This week’s National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby, taking place through Sunday at the Paso Robles Event Center, is the first cow horse competition JoAnne Carollo has missed in nearly 20 years.
The Atascadero horsewoman was seriously injured while competing at the association’s Hackamore Classic in April. Tuesday, she watched as her horse, 5-year-old mare Arc Hollys Chicadee, entered the ring with another rider on her back.
Wearing a patch over one eye to prevent double vision caused by a concussion and walking slightly slowly because of an air cast on a fractured left ankle, Carollo said it was killing her not to be competing, but she felt lucky just to be able to be at the derby.
She and Chicadee were leading their competition at the Hackamore when the horse’s back foot caught on her front shoe as they were about to make a turn. The horse fell with Carollo still on her back, rolling over her before falling a second time.
“My whole career riding I had never had an accident,” said Carollo, 47. “We all have dings and little incidents.”
She had to use a wheelchair for three weeks, but has now been back on a horse five times.
The incident may have temporarily disrupted her vision, but it has in no way dimmed Carollo’s persistent passion for cow horses, which the several-time world champion describes as especially smart animals.
She and her husband, Jim, who is competing this week, own Carollo Ranch on El Camino Real in Atascadero. The couple’s paint stallion, A Master Plan, is a successful breeder, and they also train and sell horses.
Carollo entered her first futurity event in 1988 and was disqualified for going off-pattern in the reining portion of the competition. Nevertheless, she was hooked, she said.
Cow horses are judged in reining, herd work, in which they must separate a cow from a herd, and cow work, in which they go one-on-one with an individual cow.
“They have to mature faster than a lot of horses to learn three events,” Carollo said.
She bought Chicadee in 2003. As a 3-year-old, the mare made the Snaffle Bit Futurity finals. At 4, she went undefeated in aged events and took the sport’s Triple Crown.
“She’s the sweetest horse I’ve ever laid my hands on,” Carollo said. “She’s your friend.With some horses, it’s a business partnership.”
Todd Crawford of Oklahoma is riding Chicadee during the Derby this week. He won a 2000 United States Reining title on the horse’s mother, Hickorys Holly Cee.
Carollo harbors no resentment toward Chicadee and hopes to be competing again herself as soon as her double vision goes away.
“It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, and it’s my lifestyle, seven days a week,” she said. “Once you get back out there, it’s just what you do.”