Triple Trouble: The CMSA Extravaganza, Five-Year-Old Derby and Great Trainers

Triple Trouble: The CMSA Extravaganza, Five-Year-Old Derby and Great Trainers

“A good horse trainer develops a quality horse. One that has all the bells and whistles.” A great horse trainer creates that horse and develops the rider… They put as much passion and hard work into the owner as they do the horse.

Buns, Payco and I made the long trip to Shelbyville, Tennessee on Friday March 31, 2023 to compete in the CMSA Extravaganza and five-year-old derby. I had high hopes that this major mounted shooting event would be significantly better than my go at the CMSA Eastern Championship and four-year-old futurity this past September.

Photo by Cara Penley

Last September I had a rough go at the futurity. I was extremely sick, puking off the side of Payco in the warm up pen and my foot was still broken. Now, more than six months later, my foot is healed and I hadn’t picked up any colds on the city street corners. I actually took vitamin C for several days before leaving. I wanted a fair go this time around and that’s exactly what I got.

In my last article I listed my goals for this year and discussed how I needed to take some pressure off of myself and my horses. Here were my first two goals for 2023:

  1. Be competitive on both Buns and Payco
  2. Compete at the 2023 CMSA Derby

I would say that I have met these goals already. While in Shelbyville, I was competitive on both Buns and Payco. With a few misses, Buns and I still managed to take fourth place in our tough Ladies 4 class. On each of our runs Buns went exactly where I asked him to go. It’s always a blessing riding Buns. He tries so hard to please and maneuvers so easily. His long stride makes it look like we’re not going anywhere fast but the times continue to surprise people. He and I are a team and we have been for quite some time.

Photo by Mr. Quigley Photography

Payco and I also were competitive. We took third in the derby, placing higher than some that whooped on us at the futurity. It was exciting and made me feel extremely proud because we performed so poorly at the futurity in September.

Photo by Liz Brockert

Tuesday, April 4, 2023 we ran our first four stages back to back. This is extremely difficult for a competitor’s mind and even more difficult for a young horse. There was just enough time to get your horse’s mindset back to where you needed it to be and then right back into the next pattern we went. It took everything I had to keep us together. I did some of my best riding and we exhibited some of our best performances we’ve ever had — this is where great trainers came into play.

Penley Horsemanship was there with me every minute of the derby. They talked through each pattern with me, discussed how to warm up so each pattern would be a success and aided with my mental toughness before going into the pen for our run.

Photo courtesy of Marcella Gruchalak

A good horse trainer develops a quality horse. One that has all the bells and whistles. A great horse trainer creates that fancy horse but also develops the rider into being the perfect teammate for that horse. They put as much passion and hard work into the owner as they do the horse.

Aside from the behind the scenes work that happens so that everyone at the show sees quality runs, great trainers also know what the rider needs in order to be successful. They know when to coddle you, yell at you, say nothing at all, or do it all. That Tuesday of the derby, I needed it all. Four stages back to back could have easily blown both mine and Payco’s minds. Penley Horsemanship, from frequently working with us, knew exactly what we needed in those moments.

There were times I’d dismount after my run to bring us both back down, times we went straight back to work, and times I’d be very slow and methodical in my cueing to really slow us down. There were times they had me box breathing, times we laughed to rid the nerves, and times I needed a stern talking to about how bad a$$ we were. Penley Horsemanship read me just as well as they read Payco that day — and it paid off.


@mgruc01 Stage one of the CMSA Derby – here’s what I was thinking… #mountedshooting #voiceover #horse #horsesoftiktok #gun #guns #singleaction #singleactionshooting #revolver #aqha #aqhaproud ♬ original sound – Marcella

Going into the finals on Saturday we were sitting in fourth place. Payco and I had some rough stages in our AQHA class from Wednesday to Saturday. Our finals run wasn’t pretty. I rated Payco significantly so he would go exactly where I needed him to go without shooting off like a bullet. It was a clean run and enough to move us into the number three spot, but it didn’t feel like the great run I wanted to end with.

Ninety percent of the time Payco and I are a force to reckon with. We get so close to fast time we can taste it. When we’re performing in that ninety percent, we’re hard to beat. Our last run wasn’t a testament to that. However, Payco is still a young horse — and has Sunfrost in his bloodlines — so there is ten percent where the moments are not so magical. Those moments don’t have a fairytale ending. They have many shed tears and hard work.

We’ve gotten to the point where Payco has learned what run means. It’s like having a toddler who has fine tuned utilizing his legs. At that point the toddler is everywhere. You can’t tell him where to go because they’re his legs and he’s using them in whichever direction is the most open. That’s Payco.

I remember not too long ago that was Buns. Buns and I had frequent miscommunications and in the big pens, he wanted to run. It took trying multiple bits to see what he and I worked best in. What bit I felt confident he wouldn’t run through when I needed a check before a turn. Once we figured that out, we’ve been unstoppable.

After that turning point with Buns, we were so consistent — and are still incredibly consistent — making us hard to beat. Once I hit that point on Payco and I can fully trust that he won’t run off with me, it’s game on. I would hate to be our competition. It’s something we’ll continue working towards and hopefully have figured out by the end of this shooting season.

@mgruc01 My ❤ horse getting it done in Tennessee #mountedshooting #voiceover #horse #horsesoftiktok #gun #guns #singleaction #singleactionshooting #revolver #ottb #offthetrackthoroughbred ♬ original sound – Marcella

The CMSA Extravaganza and five-year-old derby was a roller coaster of emotions. I have no regrets. I am so extremely proud of myself and my horses. Historically, this shoot has always been a tough one for me since it’s the first big shoot after winter. I couldn’t have asked for better horses or better runs. It’s a great starting point to the season and provided me with important insight on what to work on as we continue competing in mounted shooting.

Back to blog