Cathy Starnes, Brenda Yates have been riding together for 50 years

Source: Text by Mackenzie Patterson

Brenda (left) aboard Extremely Late and Cathy riding Is It My Turn Yet.

A friendship that ignited with horse racing down dirt roads followed by a splash into the cow pond to cool off is 50 years old this year and showing no signs of fading. Brenda Yates and Cathy Starnes, of South Carolina both show on the AQHA and NSBA circuits and have been friends since they met in the 7th grade.

Brenda Yates remembers clearly when her friendship with Cathy Starnes started to form such a strong bond.

“I got my first horse a year after moving to Sumter where we grew up,” Yates said. “After school Cathy, some of our friends and I would round up and head to the barn to ride the hooves off our horses. If the sun was shining, we were racing down those dirt roads. I didn’t have a saddle, so I rode on one of my mom’s braided rugs.”

Starnes remembers that like it was yesterday.

“We used to race the Myrtle Beach traffic on Highway 378 near where we kept our horses. Then it was onto the cow pond for swimming,” she said. “Our parents did not know this!”

She has lots of other memories too.

I remember when Brenda’s mom and dad took us with our horses to Love Valley, North Carolina,” she recalled. “Brenda’s aunt owned the general store there and we had a great time being real cowgirls.”

And although those wild races turned into serious show competition against each other, Starnes and Yates say competing against each other has never been an issue.

Yates attributes the ease with which they have been able to maintain a close friendship while also being competitors to the era in which they grew up.

Cathy on her horse, George.

“We both showed 4-H and that really focuses on camaraderie,” she said. “It is not so much about winning, just the best you can do.”

Starnes got her start competing in 4-H shows when she was in the sixth grade.

“I remember riding my horse across town to the fairgrounds or he was sometimes jumped on the back of a friend’s truck with rails,” she explained.

Today both show on the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) circuit and at National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) futurity classes, under the guidance of Cathy’s son Jay and his wife, Kristy.

They turn practice sessions into more opportunities to connect.

To this day, they get together to ride and then have lunch.

“After the barn, we slip over to Cathy’s house, relive our ride, and talk about what we need to do. It really helps to have that feedback. I need a lot of reminders, so I like to ride often,” Yates said.

Starnes says it doesn’t matter if they have a good ride or not because they always end the day with a good visit.

“We are serious about being the best we can be, but we walk out of the gate buddies and have learned to appreciate how very blessed we are to do this,” she said.

Both ladies cherish their friendship more than the prize.

“We accept each other just like we are, flaws and all,” Starnes said. “I know I can count on my friend if I need her for anything.”

Yates said her friendship with Starnes is like having the sister she never had.

“Our friendship is genuine, it’s real. There is nothing fake about it. We are always perfectly honest and blunt with each other,” she said.

And it’s uncanny on how much they agree.

Ask either to talk about their most memorable time together outside of the horse show world and it will be their trip to Punta Cana in 2014 with their friend, Sally Rowe.

“We had the best time on the beach with no worries,” Yates said. “It was a fabulous time.”

And they also agree on the most memorable experience together at a horse show. It was when Yates’ horse, Extremely Late won the Congress Masters 2-Year-Old Western Pleasure in 2016 with Cathy’s son in the saddle.

“The Masters win was amazing,” Yates said. “Just having my friends there with me to celebrate that was wonderful.”

Starnes said that one of their good friends from 4-H days was also able to celebrate with them and their families after the Masters win.

“It was such a special time watching Jay win the Masters with Brenda’s horse,” said Starnes.

A clipping from an old newspaper article featuring both Cathy and Brenda.

Outside of horse shows, both Cathy and Brenda agree that the most important thing to them is spending time with their families.

“I have my husband Michael, my daughter Erin, my mom, and dad,” Brenda said. “We are a pretty small family, but very tight.”

Cathy and her husband, Jackie, will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this month.

“I skipped my college graduation to marry him,” she revealed.

Jay is their only child and he and Kristy have one son, Logan, who is just starting his own show career.

Both Starnes and Yates have retired, but they found out that they still needed activities to keep them busy.

Brenda is a retired nurse who, she claims, went to the dogs.

“I opened up a shop (in Sumter, South Carolina) 12 years ago and absolutely love grooming the dogs,” she said. “I can easily move my appointments around to accommodate horse shows.”

Cathy is a retired school teacher who now works as an insurance agent in her family business.

“I am enjoying my second career very much,” she said. “I also like digging in the dirt and having people over for cookouts and games at our house.”

But their passion is showing horses.

Brenda got her start competing in open shows first and then on to Appaloosas, where she was crowned the 1973 South Carolina Appaloosa Queen. She also showed Palominos before moving on to Quarter Horse competition.

She is looking forward to showing Extremely Late (Flynn), a 2015 bay gelding by Extremely Hot Chips and out of Flashin My Assets in 3-Year-Old Non Pro Western Pleasure and Amateur Select classes while Jay presents him in Junior Western Pleasure and Open 3-Year-Old classes.

“I came across Flynn one of those days I had been riding at Jay’s,” Brenda recalled. “I was watching Jay and Kristy ride around the arena with Aina Bittle and, all of a sudden, a colt caught my eye. It happened to be Aina’s colt. I later asked Kristy if the colt was for sale and she said, ‘I think he can be.’”

Cathy (left) and Brenda enjoying a day of fishing.

Extremely Late was vetted the next day and Yates purchased him the day after that, which happened to be her birthday as well as Bittles’.

“I have waited a lifetime for a horse like this,” she said. “I have never ridden a horse that feels like this. It is so surreal. I don’t know that I can do this horse justice, but I am going to give it a whirl. He is my dream. That is all I can say.”

They got off to a good start by being named Circuit Champions in Amateur Select Western Pleasure at the Martinganza Circuit in North Carolina last month.

Cathy started off the year showing Is It My Turn Yet, a 2013 bay mare by One Hot Krymsun and out of Hot Lopin Louise, in the AQHA Select and Non-Pro Western Pleasure Maturities. Together they were Circuit Champions in Amateur Select Western Pleasure at the Fox Lea Farms Winter Circuit in Venice Florida, in January and also won the Amateur Select Western Pleasure at the Fun In The Sun Circuit there.

“She got her name because I am always begging Jay and Kristy to ride the young ones that they break who are out of the mare I won the Congress on, Hot Lopin Louise. I am always asking, ‘Is it my turn yet?’” said Starnes.

There will be many more trips to the barn, many more lunches afterwards. And the ladies will hopefully enjoy a successful show season this year. But one thing you can count on – they will be having the time of their lives and making memories that will mark their friendship for many years to come.

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