A long-time friendship has helped build the best horseman on the planet.
Millarville’s John Swales won the World’s Greatest Horseman title in Fort Worth, Texas on Feb. 18 riding Heza Diamond Spark, who is owned by Jesse and Elyse Thomson of 7P Ranch Horses in Longview.
The Thomsons and Swales were members of the Oilfields High School Class of ’95.
“Elyse asked me if I would be interested in showing him at this event,” the 41-year Swales said. “I got him in the beginning of October and started to get to know him… I had seen him a lot and I knew he was a really good horse.”
It was a winning bond. Swales is the first Canadian to win the World’s Greatest Horseman title.
“That’s very special, amazing that it worked out,” Swales. “It is definitely the biggest title I have ever won.”
He has shown in Fort Worth six times and cracked the top 10 short-go finals four times.
The event has 36 riders competing in the four-event long-go, with the top 10 making to the finals short-go.
Heza Diamond Spark found himself sitting on a fence to crack the top 10 after the final event of the long go.
Heza stumbled during the fencing competition, in which horse and rider control a cow along a fence.
“I was leading after the third event in the preliminary round, but in the fence work, my horse fell on the second fence turn,” Swales said. “He didn’t fall right down, he kept all his feet underneath him, but it put us far enough behind the cow that I thought he was done… I was pretty uptight.”
Had Heza left his feet, Swales would have been making an early exit from Forth Worth.
Although his score plummeted, it remained high enough to snag the 10th and final hole by just half-a-point.
“It kind of eased my mind,” Swales said. “Tenth spot or first spot it doesn’t matter going into the finals because it is a clean slate final.”
Swales got things started by finishing eighth in the herd work – cutting – of the finals. Although it is arguably Heza’s weakest of the four events, the eventual World’s Greatest Horseman took the blame.
“I just didn’t get him shown very good,” Swales said. “He was first going into the herd and we couldn’t find the cattle we wanted to cut. I ended up cutting a couple of not very good cows.”
However, they got right back into the thick of things by winning the reining. Reining is when the horse and rider perform designated patterns, circle, stops, lead changes, spins and others.
“He worked very well,” Swales said. “He’s a very good reining horse.”
Heza put himself in prime position after finishing fourth in steer-work. It’s a roping event in which the calf is roped and then stopped by horse and rider.
Swales estimated he was fourth going into the final event, the fence work.
Heza might have stumbled in the preliminary, but that was an anomaly. The fence work is likely his strongest event.
The horse was the world’s greatest fence worker on the final run.
“I had quite a bit of ground to make up so I was looking for a really good cow in the fence work – one that works really hard and tests him for the degree of difficulty,” Swales said.
It’s a crapshoot – Swales has no knowledge of the steer he would choose.
He had no beefs with the steer Heza wound up working.
“For sure, it’s a lucky draw,” Swales said. “The steer was quite wild, running really fast and luckily he (Heza) was able to control it. I thought it was going to be a good score when it was done.”
Heza won the fence work by five points, a whopping difference in the sport.
When the results were announced and Swales had won the World’s Greatest Horseman, the quiet Millarville cowboy was practically speechless.
“It was pretty amazing,” he said.
Meanwhile, close friends Jesse and Elyse Thomson were watching in Fort Worth.
“There were an extreme amount of highs and lows during the whole weekend,” Elyse said. “We ended up just squeaking in (to the short go).”
She was delighted with the final fence work.
“John did an amazing job on a tough cow,” Elyse said. “We knew the horse could handle it and John knew the horse could handle it. John just let him work.
“It was awesome.”
The Thomsons purchased Heza Diamond Spark in 2015 at a Billings, Montana horse show.
The decision to go with Swales was made due to Jesse’s work commitments. Jesse, an award-winning trainer in his own right, was busy as the wrangler co-ordinator for the hit series Heartland.
“We knew that Jesse and I wouldn’t have the time to train him and we thought John would be the best man for the job,” Elyse said. “Jesse, John, his wife (Deanne), we all went to school together.”
For further information on Swales go to johnswalesperformancehorses.com
For further information on 7P Ranches go to 7pranchhorses.com