AHT’s April Leader Of The Times
Leaders Of The Times: Eleanor’s Arabian Farm
by MARY KIRKMAN
Eleanor Hamilton has been an award-winning breeder of working western, reining, and western pleasure horses for more than 35 years, so it might come as a surprise to those who watched her collect yet another honor at Scottsdale this year (Built By Peppy’s APAHA Half-Arabian Working Western Horse of the Year) that her first priority is not really show honors. She appreciates the ribbons, trophies and recognition, no question, but her first thought is that Built By Peppy and his barn mates know how to do a job: not just be a working cow horse in the show ring, but be able to do the job on a ranch as well.
“They’re working horses first,” nods Lance Scheffel, who trains Hamilton’s working cow horses at his farm in Rice Lake, Wis. “Then they’re show horses.”
In practice, that means that Scheffel’s mission is two-fold. When Hamilton’s horses come to him, some have learned their basic skills (they know their leads, can lope in circles, etc.), while others need to start at the beginning. He works with them in the training pen first and then expands their horizons.
“As soon as we get a direction on them—we can steer them, stop them, guide them—they go out and start working,” he says. They check pastures and fences, gather cattle and bring them in, pony colts, cross rivers, walk over bridges, and more. “It’s like going back to the days before you had four-wheelers and helicopters.”
The net result? “When they compete at horse shows, they’ve performed the maneuvers outside many times,” he explains. “In the show ring, it’s kind of easy for them.”
Scheffel sees a subtle but important difference in the horses’ mentality after their hooves-on experience. “To me, it gives them a true confidence that they know their job,” he says. “Yes, I taught them to do it, but this way, they know there’s a reason behind it all. All those maneuvers we do in the horse show world—stop a cow on the end, or go fast and do a slide, or stop and rollback—were developed back when the true cowboys and vaqueros were using their horses.”
It was Scheffel who trained Built By Peppy to his 2016 award. The trainer first received prospects from Hamilton five years ago, when she decided to add cow horses to her reining and western pleasure programs; the first representatives of the new venture are Built By Peppy and Zee China Doll.
Built By Peppy, a 7-year-old chestnut overo gelding, stormed through the U.S. Nationals in 2015 with championships in the Half-Arabian Working Cow Horse Futurity and the Half-Arabian Working Cow Horse Junior Futurity. A year later, he and Scheffel followed it up by winning the Working Cow Horse Futurity again. The 6-year-old bay mare Zee China Doll, who came out in 2016, was named U.S. National Champion in the Half-Arabian Working Cow Horse Futurity and Reserve in the Half-Arabian Cutting Futurity (“she’s just a little mare, but she’s really, really good”).
Both represent a variation of the bloodlines Hamilton has used successfully over her decades as a breeder, on both the Arabian and Quarter Horse sides of their pedigrees.
“Built By Peppy is a true cow horse,” Scheffel observes. “He’s been that way since day one. He’s so fun to show and ride; I use him all the time at home. He eats and breathes and lives being a cow horse—he’s cow smart.
“The thing that attracts me to Eleanor and her business is that she will tell you that she started in the Sandhills of Nebraska on a cattle ranch,” he continues. “How honored could I be to have this heritage-ranching woman who says, ‘Hey, take my horses and let’s make them into real true cow horses’?”
Hamilton, who has been riding and showing her reining and western pleasure horses for years (she’s racked up several APAHA and AHT Readers’ Choice awards herself), would be touched to hear that. “The reason the working cow horses are important to me is that it’s the cows that got us all here in the first place,” she says when she’s asked why, at this point in time, she added a new dimension to her program. “I grew up on a ranch in Nebraska and my roots are still there—I can guarantee you that.”
She also would understand something else her trainer says of his profession when he recalls working for Benny Guitron, a member of the National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Fame, years ago. Good work is not just work; doing a job at its highest level brings its own kind of exhilaration. “Benny said, ‘There’s trained cow horses and there’s real cow horses,’” Scheffel reflects. “At first, I thought, ‘What’s the difference?’ But when you ride a real cow horse, there is something so cool and awesome about it—that horse reads a cow and knows what that cow is going to do almost before it does it. And all you have to do is be on top and be along for the ride.”