The Exhibitionist of Rancho Del Lago

After a careful analysis of all the available data, we have come to the following conclusion, Magico, the Andalusian stallion owned by Rancho Del Lago, is an unabashed exhibitionist. He is one of those horses that loves being the center of attention.

While some horses need curtains around their stalls at shows, Magico doesn’t cower in a corner when visitors approach. He practically runs up to them and entreats, “Pet me”, “Let me show you where to scratch”, “Hey buddy, do you have any carrots on you?” When Magico decides it’s time for a siesta, sometimes he won’t even bother to get up if someone comes into his stall. He seems to say, “Take your shoes off, sit a spell…you can even sit on me.”

Bred by Gina Hogan of Austin, Texas from her father’s Guardiola stock, Magico was purchased as a weanling by Dr. & Mrs. Walter Henslee of Rancho del Lago. The Henslees had a Terry mare and were specifically looking for a bay colt of good blood, conformation and movement that the family could raise. Magico, out of a revised, imported mare and a grandson of Centella V, National Champion of Spain, seemed to fill the bill. At his inscription by the Cria Caballar, Spanish officials had been very complimentary of him. But Gina told the Henslees, “If you’re looking for a fire breather, my horses generally aren’t.”

The Henslees had been breeding Peruvians, Andalusians and a Quarter Horse racing mare (Dash for Cash and Jet Deck lines), gravitating to hotter and hotter horses as their skills and confidence increased. Henslee told Gina, “You know, the problem with fire breathers is that you have to live with them the 350 days out of the year when you are not at shows. What we want is energy when you ask for it, a trait the Peruvian breeders call ‘brio’. Many people use the word “spirit” incorrectly, to describe a horse whose energy stems from fear or nervousness.”

The way Henslee explains brio to horse people outside the Spanish breeds is to compare it to the behavior of cutting, reining and roping horses. A good cutting horse is completely calm going into a herd; then explodes when asked to work, but doesn’t take three days to return to earth after the session is over. Ditto for a reiners, calf ropers or bulldogging horses. Since the Andalusian is the horse the Conquistadors brought to America and one of the ancestral breeds of the American Quarter Horse, perhaps that is where these personality traits originated.

The Henslees decided that Magico, whose name translated into English is Magic, was just what they were looking for. Time would prove that choice to be a sound one.

One of the Henslee sons, Chris, began using the techniques of Pat Parelli and John Lyons with the young colt at two. Chris also used to sit with Magico for hours in his stall, studying for the medical school admissions test. A genuine bond of respect and friend hip was forged that continues today. Thanksgiving holidays of 1999 found son Chris and daughter Kim, both excellent horse people, at home simultaneously and they decided that it was time to mount Magico. Attached to a line held by Chris in their new round pen, a bareback pad and daughter Kim were placed across Magico, with no more than a yawn. In rapid succession, Chris was sitting, standing and walking around on Magico’s back and riding him bareback in the round pen with just a lead rope. A few days later both were riding the horse, in open pastures with a homebrewed combination of English saddle, Peruvian bozal and Western side reins. The horse looked as if he had been under saddle six months and the Henslees saw occasional flashes of a wonderful suspended trot with elegant extension. By January, Magico was being ridden in the bit and had mastered all the introductory Parelli material, as well as a few tricks.

The first opportunity to exhibit Magico occurred quite by chance, just before the IALHA National show in October 2001. The week before, the Henslee family was preparing for the American Association Peruvian National and found something they rarely have going to shows - an empty slot in the horse trailer. Henslee and Chris thought, great…a chance to take Magico with us for some road experience. He had only been to two shows at that point. Henslee’s wife, Judy wasn’t so sure about the outing. Judy was concerned about risking an extra road trip just before the Andalusian Nationals, especially trailering Magico with their Peruvian stallion and a mare. Henslee and Chris assured her that Magico would be fine and that it would give Chris good practice to work with the horse in unfamiliar surroundings.

During breaks at the show, people noticed this magnificent animal and most knew what they were looking at. The Andalusian is one of the ancestral breeds of the Peruvian horse and is sometimes exhibited as part of the evening festivities at Peruvian horse shows. Henslee offered to put on a demo and show officials agreed to let them open the Saturday evening event. They hastily drafted a script and selected music, but there was no opportunity for a dress rehearsal. Judy said, “What’s he going to do?” Walter replied, “I don’t know - stuff. Like the stuff he does at home.”

