Article by Bridget Kirkwood; Photo by Bit By The Sun Photography
Leslie Willis & The Country Corona No Bull Grand Slam #2.
Leslie Willis has always had faith in The Country Corona. While the 10-year-old gelding was slow to come into his own, that faith was finally repaid at the No Bull Grand Slam #2 in Lexington, Virginia, where the pair ran the fastest time of the Shootout to bank the champion’s check worth $5,000 and win a Double J Saddle.
“He’s such a neat horse and has been running well the past couple of months,” Willis said. “He’s a push-style horse so he’s fun and easy to ride.”
The Country Corona (The Corona x Sun Splashed Sky x Pie In The Sky) has been with Willis since he was a 2-year-old when his pedigree caught her eye. While he showed promise to go to the futurities, his earnings of $5,466 that year were a little disappointing.
“He never was a great futurity horse but since then he’s been around the farm and is so easy to ride now and is a dream to be around,” Willis said. “He actually had some lameness issues and it took us a long time to get them figured out and that’s the main reason that I still have him plus, he’s got a big heart to have come through all that.”
On Friday at the No Bull Grand Slam #2, Willis and The Country Corona ran a 14.790 to finish fourth, worth $907 in the 1D behind the fastest time of 14.625, which earned $1,452 by Jordan Harrell on Goodness And Mercy. Harrel came back on Saturday to have the fast time again, a 14.706, while Willis and The Country Corona were ninth earning $250 with a 14.931.
“We made a pretty good run the first night and then the second go it seemed like he was just a tick off,” Willis said.
The Shootout was run slowest to fastest and it was there that Willis and The Country Corona, who were the sixth to last pair out, excelled when they stopped the clock at 14.7 to win the championship.
“In the final round, it was just go all out and hope that everything fell like it was supposed to. I had to keep him moving forward in his pattern and he did—he did everything I asked him to do,” Willis said. “In those Shootouts, you have to go make your run and not worry about what happens with everyone else. If it’s your day than it’s your day but if it’s not, then maybe it will happen for you next time. There were a couple of faster times that hit barrels and we’ve all been in that situation as well, so I was lucky to have the fastest penalty-free time at the end.”
Willis, an Equi-Stat earner of $1,075,010, only rides The Country Corona, who now has Equi-Stat earnings of $21,074, about three times a week and that’s just to maintain his air.
“He doesn’t require a whole lot of riding and keeps himself fit by going out in a small paddock,” Willis said.
Based in Chester, South Carolina, Willis only had to drive four hours to Lexington but once she was there, she had to contend with the extremely cold weather.
“I had another horse just previous to him so I rode the other horse and ponied Corona to warm him up. I don’t even remember loping circles on him before I made my run, I just got him warmed up and fit from my other horse,” Willis said. “He’s a very laid back horse. He knows his job so it’s really just gong through the gate, pushing him and then staying out of his way.”
Willis always enjoys attending the No Bull Races but said that she couldn’t do it without her sponsors, Cox Veterinary Lab and Classic Equine.
Paige Sprinkle describes her 15-year-old gelding, Lucky Labor Day as a fairytale horse. Seven years ago the pair were just starting to gel and post 1D times when the horse broke his navicular bone. After an 18-month recuperation process that included stall rest and rehab, Lucky Labor Day came back with a vengeance.
“After he came back his times have got better and better,” Sprinkle said. “He’s out to prove something. He knows that he may be little but he can make it happen.”
At the No Bull Grand Slam #2, Lucky Labor Day and Sprinkle proved that they’ve still got what it takes when they ran a 15.213 to win the 2D Shoot Out and $3,500.
“That was a really interesting day for me,” said Sprinkle whose best friend, Carla Blankenship, had a mare that was due to foal . “I’d just got to Lexington and was feeding the horses and she called me and said the mare was having the baby. I left and went back to Shannon’s to help deliver the baby, made sure he was nursing and then went back to Lexington, ran, and then found out that we’d won the 2D. What a day, to deliver my best friend’s mare’s baby and to win—I looked like crap by the time they were taking the photos but I was happy.”
Sprinkle, Fincastle, Virginia, bought Lucky Labor Day when he was in training with Ducky Keller.
“I did a lot of work for Ducky when he was a 3-year-old. I would go clean his barn for him and do things like that. It was kind of a trade off,” Sprinkle said. “That year Ducky taught me how to run barrels and how to slow work them. He taught me everything I know and is the reason that I can run barrels and keep the horse sound and running as well as they have been.”
