This month, TSB had a chance to catch up with author and photographer Kayla Starnes and talk about her brand new book TEAM ROPING 101, as well as what it was like to work with the USTRC and champion team ropers Speed Williams and Rickey Green. (TEAM ROPING 101 is available now from the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.)
TSB: You have been working publicist and photographer for the APHA for a number of years. What first got you involved with Paint Horses and/or the organization?
KS: I worked for APHA for almost four years, and can honestly say I loved every day I was a part of the PR & Marketing team. I was the worst kind of marketing person—one who truly believed in their product. Today, I am in the same field, working in PR and media relations for a manufacturing company called Pro Equine Group, as well as working for myself.
I first got involved with Paint Horses and APHA as a young teenager, when my parents bought me a Paint mare and a Youth membership. Later, I got a job at APHA because I was too nosey for my own good and God just put me in the right place at the right time. I had just finished a college internship with a horse magazine and my last assignment for them was supposed to be interviewing some APHA officials at a special competition. But, I couldn’t accept because the event was set for the same day as graduation. Fortunately, it was held in my hometown and one of my friends was assigned the story instead. So, that afternoon, I traded my graduation cap for a Western hat and went to the arena to see what I was missing.
When I got there, my friend was interviewing a few APHA Executive Committee members. Because she hadn’t had time to prep like I had for that event, I thought she was missing some of the hard questions that I believed readers would really want to know. So, she let me cut in and fire away. And, the EC members were kind enough to accommodate me.
Afterward, my friend had to leave for a bit to chase down another interview. So, I decided to wait for her, and happened to find myself standing next to Jerry Circelli, APHA’s Director of PR & Marketing. We struck up a conversation, and before I left, he asked me to send him my resume.
With that, I moved back to Fort Worth, where two weeks turned into four years.
TSB: You have a new foal that was born right around the time you were finishing up TEAM ROPING 101. What made you decide to breed your mare and what are your future plans for your colt?
KS: Yes, my foal and Team Roping 101 were “born” at the same time. Those last couple of weeks I spent my nights sitting around watching my mare for signs of foaling while reviewing final proofs. He’s a palomino overo AQHA/APHA colt, whose name is still pending with the associations. His mother has the kindest, most forgiving personality, and she gave me my first taste of showing. When I retired her, it was time to think about a replacement and I knew I wanted a foal from her. I chose a stallion that was a mix of two bloodlines I highly respected and thought would cross well with her Bell Ranch breeding. The sire, Helluva Chex is a son of Nu Chex to Cash and a King Ranch mare.
The little guy seems to have inherited the best from both parents. His mother gave him her mild temperament and tough-as-nails conformation, and his father gave him his stunning color and refinement, like a beautiful head. Future plans are to direct him to the show pen when he is old enough.
TSB: You worked with the USTRC in putting TEAM ROPING 101 together. What impressed you most about the organization?
KS: I can’t say enough great things about the staff at USTRC and their level of professionalism. The first time I stepped into their offices, I was immediately impressed with the cutting-edge handicapping system they have in place. I have seen nothing in the equine world that is similar, and they work very hard to stay at the forefront of that technology. The enormous volume of performance statistics they maintain for any given run or roper is amazing. The only sports I can think of to compare it to are golf or baseball.
TSB: You had the opportunity to watch champion team ropers Speed Williams and Rickey Green in action, as well as interview them as they are featured in TEAM ROPING 101. What were some of the most important pointers you gained from their expertise?
KS: I am always in awe of a professional athlete in action. Whatever they do, they make it look so effortless. When I visited Rickey Green for one of the book’s photo shoot, he had such control of the entire run. He actually asked me to show him exactly where I wanted him to place an uncooperative steer for me to get a certain shot during a run. And, he did it perfectly—more than once, with three independent-minded animals and a novice teammate to consider. However, he is the first to say he didn’t get that amount of control overnight, as does Speed. They both have worked very hard to reach that level.
Both pros stress that talent begins on the ground, learning the basics. That is where correct technique is born and developed. I think that is the most important lesson they have to share. Each is acutely aware of novice safety, and I think they take great care to ensure their students learn properly and gradually step up the challenge.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
KS: Of course, I would need The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. It was always one of my favorites and a must-have manual for deserted island living with a horse. However, I’d have to say my equine companion would have to be a stock horse. It’s hard to beat a Quarter Horse’s or Paint’s calm, easy-going temperament.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
KS: Something green and hairy! I’d rather be outside on a sunny day than cleaning the fridge, so I’m afraid I put it off way too long, especially during the summer.
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
KS: A warm summer evening, sitting on a bucket, petting the dog and listening to the horses eat dinner. I have had much more exhilarating experiences with horses, but not much beats the everyday stuff.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
KS: I don’t remember the first time I sat on a horse, but I definitely remember my first horse. Her name was Goldie. She was an old, grade palomino Quarter Horse that my brother and I shared. She let me be everything from the Kentucky Derby-winning teenaged jockey from the Thoroughbred book series, to a world champion with giant rosette, to just a little, horse-crazy girl with big dreams.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
KS: See the jockey reference in the previous question. I was riding bareback, pretending to cross the finish-line Secretariat style, and bounced right off. Goldie stopped, looked down at me, and if horses could roll their eyes and sigh, I think she would have. Of course, I was fine. It was soft grass and I was young!
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
KS: The natural ability to think through a problem, rather than just react.
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
KS: I would compete in reining, either as an exhibitor as a proud owner. I love the precision and obedience of it, which carries over to any task.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
KS: Anything involving pasta or chocolate is heaven. Wish I could say that about water and lettuce!
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
KS: Anywhere without cell phone or internet service! Really, I enjoy vacations that teach you something about the people and landscape you are visiting.
I’d love to visit the beautiful and little-known Abaco Wild Horses. Believed to be the direct descendents of horses brought over by Spanish explorers like Columbus, they are the rarest breed in the world. With only five left, they exist today only on one tiny island. But, they have a tireless supporter named Milanne Rehor, who has made it her mission to save them. And, with recent scientific breakthroughs in equine breeding, she has a better chance than ever.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
KS: Jane Austen. She may have lived in a different era, but she nailed human interaction.
TSB: What is your motto?
KS: Hmmm. I don’t really have one, but I think Dorrie from Finding Nemo had it right: Just keep swimming.
No matter what happens, never give up.