Two-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Shali Lord and her family bid farewell to the horse that made the dream of Lord’s first NFR a reality when the 1992 bay gelding SX Docslider (“Slider”) was laid to rest on the ranch outside Lamar, Colorado, on January 16 at the age of 30.
A ground-covering stride and huge heart are two characteristics Slider had in spades. Bred by Lori and Greg Shearer of SX Frenchmans Vanila fame, Slider was purchased from South Dakota all-around cowgirl Kerbi Thiel Bowden and her family by Lord in the fall of 2004. Sired by The Docs Jack Frost son Doc Bruce, Slider was out of a Tonto Bars Gill mare.
“When we bought Slider from Thiel’s, he was 12 so he had already had a good career, but not so much at the pro rodeos,” said Lord. “Their family had all roped on him and Kerbi ran him and won on him, she had him at college with her. I don’t know if they consistently ran barrels on him quite like I did, but they did well with him in everything they wanted to do.”
Slider’s purchase by Lord coincided nicely with her November birthday and the bond they shared turned out to be a gift that never stopped giving.
“He was so talented and so athletic,” said Lord. “I tried him at a barrel race in Texas and outran 500 horses the very first time I ran him. The thing that was so cool was that he didn’t really have experience with rodeos much beyond the circuit rodeos and he just took right to it and went to winning.”
With his signature all-or-nothing style of running and a low crawling turn around the barrels that defied convention, Slider often left barrel racing enthusiasts wondering how in the world he did what he did.
“When I tried him, it was at a big jackpot at NRS in Decatur,” she recalled. “It was my first-ever run on him and I was pretty nervous. I talked to my dad and asked him kind of how I should ride him, and he goes, ‘Send him!’ So, that’s exactly what I did, and he set an arena record on that very first run with me.”
Straight to the National Finals Rodeo
Lord and Slider demanded attention right from the start and it was no time at all before Slider took his turn on rodeo’s biggest stage at the Thomas & Mack Center arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I had made a couple of runs on him is all and it ended up that Molly Powell didn’t have a horse for the NFR, so my dad had talked to Turtle about Slider, and Molly decided to try him at a jackpot at Dunn’s Arena in Arizona,” said Lord. “That was back when they ran from the other end than they do now at Dunn’s, and it was a side gate. Molly and Slider went in there and ran a 16.7 on a standard pattern. After that run they ended up hauling him with them to Vegas.”
Powell was admittedly in a bind with both of her personal horses sidelined. She had June Holeman’s Sparky Impression (“Sparky”) lined up but one horse for 10 grueling rounds was less than ideal. Ironically, when Powell’s husband, Turtle, and Lord’s dad, Jim Nichols, put their heads together to arrange Slider’s trial run, the little gelding had primarily been heeling steers in Arizona. The Powell’s were heading to the NFR from Stephenville, Texas, via Arizona, when that fortuitous meeting took place.
“Turtle got me set up to try him and I’m rolling my eyes a little because no one knows much about the horse at that point in time, really,” recalled Powell. “Jim and Leslie hauled him to Dunn’s, and I did one exhibition, which was pretty wild. I felt a bit out of control in the O-ring snaffle and in my head I was really questioning things, but we go in and he runs a 16.7 and wins the jackpot by half a second. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ We had no idea how good he was!”
Powell hauled the two iconic barrel horses with her to Vegas where against the odds and against even her own expectations she walked away as the 2004 average champion.
“That was Slider’s first trip to Vegas, and I. think Molly won two rounds on him,” said Lord. “I think that was the first time she’d won a go-round at the Finals, which was pretty special.”
“Slider was very intimidating in practice because he was so high on barrel racing,’ said Powell, who held off running him for the first three rounds. “Everybody’s telling me, ‘You need to ride him,’ so I’m looking at one of Turtle’s shanked roping bits with a floating spade in the mouthpiece and I’m thinking, ‘Well, he’s a roping horse so this might be worth a try.’ I put that roping bit on him, and he just galloped around like a broke horse. That gave me a feeling of more control than what I felt with the snaffle, so I ran him in that, and he did great. But it was all I could do to not throw up.”
To add to the drama of that NFR another curveball was thrown at Powell when Slider developed a little fever.
“I didn’t ride him for a night or two and everybody’s of course asking me why I’m getting off him, but he wasn’t quite feeling himself due to a little virus going through the barns there, so I rested him. I always go back to that memory because to this day I say it takes a fresh horse to win in the Thomas & Mack. I’ll tell you, when I did get back on him, I had a super fresh horse!”