Sprinkle and Lucky Labor Day (Colored By Request x Bondamia x Buy Bonds Baby) aka “Leo” have enjoyed many big wins together including the 2012 All American Youth 2D championship earning $6,000, the 2013 1D NBHA Colonial Nationals for $2,382 and the 2014 NBHA 3D World championships, worth $3,484.
“When I got him I had another mare, Hope, that I was running. She was a good all-around horse but I got more serious about barrel racing when I came across Leo,” Sprinkle recalled. “There was a spark between us and something told me that he was meant to be mine. After a long, hard wait we made it happen and he’s been my little hero ever since.”
It’s Lucky Labor Day’s personality that Sprinkle loves best.
“He likes being a part of the conversation and interacting with everyone,” Sprinkle said. “He likes the attention to be on him.”
Sprinkle runs her own landscaping business as well as taking and in horses to break and start on barrels.
“I really enjoy being outside instead of being stuck in a building,” Sprinkle said. “I like to keep busy and I’m pretty consistent with the horses and the yard work but neither one takes up more time than the other.”
Sprinkle thanks Marcie Coiston for doing MagnaWave treatments on Leo as well as her farrier, Adam Gibson.
Melinda Yarbrough is a sucker for a black horse. When she saw Diamonds Peppy Lady advertised online as having had thirty days of reining training, she saw no reason why the mare couldn’t be a barrel horse.
“She was an in-your-pocket type of horse,” Yarbrough recalled of the then 3-year-old. “She was extremely lazy. She didn’t have any enthusiasm to work. She’d rather sit in the stall or be out in the pasture and eat—that was her favorite thing to do.”
Six years later Diamonds Peppy Lady still likes to eat but she also runs barrels.
“She’s extremely grumpy unless food is involved,” Yarbrough said, “but she’s the most funnest thing that I’ve ever sat on. It doesn’t matter if we have a good run or a bad run, people always laugh at me because even if I knock a barrel, I’m smiling ear to ear. I’m grateful that I own this horse and get to ride her, she’s so much fun.”
Yarbrough, 27, was smiling big when she and Diamonds Peppy Lady (Like A Diamond x Chicos Lady Jasmine x Summerschicobandito) aka “Marvin” ran a 15.706 to win the 3D Shootout at the No Bull Grand Slam #2 and $2,500. This is the single biggest check that Yarbrough has won.
“I was actually winning the 3D in the finals on my other horse, Fairlea Pepinic Babe and Marvin was in the 2D but then the fastest horse bumped Marvin into winning the 3D,” Yarbrough said. “It was very exciting. I got the big check, a Double J Saddle and a really cool light up sign that says, Grand Slam #2 3D Champion.”
Yarbrough’s journey to the barrel racing arena began slower than most. As a youth western pleasure competitor, she’s watched the speed events held at her shows.
“I used to drool over the girls and men who were going so fast,” Yarbrough said. “I decided that western pleasure really wasn’t that much fun any more. My mom, Carmen Yarbrough, did some cutting and reining and had mare that did all that so I hopped on her one day and started winging it. Ever since then I’ve been hooked and that’s all I’ve wanted to do.”
Yarbrough works for her parent’s drywall company, John DeGaetani Drywall, in the Richmond, Virginia, area. She also gives riding lessons to youth for barrel racing and western pleasure.
Travis Harr has never liked Tanners Hide but that’s never been an issue because the 14-year-old gelding is his wife Kandis Harr’s horse. At the No Bull Grand Slam #2 in Virginia, Tanners Hide rectified that situation when he ran a 16.72 to win the 4D Shootout and $1,500.
“He’s not my favorite horse at all. Me and that horse just don’t get along but it worked out in the end and he got me a 4D championship,” said Harr. “He qualified me into the Shootout in the 3D but he missed the first barrel in the finals which put us right for the 4D. When I saw the time I thought that was probably the place to be and it put me perfect.”
Tanners Hide has a different style to what Harr usually likes to ride.
“He’s trained more like a cutting horse and he’s got a few little quirks to him. He’s not terrible, he just doesn’t have the manners that my horses have,” Harr said.
