Registered name: Sugar Moon Express
Owner: Lindsay Sears, Nanton, Alberta
Breeder: Sissy Novak, Whitney, Texas
When Lindsay Sears first found out about Martha, she hesitated. The mare was 5 years old, capably trained but had no earnings, and hadn’t been hauled much. It was the fall of 2005, and Sears let a few months pass before again talking with the mare’s owner and trainer, Dena Kirkpatrick. Sears was still looking for a horse, so she tried Martha in January 2006 and then bought her.
Martha was full of promise, but Sears says the pair had a rough first year.
“She always wanted to take a step off the back side of the first barrel,” she says, “and I’d really have to pull her around it to finish the turn and get over for the second barrel.”
At a rodeo in May, Martha got spooked when she saw some commotion after turning the first barrel, and ducked.
“From that point on, it was a struggle,” Sears says. “I never knew if she was going to get over for the second barrel or not. I just wanted to go in and get a qualified time, but that first year I never knew. I had no confidence in her whatsoever. But I knew she was extremely talented and it was something I was going to have to work through with her.”
At the end of the 2006 season, Sears turned the tables on Martha. She started working her going to the left barrel first rather than the right, the way she was originally trained.
“I wanted to give her something to think about,” she says. “All winter long I’d work her to the left and the few rodeos that I went to, I’d run her to the right. I spent a lot of time patterning, doing slow work to the left.”
At a rodeo in Clovis, California, the following April, Sears reached the end of her rope. She ran Martha to the right in the first round and again felt that sense of uncertainty.
“That was the moment I thought, we’re not going to be successful to the right. We’ve got to go left,” Sears says. “You can’t compete at this level not knowing whether you’re going to make the pattern. I came back after that first round and ran to the left, and never looked back. It was the turning point in our career.”
Martha quickly became the horse to beat. In 2007, Sears rode her to the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association reserve world championship, and in 2008 they took the world title and earned AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year honors.
It’s Martha’s unique physical ability—the amount of bend she has in her body makes it easy to complete turns—and her heart that make her special, Sears says.
“Martha has ‘try’ that I’ve never felt in any other horse. She has a will to win,” she says. “She’s just one of those natural athletes that has a big heart.”
Along the road, Sears has found ways to keep Martha happy and healthy.
“For the most part, she’s a great horse to be around,” she says. “She loves people and loves to be cared for. But Martha has a friend who has to go everywhere with her. I haul an old broodmare that is Martha’s best friend. She doesn’t go anywhere without her.”
That mare—a former barrel horse herself—also helped teach Martha the rules of the road.
“When I bought Martha, she hadn’t been hauled a lot,” Sears recalls. “She wouldn’t eat or drink on the road, and she’d paw and dig a hole if she wasn’t happy. This mare taught her to eat and drink, and just relaxed her.”
Martha has overcome more than her insecurity on the road. She has a mild case of PSSM (polysaccharide storage myopathy) and Sears has to watch her diet. In late 2009, Sears says, the mare was diagnosed with EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis) and had to be treated, but recovered quickly.
“She’s overcome some things,” Sears says. “I think that’s the sign of a true champion. Martha and I have gone through a lot as a team. She’s had some problems healthwise and I have too. We’ve gotten through things together and I think that’s formed a bond between us.”
Sears says she hopes to haul Martha another couple of years, and then begin her next chapter in life as a broodmare.
“I want Martha to be retired a healthy, sound, happy horse,” she says. “I want her to have a good retirement. She deserves it. I have a few more small goals, and then she will have accomplished all I’ve ever dreamed of.”