From pipe dream to reality; Former CNIGA chairman brings home a champion

James May
3/23/05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Like many young women, Brenda Soulliere wanted a pony.
She said she asked her parents faithfully every Christmas for a pony,
knowing that her quest was fruitless.

"They just had the same argument that I think most parents do when their
kid asks for a pony," said Soulliere, a former chairman of the California
Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) and two-decade tribal councilman
at Cabazon.

Soulliere said her parents always told her, "You'll play with it for a week
and then get bored."

Little did they know that Soulliere would show such sincere determination
in her quest for that pony. In fact, over the years she has had several
horses and hoped that one day one of them would be a champion.

Soulliere's childhood dream recently reached a milestone of sorts, proving
her wish had some mettle behind it: Fancy's Nicker, one of Soulliere's
horses, took the top' prize at last October's 2004 National Championships
for Arabian Horses in Louisville, Ky.

Now Soulliere is gracing the cover of a horse trade magazine and short
articles about her champion horse are appearing in others, noting that her
horse topped the list at Louisville last year.

Soulliere's is a story of sheer perseverance.

She took odd jobs when she was 14 and began saving money to acquire a
horse: "I was even taking spare change from laundry machines."

Eventually, Soulliere had saved enough to buy a horse. Her first horse,
bought for $5,000, was "skin and bones, and didn't look like it was taken
care of." Soulliere eventually nursed the animal back to health and later
began to acquire others.

Over the ensuing years, Soulliere began to ride in parades, at first just
for fun but later competitively. She ended up in the higher end of the
competitive parade category and competed at such large events as the Rose
Parade, held every New Year's Day in Pasadena, Calif. - an event in which
she competed five times. In 1988 she took top honors in the California
State Championship in Parade at an event held in Banning, Calif.

Soulliere retired from competitive Parade, later turning her energy to
championships, especially for Arabian horses.

At the Cabazon Reservation where Soulliere - daughter of former Cabazon
Chairman John James - lives and currently works in the tribal
administration, she does not have room for the horses. Instead, she keeps
them at a stable in nearby Coachella Valley. She also hired a trainer, Kit
Hall, who was named one of the top 10 trainers in the U.S. by the Arabian
Horse Association.

Dispelling common myths, Soulliere said she is the only person on the
reservation who owns horses and is known as "Ms. Horsey Person." Cabazon,
however, footed the bill for transporting the horse to the championship.

The story of Soulliere's championship horse is equally compelling. She
bought the champion's mother from a horse rescue, an organization that
specializes in placing neglected, abused and unwanted animals with more
responsible owners.

It turned out that the quarter horse mare was pregnant and shortly
afterward gave birth to the future champion, who was half Arabian.

Though the horse was slow to train, and was even disqualified from her
first show, she got the hang of it and began to improve, eventually
qualifying for the Regional Championships last June.

There are 18 regions in the Arabian Horse Association in the United States
and Canada. Soulliere's horse competed in two Regional Championships:
Region I in Del Mar, Calif. and Region II in Burbank. Half Arabians are
allowed to compete.

Her horse won the Region II Championship and thus qualified to go on to the
National Championship in Louisville.

Horse trainer Hall said that Soulliere's preferred competitions are the
Western-style events that differ from the English-style events.

Hall also said that Arabians are the "foundation breed" of all
light-colored horses, meaning their stock is intermixed to some degree with
other horses.

The family of horses has expanded over the years. Soulliere once had a
horse that was related to a champion owned by former President Ronald
Reagan at his Santa Barbara ranch. She has a breed of Golden Arabians that
she plans to show in the future: quite an accomplishment for someone's
once-dismissed childhood dream.

"I just really wanted a pony, and I guess I was serious."

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