Painting the world

Many people in our area ride and own horses, but few have the distinction of owning or riding a Reserve World Champion Working Cow Horse. That is the case for Ann and Curt Johnson, Tom & Kendall Harrison and Robby Bianchi, all Upper Rogue residents.

The horse has many names: Barney, B-Dawg or (officially) Playboys Reward. He is by Wanted Reward out of Playboy Sioux. He is owned by the Johnsons and the Harrisons and ridden and trained by Bianchi. This Paint horse’s Upper Rogue roots go even deeper as his sire (Wanted Reward) was purchased by the Johnsons from another Eagle Point resident, Billy Warne.

It’s easy for someone to say, after the fact, that they had a plan. But as the Johnsons were putting together their paint horse breeding program over the last 20 years the results of that work are clear. They’re breeding champions. Ann Johnson is pretty clear about her goals, “It’s always been my dream to have a world champion. I sort of set my breeding system up with that goal in mind.”

The American Paint Horse World Show was held early this summer in Fort Worth, Texas. This year was Barney’s second trip to the World, but Bianchi’s and Ann Johnson’s first. The format of the Working Cow Horse show has horse and rider performing a reining pattern, then calling for a small herd of cattle to be brought into the arena and working them. The trick is, you only get one shot at it.

The top riders at the show have been through the whole process many times, but being Bianchi & Johnson’s first time at the show, it almost ended before it started. Prior to his run, Bianchi needed to provide paperwork to prove that Barney was actually Barney. A flurry of cell phone calls and scrambling got the necessary information to officials just before time expired, the question was, would horse and rider be able to put the potential disaster behind them and focus on their run?

Entering the ring, “everything just went quiet, it was just Barney and I, it was time to go to work” explained the 34-year-old Bianchi.

Watching him ride you’d guess that he’s been riding all his life, but that isn’t the case, amazingly he’s only been riding for 11 years. He got on his first horse, and was promptly ejected off of that horse while attending Cal Poly in Central California. That seems to be the motivation he needed, “I wasn’t very focused in school,” and prior to that he’d also never been on a horse. He set out to prove, over and over that he could ride. And prove it he has.

The reining portion of the run is mainly a technical exercise based on long hours of training and imperceptible commands from rider to horse. The working portion is all about making good decisions and not getting behind the cow you are working.

During his working cow run it came down to a critical decision, Robby explained it like this. “After my first turn the cow was a little ways off the fence, I had to decide if I was going to loop around it or if I was going to stick it back in the fence.”

This is the point where breeding, training and performing all came together.
Bianchi was racing up on the cow and running out of room in the arena. That was when he made the decision to do an open field turn (which has a higher degree of difficulty in the eyes of the judges) to get the cow back into position. “Once you make that split second decision, you have to trust that your horse is going to go and make a real difficult situation into an easy one.”

Barney and Bianchi pulled the move off and brought home all the hardware, buckles, ribbons and plaques associated with being a Reserve World Champion.

Next up for the group will be a show in Bakersfield and then a break for the winter. The break will be a busy one for Barney as his stock keeps going up. Born with a Homozygous gene, meaning that he will always sire paints with color patterns similar to his means that he was automatically very desirable at stud. Now add to that being Reserve World Champion and his bloodline goes from one that will produce beautiful  paint offspring to one that will produce beautiful paint working horses. Ann Johnson sums it up, “it’s a unique thing, paints have mainly been bred for their color, now he’s a proven winner.”
By Mike Leonard
For the Independent


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