Cassie Liddell says owning a horse was the first step on her bucket list, but winning a state competition with a wild horse she trained was a dream come true.
Liddell, 17, of Tooele, with her horse, Leo, won two major awards at the Wild Horse and Burro Festival held at the Legacy Event Center in Farmington last month. The Tooele High School junior brought home the Grand Champion award and a big belt buckle, placing in 20 of 22 classes.
She and Leo also won the Reserve Champion in the novice division, and went head-to-head with both youth and adults.
“This was just my second year competing, and I won the Grand Champion of the whole festival,” she said. “It was really amazing.”
Liddell won Grand Champion riding Leo and another horse named Roan Belle Blue, who is owned by Janet Tipton, wife of Erda-based horse trainer Cliff Tipton.
Liddell has been working to perfect her riding technique and training methods with Cliff Tipton since junior high school. Her parents are Willard and Lisa Liddell.
“I have been riding horses since I was little and grew up riding ponies,” she said. “My parents thought I wasn’t very serious, but then I got a lamb and raised it and sold it and used that money to buy my own horse, Leo. Then, my parents saw I was serious. That was five years ago.”
Liddell is not Leo’s first owner. He was bought by someone else through the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse Program, and was only halter trained. Liddell said she then bought Leo and worked hard to saddle break and guide him to the level he is today.
“I trained and worked with him. Now he is a Reserve Champion,” she said. “We won the Partnership Award, which means we scored in certain classes that showed the judges how you handle your horse and how he responds to you. I am proud of our work together.”
Liddell said some of her favorite events at the festival included showmanship, extreme trail and freestyle duet.
“The extreme trail is where they come up with crazy obstacles and a time limit during which you need to lead your horse through the course,” she said. “I placed sixth in that event. It’s a fun class to see what you can get your horse to do and show your partnership.”
Liddell also rode with Cliff Tipton in another favorite event — the freestyle duet. That event combines two riders and their horses with a four-minute song, to which the riders choreograph a routine. The duo picked “Beauty and the Beast” as their music.
“You can do anything and really show off your horse and your riding in a fun way with music,” Liddell said.
Her other favorite events at the festival included the keyhole, barrels, poles and speed events. She also enjoyed the western pleasure and cattle classes.
The keyhole event is a timed course in which the horse and rider maneuver around four poles. The course is often shaped like an old-fashioned keyhole and it “requires speed, obedience and agility,” according to thespruce.com website article “Keyhole Race Basics for Beginners.”
Cattle sorting involves three riders on horses and a certain number of cows, each with a different number on their back. The riders earn points based on getting a specific cow over the line without the other cows crossing the line at the same time.
“It really is a team effort, but my favorite part is cutting out the cow and getting her across the line,” Liddell said.
She said all of the events were fun in various ways.
“I like to push myself to see what different things I can try each year,” Liddell said. “This year was the first time for cattle sorting and I just decided to do it. I like to try new things and get out of my comfort zone.”
Liddell gives Tipton credit for teaching her how to train wild horses.
“He really trained me from the ground up, taught me to ride, handle horses, everything,” she said. “He is my backbone.”
Liddell said in the past she has been involved in another part of the Wild Horse and Burro Festival, which entails gentling and auctioning wild horses and burros from BLM lands. Liddell has worked with two horses from this program.
Adults and youth can apply to work with a horse, then they have 60 to 100 days to train it from wild to what is called “green broke” — the ability to have the horse’s feet handled, be halter trained, and to be loaded into a trailer.
At the end of the program, the animals are auctioned off to adoptive homes. The horses are rounded up and brought in from BLM rangeland. Both youth and adult riders who are interested in the program need to apply and write a short essay about why they want to work with wild horses.
And some, like Liddell, show up at the Wild Horse and Burro Festival to see how well they’ve done training their horse.
“This is just a huge show,” she said. “We have finished horses and newer horses and it is just a place for everything to get together and compete and enjoy an enjoyable time with our horses.”
Liddell wants to compete again and hopes to do even better. She wants to win a grand championship in her own division next year.
“I always told myself I wanted to win a buckle that is mine,” she said. “It is the best feeling ever for having worked so hard for the past four years and setting goals for myself. It just feels great.”
Liddell does wear her championship belt buckle, and likes that it reminds her that she did the work herself.
“My parents didn’t believe me when I said I wanted a horse,” she said. “I was a cheerleader as a freshman and I decided to quit that and dedicate myself to horses because of my goals. Horses have just become who I am. I love working with them — it is a type of freedom to me.”
And a way for a teenage girl’s dreams to come true.