The western pleasure arena will be different without A Certain Vino

Darcy Reeve with A Certain Vino

When a legendary athlete retires, his team retires his jersey.

When a multiple-time World Champion Western Pleasure horse retires, his team retires his shoes.

A Certain Vino’s (Vino) four horseshoes were ceremoniously pulled during a retirement celebration held during the AQHA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City this past November.

“There’s no doubt that Vino is the Michael Jordan of the western pleasure horse industry,” said Alex Ross, who just retired as the American Quarter Horse Association’s Senior Director of Judges.

The odds of owning a horse that has been as successful as Vino is kind of like winning the lottery, one in about 14 million.

“I have no idea how we were so lucky to own one so dominant. Every ride was like a new dream come true,” said Vino’s owner, Darcy Reeve.

Since 2007, the black gelding has amassed 15 AQHA World Championships, 14 in Western Pleasure and one in Amateur Western Riding.

Winning countless Congress Championships, High Point, and National Snaffle Bit Association World titles, Vino is also the highest NSBA money earner of all-time, having recorded more than $192,000 in National Snaffle Bit Association earnings, more than $56,000 in AQHA World Show earnings, and more than $17,000 in AQHA Incentive fund money earnings. His total lifetime cumulative earnings total more than $400,000. He was also named the NSBA Horse of the Year in 2009.

“A Certain Vino is the best Western Pleasure horse to have lived. In my lifetime, I doubt I’ll see another horse like him,” said Gary Trubee, NSBA judge monitor.

With 50 plus years in the Western Pleasure business as an exhibitor, breeder and judge, Trubee believes it was not only Vino’s talent and confirmation that made him so successful, but the team of people that surrounded him.

“He was blessed to have good trainers and a partnership with his owner that allowed his natural talent and conformation to shine,” Trubee said.

Vino’s longtime trainers Karen and Ty Hornick of Jamestown, Ohio describe his career as a Cinderella story.

Karen Hornick with A Certain Vino.

“There have been times when I’ve walked by his stall through the years and pinched myself. It’s been like a fairytale having the world’s greatest pleasure horse standing in my barn. I’ve been so blessed,” she said.

For years to come exhibitors, breeders and trainers alike will talk about Vino and the lasting impact he has had on the Western Pleasure industry. From the first time he walked into the show pen as a longe line prospect, until his final exit through the out-gate at the 2016 World Championship Show, he was expressive, his ears forward, illustrating how much he loved his job.

“The amazing part to me, and one of the main reasons he has been rewarded with so many wins, is that he is not only an exceptional mover, but he also carries the bridle well. He is responsive, but not intimidated and has continued to be that way from his 2-year-old year until now,” Ross said.

The horse that almost wasn’t

If it hadn’t been for the sage advice of AQHA trainer Steve Heckaman, Vino may never have been foaled. When Tim and Lou Petty of Ocala, Florida purchased Vino’s sire, Certain Potential, they planned to have him gelded. He was supposed to be their son’s horse. Heckaman knew the stud’s bloodlines and encouraged the Pettys to consider a career in the breeding shed instead. The stallion “retired” to the breeding shed after his 3-year-old year.

That career change paid off in the middle of the night on April 22, 2003. That night is forever etched in Lou’s mind. Dotevita (Vino’s dam), gave birth to the funny colored dark stud colt, a color she still describes as wet cement.

“I came back in the house at two in the morning and told my husband, we just had the most beautiful stud colt born, but I couldn’t figure out what color he was,” she said.

Certain Potential was a bay, and Dotevita was sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail. The Pettys did not expect Vino’s dark coloring, but as it turned out Dotevita went on to have other black foals after Vino, including the stallion, Nite Moves.

Even as a colt, Vino knew he was destined for greatness.

“He was always balanced, great legged, and we knew from very early on that he was something special,” Lou said. “He was always incredible. Even when he was just out in the field, he was always so natural and up in his shoulders.”

An air of importance reflected in his personality as much as in his stride.

A Certain Vino at the 2005 Reichert Celebration.

“He was a feisty stud colt. You didn’t want to always assume he was tame. You always had to respect him because he had some fancy front feet! He was always good to work around but he demanded for you to ask not tell,” she said.

Reeve echoed the sentiment.

“He knows that he is special.  He can be a bit of a brat to people who are always around him, but to anyone else who wanted to pet on him or love on him, he would eat into it. He LOVED the attention he got from his ‘fans,’” she said.

Hornick describes Vino as mischievous and compares him to a “bad little pony.”

“He would drag you around on the ground and nip you if you had your back to him,” she said.

But, under saddle, he always wanted to please.

“He was always trainable. Once you showed him something, he never forgot it,” she said.

Rise to the top

Vino’s show career started as a yearling in the Longe Line program. Gord Wadds was the first to show him in Open Longe Line where he won the Tom Powers and finished second with Lou in the Non-Pro division the first time she had ever shown in the event.

“We had some people price him as a yearling but the deal didn’t go through so we just decided to keep him and see what he’d do as a 2 –year-old,” she said.

Vino’s first show under saddle was at the 2005 Reichert Celebration. There he won the $250,000 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure Challenge, and he went on to win the Congress that year in the Non-Pro 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure Futurity with Lou. The assumption was that he would also go on to win the 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure World Championship that year. Instead, he ended up as Reserve World Champion with Stanley Ryan aboard.

“I think finishing second caused more conversation than if he had won,” Petty reminisced.

It was at the AQHA World Show that Lee Reeve, Darcy’s father, asked if the Pettys would consider selling Vino. He purchased the gelding and Vino has remained with the family ever since.

A new chapter

Although Reeve and Vino are an inseparable pair, she didn’t ride him until nearly a year after her family purchased him.