Powell won around $100,000 that week and finished second in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings in part thanks to Slider. She says she had to take a “do or die” approach to riding him because even with Turtle holding his shoulder and another helper at his hip, Slider left the alleyway like an equine slingshot and the 10-time NFR qualifier had to quell a very real fear of falling off during their runs.
“His turn had a belly roll feeling to it,” said Powell, “He would be almost laying down on the ground leaving the alley and I could feel my feet in the dirt.”
The Real Deal
“At that point seeing him do so well in the Thomas & Mack, it was like, ‘this horse is a little more serious than I thought!’” said Lord. “So, I entered the winter rodeos, and he was amazing. I hit a barrel to win Odessa and ended up winning second at Denver. I didn’t go to Fort Worth or San Antonio, but everywhere I did go he was definitely great. We won Guymon that spring, won money at Houston and we placed second at San Angelo.”
Lord says that factors like the size of the pattern or whether the venue was indoors or out had little bearing on Slider’s willingness to perform.
“It just really didn’t matter to him,” she said. “He was so fast and so athletic. He would drop and turn all in one motion and I ran him mostly in a ring snaffle with not a lot of whoa, but he would not run by a barrel, ever.”
In 2005, Lord and Slider had started out hot, lighting the leaderboard at major winter rodeos. Keeping their momentum strong through the duration of the regular season Lord says she entered the NFR with about $75,000 won, and then doubled those earnings in Vegas.
“We placed in almost every round, every time we didn’t hit a barrel we placed,” she said. “He won three go rounds and it was just a few downed barrels that cost us winning the world.”
Watch Slider and Shali’s thrilling NFR performances here.
In 2006, Lord and Slider finished 16th in the WPRA standings, which she attributes to hitting some very costly barrels during the season. Despite the heartache of barely making their second NFR together, Lord was happy to see Slider make the trip to Vegas again with Powell in 2007.
As for her most memorable runs with Slider, Lord counts the National Western Stock Show in Denver among them, and definitely their go round wins at the NFR. Another favorite Colorado rodeo was the Elizabeth Stampede — “I can’t count how many times he won Elizabeth,” she said. “He loved Elizabeth. Another run I remember very vividly was the first go at the Laughlin River Stampede one year, he won it by half a second, it was amazing, that’s not an easy thing to do, especially there. He always did well at Guymon and Cheyenne too.”
The toughness of his Three Bars infused bloodline made Slider a hardy competitor throughout the course of a career in which he conquered the confines of the Thomas & Mack as well the wide-open, challenging set-ups in arenas like Cheyenne, Guymon, and a host of others.
“He was just gritty and very tough,” Lord said. “He hardly had any vet trips beyond just regular maintenance, he stayed really sound. One of his only real quirks was that he pulled back really bad. Like, he’d break the tie rings when you tied him. When I’d get to a rodeo our routine was I’d leave him in the trailer to saddle him to avoid tying him and having him set back. I’m not sure why or how it started, but he couldn’t be tied up, so it was just one of those things we knew, and we worked around it.”
A Carrier of Precious Cargo
Like most great performance horses Slider was not without idiosyncrasies, but the fan favorite was beloved by the Lord and Nichols families for his stalwart performances and endearing temperament. He was a part of the family for close to two decades.
“He loved mares, in his retirement he lived with our gray mare in their pasture and if we took her out for the kids to ride her, he’d just nicker and couldn’t wait for us to bring her back,” said Lord. “He was quirky, but there was nothing bad or mean about it. He had a great personality.”
Shali’s husband Phy had the responsibility of leading Slider down the alley not only at the NFR, but also in the gelding’s senior years when his career involved equine celebrity appearances at select junior rodeos with the Lord’s son, Slade, his precious cargo in the saddle.
“When Phy led Slider in with Slade at that first junior rodeo at Latigo (in Black Forest, Colorado), he was scared to let him go because even though Slider was 27 or so he still made that corner like he was back at the NFR,” Lord recalled fondly. “He took one pretty good jump and then loped off. That was pretty neat. We took Slider to a few of the junior rodeos, and it makes me so happy that my kids got to experience him, both Slade and Steely were able to ride him.”
Fittingly, the ranch-born rodeo superstar now rests easy on the sprawling southeastern Colorado prairie at the Lord’s family Ranch leaving those who knew and loved him with cherished memories.