A local horse overcame what its owner described as million-to-one odds to trot away with top honors at the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City, Mo., this week.
But then again, the owner also said that her horse is no ordinary animal.
El Honey Tauy, a 3-year-old half-Arabian mare wowed the judges and was named champion of the Half-Arabian Western Pleasure segment of the Arabian and Morgan horse show that ran through Monday.
And owner Shirley Funk still had not come down to earth when explaining the event Tuesday.
"I was on cloud nine the night she won," Funk said. "But now I'm down to about cloud seven."
DURING THE competition, which consists of the horse and its trainer putting it through its paces, a panel of judges rates the animal in the six areas of beauty, disposition, athletic ability, pedigree, breeding and charisma.
The Western Pleasure category is distinguished by the western type of saddle used in the performance, during which the rider demonstrates different types of pleasure-riding techniques.
Funk said her buckskin-colored horse garnered high ratings in all of the six areas because of her exceptional breeding and natural grace.
"It's really unusual that a three-year-old does what she does," she said. "A horse has to be born with that kind of ability. They usually have to be seven or eight years old before they get that kind of talent and consistency."
That talent consists primarily of the horse's demeanor and the manner in which it conducts itself, as though it knows that it is on display and that the judges are looking for evidence of characteristics in the six areas, she said.
FUNK SAID the best way she knew to describe her horse's abilities was by comparing it to a natural beauty queen who simply shows up at the pageant with no formal training and walks away with the crown and bouquet of roses.
She went on to explain that El Honey Tauy's exceptional abilities are the partial result of her breeding; her father was a noted full Arabian horse imported from Egypt, producing a more attractive and talented offspring, she said.
This year, El Honey Tauy has competed in 10 shows and about 30 events, prancing away with at least a top 10 finish in each event, Funk said.
Funk has owned horses and been involved in horse shows for several years, which she said is a costly and time-consuming venture. She said it was about time one of her investments came through as one of the best in its class.
"I've been to umpteen horse shows and invested a lot of time and money in these horses," she said. "Now, I'd like to recoup some of the money I've put into them."
AND ALL indications are that Funk will have a chance to do just that through prizes and money awarded at future shows.
Larry Beethe, El Honey Tauy's trainer from Kansas City, Mo., also spoke very highly of the horse's abilities.
"This is without a doubt, the best three-year-old Western Pleasure horse we've ever had in training," said Beethe, who has been training horses for 12 years.
Beethe also spoke of El Honey Tauy's stunning natural ability, commending her on her advanced intelligence and the way she quickly takes to what he teaches her.
"She was able to take this much training in a period of one year," he said, adding that at the American Royal, El Honey Tauy was competing against older horses that had had considerably more training. "She was the youngest horse competing, but she has attained marvelous levels and this is only her first year of performance training."
THE HORSE captured an even bigger victory recently at a Fort Worth, Tex., show, where she competed against the best 3-year-olds in the country, Beethe said. There, she was named reserve champion, making her the second best 3-year-old western pleasure horse in the nation, he said.
Beethe went on to say that Funk's horse was exceptional also because of her buckskin color, which is rarely found in a half-Arabian and helps draw all eyes to El Honey Tauy.
"Her color is just icing on the cake," Beethe said. "It really makes her stand out from the others."
El Honey Tauy's next stop on the show circuit is Arizona, where she will compete in February. Beethe said the Arizona show would really test the horse's ability because it is the largest Arabian horse show in the world, with more than 2,000 entries.
Nonetheless, Beethe predicted big things for El Honey Tauy in the near future.
"I'D SAY she is the top prospect in western 3-year-olds to be national open champion," he said.
Other Douglas County entrants have brought home honors from the American Royal since it opened last Saturday. The entrants, their category of competition and placing are:
Kathleen Dahl, Lawrence, first, second, third, fifth and sixth places in Morgan horses;
Corky and Jim Kearney, Lawrence, Arabian English Pleasure, third place; William and Julia Smith, Eudora, Arabian Western Pleasure, third place; Randy Foster, Polled Hereford females, second and fifth places, and Polled Hereford junior heifers, two second places;
Rocky Swearingen, Lawrence, a first and three thirds in four sheep categories; William Vesecky, Baldwin, sheep, second and reserve grand champion; Carol Racine, Linwood, fourth and fifth in Morgan horse.
The American Royal runs through next Saturday.