Thiel wins World Championship title
Stephanie Thiel didn’t expect to win the 1999 National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity Amateur Championship last week in Fort Worth, Texas.
In fact, the 17-year-old Johnson Lane resident wasn’t even sure if her horse would be able to make it through the competition.
But Thiel surprised herself, her friends and her family when she rode off with the world championship and the nearly $30,000 in cash and prizes that go to the winner.
“I knew I had the ability, but I had no clue I was going to win,” said Thiel, whose horse Bonitas Telesis started limping before the team’s final run. “Even when I showed in the finals, I didn’t think I’d win.”
When the judges call her name, the Carson High senior reacted like any normal teen-ager.
“I was ecstatic,” Thiel said. “I was really happy. I was jumping up and down, saying, ‘I won. I won.’ It was pretty exiting.”
And why not? In addition to winning more than $20,000 cash, Thiel also won a new saddle (worth more than $5,000), a Remington bronze sculpture, a hand-woven saddle blanket, a Stetson hat, a championship belt buckle, two trophies, boots, jeans and an NCHA awards jacket.
“Most of it’s going into a bank account for college,” Thiel answered when asked if she had any big plans for the cash. “I might take some out to get a new car or truck.”
The NCHA World Championship Futurity Amateur Championship is open to 3-year-old horses that have never been shown in competition. It is the premier event on the NCHA calendar, which includes more than 1,400 NCHA-approved shows a year with annual prize money of more than $19 million.
In each round at the world finals, each competitor is given two and a half minutes to “cut” a cow away from a small herd and then the horse and rider try to keep the cow isolated from the herd. The judges award and deduct points depending on how well the team handles the cow.
“You don’t want a really slow cow or a really fast one,” Thiel said. “You want one that will play with the horse and challenge it to move, but not try to run you over. You hope the cow stays in the middle of the pen and moves back and forth and lets the horse do its thing.”
Thiel can’t remember a time when she wasn’t around horses. She has been riding cutting horses for eight years and has been competing since she was 10 years old. She estimates that the horse is responsible for about 70 percent of a good cutting performance.
“Good cutting horses have the natural ability,” she said. “You start training them when they are 2 years old and start showing them at 3.”
She added that young horses that will “hook up,” or follow or move with a cow without needing much direction from the rider usually make good cutting horses.
“I guess it’s just a mindset and the bloodline of the horse,” she said.
Thiel defeated a field of 242 teams in her division, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, pro golfer Hal Sutton and members of the Walton family, of Walmart fame.
Stephanie’s father, George Thiel, his dad, Harvey Thiel, 76, and Harvey’s brother Lou Thiel, 82, were among the thousands of spectators in the arena who watched as Stephanie became the youngest rider to win the event in its 37-year history.
“Being men, we wanted to be macho, but we all had tears in our eyes,” George said. “We could hardly talk to each other.
“It was extraordinary. To have everything to happen at the last minute – she couldn’t even warm up the horse properly – for her to show the way she did, under those circumstances was exceptional. It is something I’ll always remember.”
Several of Thiel’s friends from school, none of whom is involved in the sport, watched the competition on a live Internet broadcast. Being unfamiliar with the proceedings, they had to call Stephanie in Texas to find out how things were going.
“They called (early in the event) and asked how I did,” she said. “When I said I was in first place, they couldn’t believe it. They called back after it was over and asked if I won. I said yes and they were all excited.”
Thiel credits trainer Tom Long, of Cutter Ridge Ranch, with getting Bonitas Telesis ready for the final run. She trains at Cutter Ridge Ranch, which is owned by Coy and Nancy Sanders.
The Thiels own the mare that produced Bonitas Telesis. George’s brother-in-law owns the stallion that produced the mare.
“There’s a lot of money and a lot of competition (in cutting horses),” George Thiel said. “For a horse that’s born, raised and trained in the Carson Valley to win the world championship is pretty amazing.
“Our phone’s been ringing off the hook. People are calling from everywhere.”