The Team Meets the Challenge
More than anywhere we can think of, Rhodes River Ranch exists, thrives and grows because of Jean Rhodes’ grit, determination and a large dose of passion and compassion. This gracious lady has built a team of people at Rhodes River that share her many management gifts and help to support a dream that should never have come true.
If ever there was an example of an intelligent horse-lover wanting to get into the sport of reining, Jean Rhodes was it. She came from a ‘citified’ world but spent her teenage larky summer days riding a friend’s horse in the cold Washington waters of the Pacific Ocean, hanging on to the tail and spinning out dreams that would last a lifetime. After raising a family and pretty much ‘on her own’ Jean Rhodes looked back to find that one thing that had thrilled and excited her more than any other interest along the way: the horses.
So the dream was reborn and a nightmare took hold. “I was looking for someone to guide me, to help me to build a program. I was introduced to someone who called himself an expert. He had all the charm, the ‘talk’ of a true professional. I told him about my dream, the property in Washington, my willingness to give this venture 100% of my commitment.” Within a very short time, Jean Rhodes was buying more and more land to accommodate what her advisor (by then resident ranch manager, of course) felt she needed to develop in order to succeed.
“I finally woke up to the realization that what he saw as my program was not quite what I’d envisioned. Everything was his way, for his benefit. He bought horses with no real focus, and I finally said ‘whoa’ to the whole project. At that point I owned 18 stallions and countless mares. Most were second or third rate horses and I realized I had been taken for a ride.”
Without realizing it, a true horseman, was hired during the Futurity in Oklahoma – originally to warm up and cool down horses. When the previous Manager left, this young man, Sean McBurney, stepped up, shared the dreams, and got RRR on the right path. When McBurney was installed as the new Ranch Manager, things changed rapidly. Jean Rhodes laughed as she described his start at Rhodes River, “It was something to watch! He walked the pastures, caste a keen eye at the construction the previous manager had overseen, went through pedigrees on this band of stallions and mares and offered solutions that made perfect sense. I had found that one Honest Man who would go forward with me and build a real Rhodes River Ranch.”
Sales would follow shortly. Almost all of the stock brought to the ranch prior to McBurney’s residency were culled or sold off for people who had other interests. Luckily, in all of that band, there were a few stallions, all in their later years, who would strongly impact Jean with their style, grace, even wit. They included Smart Little Calboy, who had shared the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Championship with rider Bob Avila, who became a good friend to Jean Rhodes and remains so to this day. Another was Hollywood Vintage, who had made his reputation in the NRHA. Perhaps Jean’s favorite was Dee Colonel, an ageing star from years past with almost $100,000 earned in NCHA competition. “He was such a gentleman. Honest and considerate to everyone around him. He was special. When we had to finally put him down, it broke my heart. So many of those older stallions that had come to the ranch had to finally be put to rest. It was horrible for me.”
A fresh start was given a jolt when McBurney looked closely at a young stallion that was possibly on the market. His name was Whizkey N Diamonds. He’d already started a stellar career with rider/trainer Shawn Flarida, and came with high recommendations and Flarida’s outright hope that he’d be allowed to continue to ride this gorgeous buckskin stallion if Jean Rhodes were to purchase him. She lights up when talking about her instant love for this horse, “One look and I was lost to him! The color! Buckskin yes, but so unusual. Golden in one season and dark and dappled in another. He was dazzling. Needless to say, Sean started the purchase discussion with reserve and proper consideration while I, in the background, was dancing with nerves waiting to see if I had just bought this extraordinary horse.
If a reining program was put together around a young unknown, the wish list would include ALL the things that Whizkey N Diamonds accomplished. He did it all and did it brilliantly; as a 3-year-old he took on the toughest competition out there, winning the 2009 High Roller Open Futurity, the 2009 Ohio Valley Reining Circuit Open title, the 2009 Congress Open Futurity Reserve Championship and a crowd-pleasing run in the NRHA Open Futurity finals for a Third Place finish. His reputation was now confirmed. This was a reining horse to be reckoned with. In fact, he could have rested on his laurels and become a breeding horse, but Flarida had a vision for this stallion that was shared by Jean Rhodes and her Ranch Manager. THIS was the foundation of a great program.
