip was well worth it, the trails are beautiful, we even climbed up to a waterfall on the mountain.  My little barefoot, flatlander mare was awesome!  Shaman pulled up her big girl pants, traversing the Smoky Mountains at the end of May.”
Tens of thousands of entries happened in ACTHA’s competitive season and Nancy exhibited pure sportsmanship and a willingness to help anyone she encountered.  When asked what she thought was the highlight of her year besides winning Nationals, Nancy said “it was inspiring people and helping them, watching them do things with their horses that they didn't think possible!  Meeting new friends (that I have become very connected to), seeing their relationship with their horses improve, and watching them and their horses WIN!  ACTHA develops horses and horsemanship.  As a teacher, that is the stuff turns me on!!”
This was our first year in competition, we had saddle issues, personal setbacks, but without fail, I had the time of my life!  I have always felt that anything worth doing is worth doing well.  My mother who had always been my other constant supporter passed this year.  She had been in a nursing home for 5 years, following Shaman's and my journey together since I bought her.  She actually went into hospice while I was on an ACTHA ride.  She was so proud of the horsewoman I had become, and of the sweet horse I had developed.  Horses are a gift.  I would always tell my mother, "Thank you, Mama for buying me Scout" (my first horse at age 4).  What a ride it's been!!
When told of Nancy’s accomplishment Linda and Pat Parelli were thrilled. “We [Pat and Linda] are very proud of Nancy for her recent accomplishment of becoming the ACTHA 2013-2014 Champion. Nancy is a 2-Star Parelli Professional and has certainly proved her training and expertise in this competition.  Of over 25,000 rider entries, we couldn’t be happier that Nancy showcased the power of love, language, & leadership to achieve her success!  A few years ago, Nancy brought her challenging mule, Josh, to some private sessions with Linda.  Her breakthroughs were phenomenal and it was not long after that she decided to pursue her dream as a Parelli Professional.  These words from Nancy still echo strongly to us:  "I've truly never met anyone with more heart then you, if there's anything I could ever do for YOU, please know I'm there!"  Well, Nancy, you are THERE!  Thank you for flying the Parelli flag and being such a great example.  ACTHA is the perfect venue for Parelli students to challenge what they're learning and apply them.  
ACTHA and Parelli couldn’t ask for a more deserving and inspiring poster child.  We are all very proud of Nancy, a true horsewoman, who supports ACTHA’s motto of “Serious Fun..Casual Competition” and believes in ACTHA’s mission that all horses need a job.
For more information on ACTHA and to see how you can become involved in our mission to end equine unemployment please visit www.actha.us.