Those who have ever loved a good horse know how hard it can be when that horse retires from the show pen. Many hope to one day find an equal replacement, but in Amy and Roy Liedtke’s case, such a love inspired the couple to begin a small breeding program in 2011.
Amy’s once-in-a-lifetime mare, QHR Chocolena Pep (Chocolate Chic Olena x Peppy Zan Express), was about to retire from the reining arena when Amy started looking for another horse to become her new partner. Amy had shown “Cocoa,” an earner of $7,295, for nearly 10 years, and it seemed none of the younger horses could fill her shoes. After much searching, Amy decided that maybe the mare’s own offspring could fill the hole she would be leaving behind upon retirement.
When Cocoa’s first foal, a striking buckskin son of 2001 National Reining Horse Association Futurity Level 4 Open finalist Who Whiz It, hit the ground in 2012, Amy knew she had made the right decision. It was clear from the moment Whos Chocolate Whiz, or “Gus,” was born, he was exceptional. Over the years, the gelding’s talents, personality and trainability quickly made him Amy’s second heart horse while also launching Cocoa’s record as a producer.
“He’s pretty special,” Amy says. “He was really easy to train. I remember the first time [trainer Giada Camparsi] got on him as a long yearling, he didn’t do anything. He has ring presence in the show pen, and he knows his job. That makes it that much more enjoyable.”
Between Camparsi and Amy, Gus has amassed reining earnings of more than $7,000. But his accomplishments don’t end there.
In 2017, Amy and Gus attended a ranch riding clinic with then-trainer Tell Edgmon. Amy, a longtime reiner, fell in love with the variety of the sport and started practicing it with Gus at home.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Amy says. “It’s not just going out there and going through a pattern; it’s about transitions and pattern placement, and the transitions need to be flawless. It has gotten very competitive.”
In 2019, Amy and Gus won the American Quarter Horse Association Select World Championship in reining and ranch riding. The pair has also picked up two reserve world championships, one bronze and two other Top Five finishes at the event. They were additionally the AQHA Ranch Riding Open Year-End High-Point Winners in 2021 and have picked up many other honors, including more than 880 amateur and open AQHA points in multiple events, all while only attending events located within four to five hours of their home in Whitesboro, Texas.
Amy and Gus’ accomplishments are even more impressive considering Amy did all of the ranch riding training on the gelding herself, often watching people in warm-up pens at horse shows to get new ideas. These days, she gets tune-ups from Mike Moser, a ranch riding and ranch rail trainer based in Gainesville, Texas.
“I decided I needed someone looking at me with a critical eye in the ranch riding,” Amy says. “He’s very laid-back and great with the horses. He’ll watch me and help with little things, like, ‘That looked really good, but we can get it a little bit better if you do this.’ That’s what it takes.”
Continuing Cocoa’s Legacy
Amy may have lucked out with Gus as Cocoa’s first foal, but he certainly wasn’t the last. The Liedtkes bred the mare every other year after Gus was born, which gave Amy time to have each one started under saddle before deciding whether to keep or sell it. Her end goal, every time, was to produce another just like Gus.
In 2013, Cocoa produced Shineon Olena, by Shine On Line; then in 2015, Cocoas Whiz (by A Smokin Whiz) was born. Chocolate Chic Whiz (by Star Spangled Whiz) came along in 2017 and was followed by Chocolate Whizkey (by Whizkey N Diamonds) in 2019. Both Cocoas Whiz and Chocolate Chic Whiz are reining money-earners.
Cocoa’s final foal, Gunna Get Chocolate, or “Otis,” was born in 2022. Amy thinks the son of Gunner Dun It Again might be the closest one yet to replicating Gus’ abilities one day.
“His disposition reminds me a lot of Gus when Gus was his age — he’s very personable,” Amy says. “He’s a pretty cool little guy. Giada will be starting him later this fall, and we are both excited about him.”
Cocoa retired from raising colts after Otis due to age and health issues, but Amy says she will likely find another young mare in the future to resume her breeding program. When that day comes, she will continue her formula of picking stallions that balance the mare’s traits, a method that has worked well so far.
“We spend a lot of time hand-picking what we think is not necessarily the most popular stud of the time, but something that will complement the mare,” Amy says. “For example, [Cocoa] is a plain sorrel, so we like something with color. She has a nice head, but it’s not a gorgeous head, and she’s a big mare, so we like to find a stud that we think is going to complement her in that respect.”
It Takes a Team
Amy is the first one to admit she can’t do all of the training, riding, showing and breeding alone. She’s been blessed, she says, to have a wonderful partner in Roy, her husband of 13 years.
Roy, who grew up riding but has never showed — and never plans to — enjoys supporting Amy at events and at home.
“I just love the horses,” Roy says. “I’ve enjoyed feeding them and helping take care of them. I like being around them and the interaction with the animals every day. And she’s good about recognizing me and not just making me be free labor!”
To Roy, getting to watch Amy do something she loves has been a reward in itself. He admitted it can be an adjustment at times, as sometimes the horses have to come first, like when preparing for a show. He was happy, though, that Amy has a hobby she enjoys that grants physical and mental well-being.
“She’s got a great work ethic,” Roy says. “She’s very dedicated to it, and that’s what makes me the proudest, because she works that hard at it.”
It’s thanks to Roy’s support that she is able to spend so much time in the saddle, Amy says. Horse showing always takes a village, and she’s grateful for the friends she’s made at events, the trainers she’s worked with and most of all, for Roy.
“We’re a good team,” she says. “You can’t do what you do, especially for me, without having support like him. It makes a huge difference to know they’re going to be there in good and bad. It’s not all blue ribbons and fun; you have to be able to power through together.”