In 2011 the gorgeous buckskin stallion was again in the spotlight after taking the Wimpys Little Step Open Championship in the 4-5-6 YO Derby. His works were ‘the stuff of legends’ and people still talk about his performance. He repeated it again and again; 2011 Gordyville Breeders Cup 4-5-6 Open Champion, 2011 NRHA 4-5-6 YO Open Co-Reserve Champion and in 2012 raised the bar at the AQHA World Championship Senior Reining with a 228.5. Shawn Flarida in his famous green shirt had surpassed the works of every other Senior competitor riding the horse that he’d been promised he could continue riding. Flarida and the famous buckskin brought down the house and Jean Rhodes could now rest on her laurels, too. She had bought the ‘right’ horse at the ‘right’ time and Rhodes River Ranch had proven Sean McBurney’s vision for a perfect horse to build a program around.
There are lush pastures full of mares that will take your breath away. Quality is the key word at Rhodes River. That quality list includes Moms Stylish Pepto, the 2012 EquiStat #3 NCHA Producing Mare. Ah, that’s a long way from reining. Jean Rhodes has a wide vision and a long searching look into the future and there is a plan for Moms Stylish Pepto as with every other grand mare on the ranch. “I love the spring, and the new babies. It is amazing to me that Whizkey is producing such a stamped baby no matter the mare. They are all beautiful, all athletic and strong. The first set will go into training here at home next winter. It is hard to wait! The first crop is only eleven, and we have five of them here at home. Sean will start them and then we’ll see where they go. It’s such an adventure.”
Rhodes River Ranch is a ‘full service facility’ with a wide range of events taking place during the year. Everything from drill teams, vaulters (that would be gymnastics on horseback!), jousters and among Jean Rhodes’ favorites, clinics for “Centered Riding” and dressage. If you have any interest in this fascinating side of the equine world, it is all there on the Internet. Jean brings the top clinicians to Rhodes River and, of course, is deeply involved in the highly disciplined riding theory. Does it apply on a reiner? Some might say, “Perhaps not”, but Jean’s response is, “Absolutely yes! Good riding is good riding, regardless of your discipline!” Jean’s passions are so strong that every corner of the horse world is part of her world.
If you thought that all the events at this very exclusive ranch were off limits, think again! Part of the fascinating Jean Rhodes is her desire to expose the public to her world. So there is a fabulous restaurant upstairs overlooking the arena, and lunch and dinner are served Wednesday through Sunday and scrumptious breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday. It makes for a great outing! Fine dining is provided by Executive Chef Bonnie Rose and there is a constantly changing venue of entertainment down in the arena. All this takes place in Arlington, Washington and is as handy as the local phonebook. When the big name clinicians are in town, it helps to make a reservation. These events draw a crowd!
So while Jean Rhodes lives a relatively citified life on Lake Washington in the heart of Seattle, it has become less and less the center of her world. With three grown children off on their own and her childhood dreams of life with horses, Rhodes River Ranch draws her more and more. Every major decision is made after careful consideration and shared opinions . . . or not. “Sean is not afraid to go nose to nose with me if he disagrees. Does he always win? No, but neither of us goes down without a fight! He knows so much more than I do that I almost always defer to his expertise. He makes me feel so safe in this business now. I am not as trusting as I once was, but he continues to be a dedicated member of the Rhodes River Ranch team and a great spokesman for us, for Whizkey N Diamonds, really for the entire sport of reining. He loves it; he loves the horses. I am truly content with the path we’re on and the program is on solid footing with these babies coming on.”
Whizkey N Diamonds was tabbed early in his advertising campaign as a ‘star crossed’ horse. He is, in every way. His pedigree alone is worth studying. Think about it; here is a horse who goes to the legends of the reining industry all the way back to Joe Cody on top. And who was the genius who thought to breed Joe Cody to an own daughter of Doc Bar, the elegant and highly talented Doc Bar Linda. Her foundation mama and the fiery Doc Bar blood is still a potent part of the pedigree package. On that same line behind Topsail Cody is his mama, an own daughter of Cee Bars. More heat, more power at work. No wonder Whizkey’s sire, Topsail Whiz, is the sire of almost $9M in offspring earnings! And what a mama! Princess In Diamonds is an own daughter of the great Shining Spark, who is by an own son of Doc Bar, Genuine Doc. More icing on the pedigree cake! On the bottom, Eyed Be A Princess weaves her way back to Three Bars through her sire twice over. Put it all together and you have strength, power and that hit of heat that makes a horse like Whizkey N Diamonds almost unbeatable . . . on paper and in the arena. He is truly the ‘star crossed’ stallion for our times. His name spells the future and with his future in the hands of Jean Rhodes and her Ranch Manager, Sean McBurney, there is no doubt that he will be managed in absolutely the right way.