Chris, who is also somewhat of a ham, rode the stallion out into the arena at Glen Rose, Texas. This was the first time Magico had ever been in an arena alone and he had been stalled most of two days. When a couple of hundred people started clapping, he exploded into a headlong gallop. He had never heard clapping before and the Henslees hadn’t thought about that aspect ahead of time. Of course, the audience thought this was part of the show and responded with more clapping. Chris just let him run full tilt around the large arena, in spite of losing a stirrup. Magico was then stripped the tack and Chris exhibited the horse at halter. After a series of caprioles in response to more clapping, the annoucer asked the crowd to hold their applause while Chris rode the horse with only the single lead from the nose ring of a Spanish exhibition halter. Chris and Magico’s performance ended with Chris going under the Magico in both directions and then standing on his back.

The Henslee family typically puts on a clinic at Rancho del Lago once or twice a year. At one point in the program, Chris talked a little about the Andalusian breed with about 40 people sitting outside the round pen and the stallion walking and standing half-asleep behind him. When he introduced Magico with a flick of the whip, the horse stood straight up on his hind legs and pawed the air, walking toward the spectators. They were duly impressed. Magico then settled right down and Chris delivered the rest of his talk sitting on or under the stallion without tack. The local newspaper printed the photos and ran a full-page article on the duo.

Magico’s second chance at exhibition was the Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association (TETRA) Expo in Belton, Texas. This annual event in June is patterned after Equitana, consisting of clinics, exhibitions, seminars, displays and some specialty competitions. Magico was invited to be a featured performance in the Saturday night extravaganza, as well as given the opportunity to conduct two breed demos during the three-day event. To Henslee’s surprise, the breed demo stalls and booths were along the concourse of the exhibition hall, surrounding the main arena. There were hundreds of people in attendance. Magico, played basketball, bowed and poised for pictures, his stall surrounded by as many as 20 people at a time.

For the evening performance, they were prepared for Chris to ride Magico freestyle alone in the arena after entering with tack. The master of ceremonies suggested we do something with a twist. Chris entered the arena in English tack and attire to one of the Brandenburg concertos. He then dismounted and proceeded to change into Western clothes. We had asked that show officials send in some attendants to hold the horse while Chris changed clothes. To our surprise, these were volunteer rodeo clowns. The master of ceremonies did a little verbal banter while this was going on, stating that this was mostly a western crowd who wanted to see a more traditional approach to horsemanship, not involving a guy in tight pants, dress coat and a funny looking hat. He bowed and reared mounted in front of an American flag that the clowns had placed in the center of the arena. A second call for the clowns allowed Chris to strip the horse down to just a halter and a lead rope and mount bareback. Magico did spook a little when one of the clowns ran toward him waving the flag that

Chris was supposed to carry. He had never seen clowns and we had only practiced once riding with a flag. Chris managed to hold the horse and take the flag and jump aboard. After one turn around the arena, he unbuckled the halter and dropped it and the lead rope. With the flag streaming, he rode the horse full tilt around the arena to screams and applause.
Next up was the annual clinic at Rancho Del Lago. Lisa Bockholt, a certified John Lyons instructor, was the featured presenter. Chris and Magico performed a segment of the program on clicker training. The crowd was split into several teams and each team given an untrained horse, a clicker and a bag of carrots. In one half hour all teams had their horses picking up an object and handing it to them. Chris taught Lisa’s horse to retrieve a football. She was so amazed that she arranged for Chris to spend a week with John Lyons at a workshop as an attendant.

In 2003 the Henslees have performed three exhibitions; in February participating in the John Lyons Equus America, Houston event. The Henslee’s newly arrived trainer from Peru, Sr. Ruperto Vasquez, showed Magico at halter. Chris had entered medical school and was unavailable to attend the event.

This event was followed by an invitation to perform two demos at the Houston Polo Club’s annual Paella Festival and charity fundraiser. By a strange turn of events, an accomplished English trainer from Norfolk, Donna Rae Walls, had contacted the Henslees via the internet, stating that she had always dreamed of working with Andalusians in Texas.