While Travis puts up with Tanners Hide’s idiosyncrasies, Kandis loves her gelding. Having started a new job that prevented her from going to the No Bull Grand Slam #2, she asked Travis to take him so he’d stay fit and legged up.
“She wouldn’t take a million dollars for him,” Harr said. “She knew that I’d won before I did—she’d kept up with it on the app. She text me that I’d won and when she did that I thought she was kidding—there was no way I could have won it on that horse I don’t like that much.”
Harr, a power linesman, grew up going to barrel races with his dad. It was at a race, that he met Kandis. He and Kandis have 10 horses between them and still go to barrel races together.
“We go somewhere pretty much every weekend. We go to the local shows and the bigger shows like the No Bulls,” Harr said. “If Kandis can’t go then I go by myself.”
While Harr may not be Tanners Hide’s biggest fan, he can’t wait to order the Double J saddle that he won.
“I’m in dire need of a new saddle,” Harr said. “I sure am happy that they gave them away. I feel like that’s one of the best barrel races I’ve been to. The No Bull is doing a real good job with what they pay out and they get it done quick and the ground is good.”
What: No Bull Grand Slam #2
Where: Lexington, Virginia
When: March 23 – 25, 2018
Added Money: $30,000
1D: 1) Leslie Willis, The Country Corona, 14.7, $5,000; 2) Bobby Owen, So Call Me Maybe, 14.762, $1,956; 3) Timothy Butler, VF Big Star Bound, 14.781, $1,630; 4) Charley Fletcher, Do it toem Tex, 14.801, $1,358; 5) Jimmy Cagle, Dash D Hefa, 14.856, $1,086; 6) Sabra Moore, Beea Stash of Money, 14.857, $869; 7) Taylor Zbytek, Hanks Flyin Hope, 14.878, $652; 8) Emily Wilkins, TLS Little Lynx, 14.883, $435; 9) Tanner Shelton, Woodys Lil Diamond, 14.905, $380; 10) Jada Carlye, JJ Rocco, 14.913, $163; 10) Bobby Eisler-Jr, Red Sky In Heaven, 14.913, $163.00 .
2D: 1) Paige Sprinkle, Lucky Labor Day, 15.213, $3,500; 2) Timothy Butler, Winn Take Smart, 15.221, $1,492; 3) Taylor Dahl, Leetas Lil Thorn Bug, 15.227, $1,244; 4) Holly Longest, Sun Fun N fame, 15.233, $1,036; 5) Holly Longest, Fiesty Firewater, 15.242, $829; 6) Kayce Donahue, One Smart Smoke, 15.249, $663; 7) Chali Pinkston, Smart Catalina, 15.25, $497; 8) Ashlee Ponte, VF I Willbefamous, 15.258, $332; 9) Keegan Pollard, Omega Doc Leo, 15.267, $290; 10) Sabra Moore, Misty Doc Valentine, 15.282, $249.
3D 1) Melinda Yarbrough, Diamonds Peppy Lady, 15.706, $2,500; 2) Shannon Dotson, Docs Lady Dai, 15.721, $978; 3) Cade Edwards, Sac Bunt, 15.725, $815; 4) Brooke Nicely, Fast French Fame, 15.731, $679; 5) Morgan Henning, Alittlebitoffame, 15.741, $543; 6) Cody Baucom, Hottie, 15.744, $435; 7) Joshua Zook, Nexauvars Streakin GT, 15.756, $326; 8) Montana Silveous, Miss Nuggets Blue, 15.76, $217; 9) Melinda Yarbrough, Fairlea Pepinic Babe, 15.771, $190; 10) Stephanie Bain, Docs Wego, 15.785, $163.
4D: 1) Travis Harr, Tanners Hide, 16.72, $1,500; 2) Sarah Gagnon, Kamikaze Ozzie, 16.728, $720; 3) Savannah Goddeau, ER Warrior Cue, 16.748, $600; 4) Dani Hill, Downtown Streakin, 16.774, $500; 5) Amber Barnhart, Tears Bye Me, 16.805, $400; 6) Brooke Johnson, Royces Boy, 16.823, $280; 6) Ashley- Rae Smith, Iroc, 16.823, $280; 8) Randi Honaker, Wanta Be Like Mike, 16.865, $160; 9) Brooke Johnson, Smokin Hot Mercedes, 16.868, $140; 10) Emily Bernard, Norfleets Cherokee Dance, 16.906, $120.;