Tales From Tulsa-Jaci Gerdes

When you come to the Arabian National Championship show the big barns and their amazing barn set-ups and decorations are dazzling. The magazines feature gorgeous spreads celebrating some of the most renowned horses, trainers and riders in the Arabian horse world. Social media is a flurry of “riding for roses” in Tulsa and all of the media attention might lead one to think that competitors with more modest means don’t make the trip to Tulsa. And yet, not only are they here and having a good time, they’re taking home some trophies and ribbons and writing an interesting chapter in their own story.

Meeting these people—especially those making their first trip to a National show¬—is one of my favorite parts of working in the show office. And every year I vow to take the time to share their stories. So here we go!


I met Jaci Gerdes and Rob Stelter on October 23rd when they sat across my desk to check in and collect their number. Just one number for her fourteen-year old Arabian mare, Mara Harmony. This would be Jaci’s first trip to the Arabian Nationals. Jaci’s never been, Mara’s never been but Jaci— along with her fiancé Rob —made the trip from Wisconsin to compete in two classes, the Ranch Riding and the Ranch Rail.

Rob made a great post on his Facebook page that pretty much illustrates why I was rooting for them to have a great class, "Big, big, big day tomorrow. We drove 757 miles. Drove over ker-smashed roadkill, drove through rain and even managed to drive through the world’s most toxic city (Pichler, OK look it up— it’s a legit ghost town). We both had doubts followed my good gut feelings and as much as I wanna be in the woods, I wouldn’t miss this for the world. They’ve done lots of watching, spent countless hours together bonding and have done some riding. No matter what happens tomorrow I’m incredibly proud of this unstoppable duo! I’ll be quietly-ish rooting you on from the bleachers!

And the next day, I saw Rob post, "She missed qualifying for her second class but that’s ok. Placing top 10 out of 27 horses is a huge accomplishment and confidence booster for her and Mara. So tomorrow we’re headed home and I’m not leaving the woods til Christmas!"


When I checked them in, I was tickled to hand them their exhibitor gifts (thank you Pepper Proffit!) and show program and be a part of the excitement of someone’s FIRST Arabian Nationals…reminding me of the thrill of so many similar experiences that Mike and I experienced as we embarked on our Arabian horse journey over 37 years ago. I wished Jacki and Rob luck and crossed my fingers, hoping that—no matter what—they’d take home great memories. Having been charmed by their open and warm personalities, I made sure to follow along via social media as Jaci, Rob and Mara competed in the Arabian Ranch Riding and Arabian Ranch Rail Pleasure. I’m sure you’ll agree, although they won a National Top Ten with this “dirty/hairy pony from Wisconsin” (Jaci’s words, not mine lol) the true winner is the Arabian Horse community because they’re part of our “tribe”!

Mara Harmony and Jaci Gerdes, National Top Ten Ranch AATR 19-54

Of course, I asked Jaci for more of their story. The very beginning was in 2000 when Deborah Sjoquist gave an eleven year old Jaci her first Arabian. Then in 2017 Deborah—forever more to be known as Jaci's "horse show mom"—gifted her a half interest in a ten-year old Arabian mare, Mara Harmony. That year Jaci attended a clinic with Jennifer Bull and continued to take lessons with her over that winter. Since the the spring of 2018, Jaci has continued working Mara on her own competing with her at their first Arabian show in 2018 in Ranch Riding and Trail. They did their first Regional Championship in 2019 and this year they decided to make the trip to Tulsa, came home with a National Top Ten in the Arabian Ranch Riding AATR 19-54, some great memories and new friends!