TR Despret For Achic - Our Relationship was a Gift
By Michael Damianos
My story today begins in February of 2006 while I was attending the Scottsdale Arabian Show. During the show the Wolf Springs Ranch was holding a production sale at their nearby farm. While perusing their sales catalog, I came across a handsome three-year-old Half-Arabian gelding whose pedigree intrigued me and whose name made me chuckle. TR Despret For Achic was by the renowned Varian stallion, Desperado V (Huckleberry Bey x Daraska). I already had success with other get by him and thought I wouldn’t mind another one. His Quarter Horse dam was by Smart Chic Olena, a legend in that breed—who was the only horse to be an AQHA World Champion in both Cutting and Reining. His second dam was by Doc’s Oak, another legend. Doc’s Oak was the only horse ever to be a finalist at both the National Reined Cow Horse Association and the National Cutting Horse Association futurities. I had judged a number of Smart Chic Olena get at NRCHA and NRHA shows and was very impressed with him as a sire. I had ridden a few horses by Docs Oak and liked them as well.
I thought I had really found something special when I went to look at this three year old, just to have my bubble burst when two staff members at Wolf Springs, who I knew well, advised me not to buy the horse. They felt he was a disappointment in their program. Despite their well-meaning advice, the voice inside of me kept telling me this horse is right for Michael Damianos’s program. The English poet D.H. Lawerence wrote, “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle.” I followed D.H.’s advice and called my established clients, Tes Wolfe and Carlos Acevez. I told them there was a horse they should let me buy for them. Tes gave me a spending limit and wished me luck. Fortunately for me other prospective buyers passed on him and the gelding came home in my trailer from Scottsdale well below budget. When the new horse got to MDPH, the first order of business was to give him a barn name. “Desperado,” after his Arabian sire,was the name selected and for the next 14 years that is what he went by. I found him to be a willing three year old and appreciated his efforts to understand and improve, but also recognized he did have an intermittent silly streak. By the fall of that year he was doing most reining maneuvers and was exceptional on the trail course. As a four year old he was consistently excellent at home, but when I hauled him to shows I found him a bit squirrelly. Initially I had not won his confidence on the road, but by the end of the year his insecurities seemed to wane. As a five year old he was coming into his own. In the spring of that year I took him to the Red Bluff Arabian show which always had a strong trail division. In a deep open Half-Arabian Trail Class he was reserve champion in a snaffle bit to horses far more seasoned and accomplished than him. I remember after the class turning to a group of fellow trainers and saying, “You watch this horse. He will wear roses one day!” I realized that was quite a bold statement, but when that horse was on, he was on! He went on to have a solid year as a five year old in both reining and trail. That fallhe won a reining futurity and was reserve in a large trail futurity in Santa Barbara. I felt this horse we picked up in Scottsdale had really turned a page. I was excited to take him to Tulsa to the National Championships.
The prizes we won were the fringe benefits of that relationship.
I convinced Tes and Carlosto let me show their junior horse in the open Trail Class at the Nationals as there was no junior horse class at that time. I also showed himinthe Reining Futurity. He handled the trip there like a champ, but some of his insecurities raised their ugly head at the big show. Sadly, we just missed going top ten in both events, but instead of being discouraged I immediately pestered Tes to let me take him to Scottsdale in February. After a lot of fast talking, and I’m sure I made some sort of deal with Tes, Desperado went to Scottsdale that next February. Now a six year old, he placed first in the open Trail Class for Half-Arabians. I remember calling Tes and she did not believe me. I said I would be back in touch after the championship. Two days later as I was riding Desperado back to the barn from the championship I called Tes and said, “Tes, I’m riding your horse back to the barn. He is draped in championship roses!” Poor Tes still didn’t believe me, so on the evening I returned home, I drove to their house, knocked on their door, and placed the trophy, garland, and ribbons in Tes’s arms. I said,”Now do you believe me?”
I’m not saying this horse didn’t still have his peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, but the three of us were quite a team.
From that point on Desperado, Tes, and I enjoyed an odyssey of success with too many great stories to tell at one time. Both Tes and I won many classes on him. Later that year we returned to Tulsa and were National Reserve Champion Half-Arabian Trail Horse. Between 2009 and 2019 Desperado won many regional championships and National Top Tens in Western Trail, English Trail, Reining, Cow Horse, Ranch, Showmanship, Horsemanship and Western Dressage classes with either Tes or me. He won fourNational Championship andtwo reserves in Trail. He was the USEF Half-Arabian Working Western Horse of the Year three times. I’m not saying this horse didn’t still have his peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, but the three of us were quite a team. Aristotle said, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” Aristotle’s words may have applied to all of us, but Desperado and I understood each other. Tes understood the bond I had with her horse. Our relationship was a gift and the prizes we won were the fringe benefits of that relationship. This horse had become my best friend. Desperado, Tes, and I were members of an unforgettable team.
“… Tes, I’m riding your horse back to the barn. He is draped in championship roses!”
My most indelible memory with Desperado came in 2014 at the U.S. Nationals. The Half-Arabian Western Trail class was quite large that year and the quality of horses was exceptional. Horses were hitting big scores like I had never seen. I had gone early on Pardonn My French and was sitting in the upper half of that hunt, but Desperado and I drew towards the end of the first round. I knew if I wanted a chance at the top spot we had to “go for broke.” I threw those reins at him and mentally told him “Let’s Go!”At the end of the run as I stood in the holding area waiting for the scores I thought to myself a passage from the Greek soldier Xenophon’s writings that stated, “What a horse does under compulsion he does blindly... What we need is that the horse should of his own accord exhibit his finest airs and paces at set signals... Such are the horses on which gods and heroes ride.” I felt in my mind that I would never come any closer to that passage than right then. The scores were announced and we took the lead. Desperado went on to be National Champion that year and he won the English Trail as well. He was the first Half-Arabian to win both the same year. I have a photograph from that day of me on Desperado wearing the National Champion roses and Tes holding the trophy as she gave me quite a diatribe. She sternly said, “I love this horse more than anything and I don’t understand why he can’t love me like he loves you...” I tried to appear very concerned, but inside my heart I was ecstatic for my friend and me.
This horse had become my best friend.
We lost Desperado in the fall of 2020. Tes, Carlos and I were at his side as he left this world. There were days I felt profound disappointment he and I were not together longer, but now I will never stop being grateful for the 14 years we spent together. My legacy was clearly elevated from our time together and he opened the door to opportunities to show other great horses. Pictures of Desperado hang in the barn aisles of Michael Damianos Performance Horses along with other special horses. Tes and Carlos are still valuable clients and priceless friends. Our 25-plus year relationship is remarkable, but that is a story for another day. NRCHA Hall of Fame member, the late Ronnie Richards, said, “I don’t like to see a horse used as a vehicle to make a trainer great, I like to see the trainer make that horse great, and that makes them great.”
I like to think the relationship that horse and I shared exemplified those words.