A casual comment after the 2021 US Arabian Nationals led TX trainer Elise Ulmer a couple steps closer to one of her dreams—competing for the ultimate title at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions for the title of World's Greatest Horseman. Elise has competed at that event for several years, but had yet to take a run at the title of World’s Greatest Horseman.
Meanwhile, since it’s debut in 2019, Elise has been following the Art of the Cowgirl event, developed by Tammy Pate. The Art of the Cowgirl is much more than a competition. The mission statement on the Art of the Cowgirl website is as follows; “In order to encourage and assist emerging artists of the western genre, Art of the Cowgirl provides a showcase through an annual gathering that celebrates cowgirls and their artistic contributions to western lifestyle. In so doing, it raises the necessary funds to support emerging artists in expanding their knowledge and skills via fellowships with master artists in their field”.
But in addition to the mission as stated above, competitive events are a feature at Art of the Cowgirl—there's an All Women’s Ranch Rodeo, Cattle Dog Trial, Open Break Away Roping and the World’s Greatest Horsewoman. The World’s Greatest Horsewoman competition mirrors the NRCHA's World’s Greatest Horseman event in that competing for the title requires a single horse and rider team to compete in four events—Herd Work, Reining, Steer Stop and Fence Work. Quite at challenge and one requiring the utmost partnership between a horse and rider.
So what horse would Elise tap to be her mount for this event? Well, one option would be Hott Rockett, a mare that Elise raised from a foal and trained through her junior horse years earning six Half-Arabian National titles in Cutting, Reining and Working Cow.
But as happens when trainers own their own horses, Elise had found a new owner for Rockett and she spent time with other trainers including California trainer Mike McDaniel.
Then, in 2018 Tammy McDonald was looking for an Arabian or Half-Arabian for her daughters Fallon and River to compete with in Reined Cow at National High School Rodeo events and she reached out to Elise telling her to keep her eye open for an Arabian or Half-Arabian that could “run with the Quarter Horses”. As it happened, Elise had just heard that Hott Rockett might be available and told Tammy that she should make her move quick—which she did! Since then most of Rockett’s arena time was spent at NHSRA events, but by July of 2018 both Fallon and River brought home Arabian Youth National titles as well. Rodeo competition continued to be Rocket’s main focus, but in 2021 they again set their sights on Tulsa.
The National Championships in Tulsa, which reunited the team of Elise and Rockett, earned them the title of National Champion Half-Arabian Working Cow Open and a Top Ten in Herd Work with Fallon McDonald earning three more Top Tens. Elise says she’s always had a great rapport with Rockett and the fact that their National Champion title in October of 2021 was their first competition together since 2016 attests to that as well as to the quality of trainers that had swung a leg over Rocket in the interim.
Following Nationals, Rockett headed home to California to resume NHSRA competitions. With solid performances in Tulsa behind her and the Art of the Cowgirl in mind, Elise considered whether or not Rockett might be the horse to enter? AHA Championships are one thing—entering a high profile event that is dominated by Quarter Horses is another. That takes a certain kind of boldness. And then there was the Steer Stop event. The Steer Stop is pretty much like it sounds. The rider has 60 seconds to rope the steer and bring him to a complete halt facing the horse with the rope taut. Elise and Rockett had plenty of experience in the other three events, but neither had ever competed in a roping event. Both had played around with roping but breaking out of the box, being timed and stopping a running steer—nope.
Nonetheless, Elise had a lot of faith in what this game mare was capable of and when entries for Art of the Cowgirl came due on December 20th, it was Rockett’s name on the entry form. It's possible that Hott Rockett would be the first Half-Arabian to enter the event but it's difficult to say for sure. That's because "breed of horse" isn't something that's considered important in a competition like this. All that matters is if you can get the job done.
Once the decision was made, back in California Tammy’s husband John—a chiropractor by profession and roper by inclination—spent some time working on Rockett’s roping skills and while in Texas Elise practiced on other horses, spending as much time as she could bringing her roping skills up to competition level.
Elise crammed in as much roping practice as she could scheduling the trip to arrive in AZ a couple of days early to get some more roping practice with Mozaun McKibben.
In the end, Elise and Tammy’s faith in Hott Rockett+ was more than justified. Out of a field of 72 top competitors, Elise and Rocket ended up in the top 50% of the entries. After Herd work and Reining they were in about 49th and it was their runs in the Steer Stop and Fence Work that moved them up in the standings.
Next up for Elise? Well that will be the NRCHA Celebration of Champions where she’ll compete in the Open Two Rein with Smart Chics Dig Gold and Magnumsparklingchic and in the Open Hackamore with Jojo Cash Dunnit.