The city limits of Alexis, Illinois, served as the backdrop for Rachel Olson as her love for horses and the Western performance horse industry blossomed. Although Rachel’s parents bought her first horse in 2000, it was hard-earned lawn mowing money that got her another one just two years later.
“We joined the Warren County Saddle Club right away and the people in that group played a major role in building my foundation in the horse industry. When I got my first horse, my family and I knew literally nothing. I didn’t even have a saddle.”
Rachel cut her teeth as a showman in 4-H and open shows all across Illinois. With each passing year, Rachel’s skills expanded, and she found herself hauling to 4-H, FFA, and open shows to compete in the all-around events in neighboring states.
“There’ve been so many kind people who’ve helped me. Valerie Edwards, from the saddle club, took me under her wing. She provided me with a saddle, hauled me to horse shows, and got me on the New Windsor Drill Team.”
Another Warren County Saddle Club member, the late Bert Roberts, was instrumental in Rachel’s start with horses. He kept Rachel’s horses at his house in exchange for chores. He was a constant source of advice and support that Rachel misses dearly.
After high school graduation Rachel found herself at Black Hawk College where she competed on the equestrian team through the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) and eventually became a talented horse judger. These two activities earned Rachel scholarships to ride and judge for West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas.
Of her four years competing in the IHSA, Rachel rode at nationals three of them. As a senior, Rachel’s team qualified in the reining and placed third in the nation. This is where Rachel’s love for reining was born.
“I always had the goal, once I got out of college, to get my life started and have a horse that could compete at a higher level than I did as a kid. I put that plan in place when I bought my first reiner in 2016 through Ruben Vandorp.”
FS Einstein Dun It, a.k.a. Biscuit, was Rachel’s unicorn. The pair immediately clicked and almost nobody could beat them for the 11 short months they showed together.
“I bought Biscuit in May 2016 and showed most of that summer by myself. We went on to become an All American Quarter Horse Congress champion in the green reiner after teaming up with Brian Bell Performance Horses. We were unstoppable. Biscuit had a career ending injury and his quality of life was discussed many times. Euthanization was an option. With the help of several vets, we got him pasture sound and he’s living his best life in retirement.”
This devastating blow presented Rachel with a unique opportunity to show her stripes as a showman. Several mares attempted to replace Biscuit, but none of them could quite fill his shoes. Rachel’s unrelenting spirit kept her moving forward even when she felt like giving up.
“I had some success with those mares, but it wasn’t as easy as it had been with Biscuit. It was a tough reality check to realize the success Biscuit and I had wasn’t actually normal. I’m a really competitive person, but I had to remind myself that I was reining because I enjoyed it.”
Spooks Smokin, a 4-year-old gelding by Spooks Gotta Whiz, just might be Rachel’s new Biscuit. The 2-year-old colt was started by her boyfriend, NRHA Professional Matteo Rondanina. Matteo and the gelding found success in his 3-year-old year and this past September Rachel had the opportunity to buy him.
His barn name is Warren in honor of the riding club that set Rachel up for success in the showpen 20 years ago. Sticking with her all-in-mentality, Rachel entered Warren into the 2020 American Paint Horse Association (APHA) World Championship Show.
The duo only had a dozen riders together before entering their very first world show together. The confidence paid off as the duo headed home with the 2020 Reserve World Champions in the solid paint bred amateur reining class title in hand.
“I just wanted to have a good time and vie for a world title. It’s really neat that NRHA and APHA team up to host such wonderful classes that have great added money in the aged events. I encourage all of my fellow reiners to consider this show so it can continue to grow. I would also suggest that if your horse has any white or their parents have APHA lines, to reach out to APHA. Their staff is really friendly, and you never know, your horse might be eligible for paint papers. Even solid-paint bred horses are eligible for the challenge and futurity at paint world.”
Riding their wave of success at the world show, Rachel schooled Warren in Ardmore, Oklahoma, at the Southwest Reining Horse Association show and then headed to Tennessee for the Tennessee Reining Horse Association Rock N Roll Classic.
“I was delayed getting on the road from Amarillo because of snow so I only got to ride Warren once before the derby started. That made me nervous, but I just told myself to go out there and have fun.”
They nailed the iconic run in and stop of pattern 12. Warren’s huge stop gave Rachel the confidence she needed to nail each maneuver and earned her a personal best score of 144.5. This led to a tie for first place in levels 4, 3 and 2 in the Darling 888 Ranch Non Pro Derby as well as in the non pro and intermediate non pro classes. During her time in Tennessee, Rachel experienced five ties and five coin tosses. She lost all five of them.
All of those ties were with Ronnie Fox. Despite winning the coin tosses, Ronnie didn’t leave with all five awards.
“One thing that is great about our sport is the sportsmanship and Ronnie displayed that when he gave me both the level 2 and 4 trophies because he knew they were my first Lawsons. That really spoke volumes about Ronnie as a person and the people competing in the NRHA. I hope that I will be in that situation some day and I can pay his kindness forward to someone else.”
Just weeks after purchasing Warren, Rachel also bought her first futurity prospect: Tommysgirlonfire. Although Rachel didn’t come from a horse family, she’s reached an elite level of reining that she never thought would be possible for her and is looking forward to what the future holds.
“I just want to encourage youth to get involved no matter their background or level. No matter where you get your start, you never know where you might end up. Anything can be done if you put your mind to it and work hard.”