DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rodeo rider represents Xavier in grand style

Quinn Unrein has carved her own special place in Xavier Prep’s long history of star athletes in numerous sports.
The freshman recently earned her first-ever shiny belt buckles for victories in rodeo’s barrel-racing competition.
She did it with a lot of help from her horse, Danny, who has become her good friend in the two years they have worked together.
Unrein won a state championship buckle at a 4H event a few weeks ago, and followed that up with another buckle by capturing her division in a pink-ribbon rodeo event where the proceeds went to assist in breast-cancer research.
“To win that state final (4H) was really cool,’’ said the 15-year-old Unrein. “There have been quite a few times when I have come close, but never got it. There were about 35 riders in the competition and I was the 24th or so to go out. I had the fastest time after that, but there were still 10 riders to go, so I had to wait. It was worth the wait, though.’’
One of the first things she did was hug Danny.
“I was so proud of him,’’ she said with a smile.

XCP freshman Quinn Unrein and her horse, Danny, relax after a job well done in earning a rodeo buckle for barrel racing. (Photo courtesy of Unrein family).

 Unrein also has been selected by the 4H as one of four girls to represent Arizona in January in national competition in the Western Youth Roundup in Denver. The competition includes written and oral tests in Hippology, the study of horses.
Unrein’s interest in riding came from visiting a friend during the summers in Pinetop. The interest became so great that she took riding lessons at the Western Saddle Club in Phoenix, near her home, and that led to the acquisition of female Alley Cat, about five years ago, and Danny two years ago.
For the most part, Unrein takes care of the horses herself, brushing them every other day or so, feeding them and, yes, even cleaning up after them.
She loves the horses, particularly Danny.
“He’s funny. Everybody loves him,’’ she said. “He is a big goofball. He sticks his tongue out, makes all of us laugh. He’s taller than most barrel-racing horses, 17 hands as opposed to the normal 15.’’
Throughout the learning process, Unrein got a lot of books about horses and discovered many facts, such as telling a horse’s age by looking at its teeth.
Asked if there is something that people might not normally know about horses, Unrein said, “Like many animals, they can sense how you are feeling, if you’re feeling comfortable or frustrated, and if you’re frustrated, they can get kind of frustrated, too. I might go to the barn one day and I’m not feeling as good, and he will put his head on my shoulder.’’
Danny has a complex diet that includes oats, beet pulp and electrolytes in the winter, because horses, like people, don’t drink as much in the winter as they do in the summer. Some people put powdered sports drinks containing electrolytes in the food, but there also is a special type of electrolytes for horses.
Barrel racing is a speed event, where the barrels are placed in a triangular formation. The horse comes in and practically sits down when getting around the barrel without hitting it. The rider also has to adjust their weight and positioning.
“It’s a lot harder than people realize. It isn’t just climbing on a horse and then going out there,’’ Unrein said.
Both of Unrein’s parents have trucks and have towed the horse trailer all over the state, from Buckeye to Wickenburg to Payson to Safford as well as various sites around the Valley. Unrein also is a member of the Arizona High School Rodeo Association.
What happens to Alley Cat when Danny is packed up and taken away? Does she get lonely?
“She calls out for him, but after a couple of hours, she’s fine,’’ Unrein said.
Unrein also is involved in 4H and has worked with other animals such as rabbits, chickens and goats.
She played club volleyball for awhile, but backed away because it took too much time away from her horses. She is considering trying out for the track and field team in the spring.
She also receives advice on riding and the care of the horses from a friend who is a professor and doubles as a horse trainer and chiropractor. The friend uses pressure points, and while the horses might try to kick because they are in pain, it changes once the pain has been alleviated.
Unrein hopes to continue to study equine science as she gets older – there is a school in Paradise Valley – and she wants to work with horses that have been injured or abused.
In the meantime, she enjoys her classes at Xavier and has theater as an elective. She enjoys English, writing, and Spanish. Her father, Chad, is a teacher and coach at next-door neighbor Brophy Prep.
“Going to an all-girls school is interesting. Everyone is kind of laid-back, but you get a stellar education,’’ Unrein said. “It’s something that you can’t get anywhere else. I know it’s going to prepare me for whatever I decide to do.’’
She will slide into the saddle as the fun ride continues.

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