“My sister stole him from me for the first year,” Reeve laughed.

Darcy with Vino at the AQHA World Show.

She remembers knowing that Vino was a nice horse, but it wasn’t until she rode him that she discovered just how special he was.

“There’s never been another horse who feels like he does,” she said.

Perhaps even more remarkable than his unprecedented victories and that he has remained with one family since 2005, is the fact that he has also remained with one trainer. Vino has been under Karen Hornick’s guidance since the Reeves purchased him.

“The first time I ever rode him, I remember that he just felt so strong,” she said. “He was so sure of where his feet were. He centered up and never wavered underneath you. It was like nothing I’ve felt with any other horse.”

Mid-way through his show career, he went to Charlie Cole of High Point Performance Horses to pick up a new discipline, Western Riding. And Hornick believes the addition of this event contributed to his longevity.

“Western Riding was great for him. Once our pleasure horses are trained we don’t go slow every day and Western Riding encourages the horses to go forward,” she said.

When it was time for Reeve to move-up from Youth to Amateur, Vino took it in stride, making the transition easy for his rider. She was already confident that he could compete with any horse in any division.

“I think showing in the Maturities as a Youth and into Amateur made the transition so easy because I had already competed against the best of the best in every age group,” Reeve said.

Regardless of the division or the show, Vino stepped into every class loving it as much as the one before it.

“He wasn’t a machine. I know that a lot of people want a machine, but I loved having to work for the rides,” Reeve said.  “Vino never wanted to be bad in the show pen, but he thrived off of the challenge to make him better while in the show pen. He wanted you to tell him what to do instead of just packing us around.”

Maintaining a natural expression has in large part sealed many of Vino’s top finishes.

“Through the years he still exhibits expression when shown. He’s not robotic and that sets him apart from many other horses. That’s what makes him unique,” Ross said.

To this day the Pettys are two of Vino’s largest cheerleaders.

“There is no greater testament to a trainer than when a horse loves his job even after years in the show pen,” Lou said. “Every time Vino entered the pen his ears were straight forward.”

The Pettys have remained friendly with the Reeves and sought Vino out at the bigger events. The Pettys are extremely proud of raising Vino and cherish all the AQHA Breeder’s plaques his winnings have generated.

“We were able to give him a good start and feel fortunate that he’s had such a great life since,” Lou said.

Dreams do come true

Reeve credits Vino with making so many of her dreams come true. But, if she had to pick just one that stands out from the rest, she admits her most prized accomplishment came at the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show.

“My favorite accomplishment was winning Western Riding at the 2011 AQHA World Show. He was still pretty green and the youngest in that finals go. Everything just came together at the right time,” she said.

The win in Western Riding cinched the Reserve All-Around World Champion title for the team.

“It was so surreal because most people in the top five there compete in multiple classes very competitively. We only competed in two, so to be able to achieve something so prestigious was very special,” she said.

Hornick agreed that Vino created so many memorable moments that it was hard to select a “favorite.” But, she admitted the 2008 AQHA World Championship Show will always stand out in her mind. That year, Hornick won the Junior Western Pleasure World Championship aboard Vino AND the Senior Western Pleasure World Championship aboard Potential Diva, Vino’s full sister.

“It was really special that brother and sister conquered the world in that event the same year,” she said.

Karen Hornick and Vino after winning the Senior Western Pleasure at the 2016 Congress.

For more than a decade, Vino has been unstoppable.

“From an exhibitor’s standpoint, horses don’t usually last this long. Vino is remarkable not only for his talent, but for his longevity and his willingness to continue performing,” Trubee said.

At the 2016 AQHA World Championship Show Vino proved that he’s still in undeniably the best, winning the Senior Western Pleasure with Hornick and claiming the Amateur Western Pleasure Reserve World Championship with Darcy. Proving that he is still unbeatable, the Reeves decided that now was the time to retire him.

“The past couple of years he suffered some injuries. They were nothing detrimental, but just enough to have to baby along at shows,” Reeve said. “We were confident that he could have gone on and be competitive for many more years, but at this point in his career, it was important to us to allow him to finish at the top and that he really deserved retirement.”

And going out on top is just what he did. Vino and his fans celebrated with not one, but two parties. The first was a “Vino” and cheese party after he won the Senior Western Pleasure.

“That was an incredible way to celebrate his win, and a fun celebration of his career.  The second was a dinner with Vino being front and center,” Reeve said

The official retirement ceremony was right after the western pleasure finals and right before the Western Riding finals.  Both events were open to the entire public at the world show so both attracted large crowds.

“Having a horse in the Western Riding, my mind was there trying to mentally prepare.  It wasn’t until my final lap on him that it hit me.  It took me back to all the victory laps, and accomplishments done in that arena.  It was surreal,” Reeve said.

Following the AQHA World Show, Vino returned to the Hornick’s barn Ohio where he will spend the winter. Keeping him close to his farrier and veterinarian will help make the transition into retirement go smoothly. Hornick admits that even though she’ll still see him every day for now, that come show season, she’s really going to miss him.

“It’ll be hard not putting him on the trailer. I got a little spoiled knowing that every time I loaded him, we had a good chance at winning,” she said. “I’m happy the Reeves retired him while he is happy and in good health.”

Once spring arrives, he’ll move to the Reeve’s barn in Kansas where he’ll have access to big stalls, run-ins, and pastures and eventually, he’ll be giving rides to Reeves’ nieces and nephews.

“They were so smart to retire Vino at the top,” Lou said. “Everyone is going to miss seeing him in the show pen, but I hope he enjoys his well-deserved retirement.”

“It was amazing seeing people meet Vino and love on him. It was a perfect sendoff for the industry,” she said.

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