The remarkable mare Kellies Chick died unexpectedly November 29, 2016, due to a sinus infection that developed rapidly into meningitis.
With a heart as big as her 16.2-hand frame, “Skye” radiated a larger-than-life presence felt among all who shared in her extraordinary talents. The 2008 brown mare by Darkelly and out of The Skye Chick by Fiesta In The Sky earned $312,944 during her fruitful, yet tragically unfinished, career with several of the most respected names in barrel racing. Skye was most recently owned by Busby Quarter Horses and ridden by Andrea Busby.
“Skye made lots of people’s dreams come true,” Andrea said. “She came into this world her own way, and she went out her own way. Horses like that carry themselves differently—being around them is the best part. We miss her every day—the everyday stuff.”
Skye ran AAA on the track, boasting a speed index of 98. She transitioned to the arena when barrel horse trainer Cody Hyde convinced Kelly Conrado of Hudson, Colorado, to purchase her as a 3-year-old in 2011. Though Conrado initially enlisted Hyde’s help to find a AAA Darkelly broodmare, Hyde talked Conrado into the filly instead.
“I told him, ‘Why can’t a 3-year-old turn into a broodmare?’” Hyde said. Hyde worked with Skye that winter and had her ready for the futurities by April 2012. But Conrado wasn’t fully convinced—he thought Skye was too big and heavy-footed. Early in Skye’s futurity year, Conrado suggested taking the cumbersome mare home and sending Hyde a different horse.
“I already knew what she was worth. I convinced Kelly to let me keep her—I could just feel it,” Hyde said. “To warm her up, she felt like a dump truck or a piece of heavy equipment. As soon as she went down the alleyway, it became light and easy—I could have her right there in my hands. When you have a big strong horse that can move like a little horse and is athletic, that’s a magic combination.”
Skye won more than $26,000 with Hyde in the saddle during her futurity year. She became known for her effortless, ground-covering stride and ability to drop into the turn like a horse half her size. Though Skye’s attitude grew notorious later in her career, Hyde remembers her as a kind, trainable horse.
“It’s unfortunate and it makes me feel bad, because it seems like she got a bad reputation, but the Kellies Chick I knew was always a sweetheart. I think that’s worth saying,” Hyde said. “I’m sorry for all her connections, and I’m grateful she was a part of my career.”
Ivy Conrado campaigned Skye in 2013 before the Conrados sold her to Charlie Cole and Jason Martin of Highpoint Performance Horses in Pilot Point, Texas, in the summer of 2013. Skye’s talent blossomed in the rodeo arena with the McLeod family. Now four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Michele McLeod took Skye’s reins to ease the pressure off her main horse, Slick By Design, also owned by Highpoint.
“I shipped Skye home to [Whitesboro,] Texas, because I was out on the road for my first summer rodeoing,” said Michele, who qualified for her first NFR in 2013. “Katelyn (McLeod), my oldest daughter, started riding her. We knew Skye was young and had been doing pretty good, but we didn’t expect her to step up the way she did.”
Skye won nearly $49,000 in 2013 between Ivy, Michele and Katelyn. However, an accident with Skye in December 2013 shattered several bones in Michele’s face. Despite Michele’s shaken confidence, Skye rocketed into the best year of her career, winning $119,383 in 2014. Katelyn and Skye placed second in The American Rodeo semifinals in February 2014, and Michele’s youngest daughter, Lindsey McLeod, jockeyed the mare to the 2014 National High School Finals Rodeo barrel racing championship. Michele and Skye set the arena record at Nampa, Idaho, and won or placed at multiple professional rodeos. Michele says Skye’s ability to win with multiple riders was a testament to the mare’s raw talent.
“It’s a credit to that mare that everybody who ran her could win. It shows you what a true, phenomenal athlete she was,” Michele said. “You look at these phenomenal horses who do extra and above phenomenal things, and it has to be within their own heart. She didn’t have to do everything she did, but she did it. She was a big mare, but she was just as good in tiny pens as she was in big pens. To me, that’s an incredible athlete.”
“The Warhorse,” as the McLeods affectionately dubbed Skye, further proved her athleticism in the Thomas and Mack Center at the 2014 NFR with Michele. Skye clocked the fastest time of the entire NFR, a 13.66, to win Round No. 5. The pair won $62,831 at the 2014 NFR. Skye’s spectacular performance in Las Vegas helped Michele finish fourth in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings. Michele adds that Skye opened many doors for her family’s success in rodeo.
“She was the first horse to win a round at the NFR for me, and then to have the fastest time was unbelievable,” Michele said. “Every day, I feel blessed to ride the horses I ride and say I was able to spend a few years with her and win on her and be around her and have her live with me. She gave our family a lot of opportunities.”
Skye also joined an elite club of horses to qualify three riders for The American Rodeo semifinals in one year. Michele and Lindsey each received exemptions to the 2015 semifinals, and Skye qualified Katelyn again by winning a qualifier race. That year, Michele rode Skye to the fastest time in The American Rodeo long round but dragged a barrel over in the Shoot Out finals.
The indomitable Warhorse earned $101,563 in 2015 with Michele and Katelyn. Her undeniable talent drew the interest of Jeff and Andrea Busby, owners of Busby Quarter Horses, one of the industry’s premier breeding programs. “I asked Jason and Charlie several times to buy an embryo out of Skye, because we own Blazin Jetolena and I thought she would be an amazing cross,” Andrea said. “They weren’t interested in selling any embryos, and I don’t know if they were kidding or not, but they said, ‘If you want the embryo, buy the horse.’”
Busby Quarter Horses purchased Skye in the fall of 2015, and Andrea remembers being shocked by how sluggish the mare felt.
“The first time I rode her I thought, good Lord, she’s heavy-footed. I thought this couldn’t be the Skye that won so much,” Andrea said. “But when it came time, she was dirty tough.”
In only their second, third and fourth runs together, Andrea and Skye won the average at the 2015 Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo, qualifying for the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Kissimmee, Florida. Andrea won $16,942 on Skye in 2016.
“She was fast, but I don’t think that’s where she really out-clocked people,” Andrea said. “For as big as she was, she could stick a hind leg up under her and come around really quick. Holy moly, for a 16.2-hand horse, what she could do had an awesome feel.”
Andrea’s favorite memories with Skye have nothing to do with winning barrel races or rodeos.
“Going to the barn every morning and seeing her—she’d nicker at you in the mornings when you came to her stall. I spent time with her every day,” Andrea recalled through tears. “There were moments she was not always fun to be around, but her quirks made her who she was. She loved to go out in her pen and run and buck and play, and when she was ready to come in, she’d let us all know. She had everybody at the ranch trained.”
The space Skye left in the hearts of the Busby family may never be filled, but her charisma lives on in the memories she left behind with all who were lucky enough to share her time on Earth.
“I’m grateful to have had the chance to love her, grateful for the chance to run her, the things she taught me, places she took me,” Andrea said. “Some days I want to feel sorry for myself and be sad, but I still know it was an honor and a privilege to have her, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BHN.