Donna had worked with Sue Barber, a trainer of note in England, as well as Francisco Bessa De Cavalho, senior rider of the Portuguese Riding School in Lisbon and Hans Riegler, chief rider for the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Henslee invited her to make a “scouting expedition” to Texas. She was in heaven and immediately saw Magico’s untapped potential under saddle. She began to get the same wonderful extension and hang time that the Henslees had seen as he ran along the beach near their home. He showed this magnificent suspension at the polo grounds. He also shot a few basketballs and posed for photos for the assembled throng of several hundred.

Later that month at the qualifying Andalusian show near Dallas, Magico made First Place Stallion and Gold Metal Movement in the stallions class, then Grand Champion of the Show and Best Movement of the Show. He had previously been Champion Junior Stallion, Reserve Champion Senior Stallion, First Place Puro Raza Espanol Junior Stallion and won two Gold Metal Movement Awards. At the Fall Festival show in 2003 he was Champion Open Hunt Seat and Champion Dressage Suitability. At the 2003 IALHA National Show he garnered Top Five honors in a crowded field of 18 pre-qualified entries for Dressage Suitability.

In June the Henslees had a return engagement to the Texas Horse Expo in Belton, Texas. Henslee had been searching for nearly a year for a still photo of Magico and Chris running freestyle with the American flag from 2002. They learned that professional photographer, Robbin Cresswell, had just the photo they were searching for and show chairman, Dr. Karl Cloninger, immediately agreed that the photo had to be on the cover of the 2003 Texas Horse Expo program.

Magico was now a star with a growing fan club. At the Expo, many people remembered the freestyle performance with the American flag or learned that the horse on the program cover had returned to the Expo. At the height of the drill team and barrel competitions, some 900 horses were on the grounds. The fields surrounding the Expo center looked like a horseman’s version of Woodstock. This brought a constant stream of visitors to Magico’s stall. He greeted all with enthusiasm and patience, taking his bows, shooting countless baskets and accepting treats, petting and scratching. The Henslees were actually thankful each night when the security guards would run the last visitors off at 10 or 11 PM, so they could all get some rest.

Since Chris was in medical school and Donna Rae Walls had returned to England, they couldn’t repeat the freestyle performance, but Rancho Del Lago halter trainer, Sr. Ruperto Vasquez, conducted both a breed demo and a solo spot in the Saturday evening performance and Walter performed a clicker training demonstration.

Henslee wouldn’t want to leave the impression that all of Magico’s public performances have been perfect. The clicker-training clinic at the Expo got off to a shaking start. It was a warm day and all Magico cared about was rolling in the cool sand of the demo ring. Henslee finally gave in and just let him roll and then turned him loose while he completed his introductory remarks. Having been stalled quite a lot, Magico started running around Henslee in circles, bucking and leaping into the air. After a few minutes, however, he was ready to work and even let a member of the audience cue him to dunk basketballs and bow.

Just because a stallion has an impressive pedigree and show wins, it doesn’t guarantee that he will be a great sire. To be a great sire, a stallion must cross well with a variety of mares, passing his desirable traits to his progeny while minimizing any faults. The renowned Secretariat, for example, did not produce anything comparable to himself. So, with great anticipation, the Henslees awaited Magico’s first foal crop. He had been crossed with two purebred Andalusians, two Quarter Horses and a Paint to produce Aztecas, as well as an Arabian cross to produce a Hispano-Arab. One hundred percent of the mares conceived within two breeding cycles and all carried to term. The foals bear his unmistakable stamp; an elegant neck and head, good bone, round croup with a full hip and low tail set and a straight forward, suspended movement.

Walter and Judy envision and pray for a long and productive life for this noble stallion. Paraphrasing one prominent breeder of Andalusians, “When you get the combination of tractability and good manners with brio, a natural grace of movement, excellent conformation, the ability to consistently pass these traits to his progeny, and you find this in a stallion of color, already rare in this breed; well, that’s one in a hundred thousand.”

You can read more about Magico and see photos at his web site or call Walter or Judy Henslee at 979-297-5241 (Home) or 979-292-5784 (Cell), you can also Email them at henslee@sat.net.

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