Tew To Tango: 6 Steps to Building a Partnership with a New Horse

Learning to ride a new horse can be a challenge, especially when it’s one as powerful as Sipping On Firewater. National Finals Rodeo qualifier Jimmie Tew shares the tips she’s using toward building a partnership with her new “sports car.”
Jimmie Smith and Sipping On Firewater topped the $350,000 Run For The Rubies West to earn $15,750.

Talented McDade, Texas, barrel racer Jimmie (Smith) Tew has had success on multiple barrel horses.

She won the 2018 WPRA Resistol Rookie of the Year title aboard Lena On The Rocks, a horse that she “clicked” with from the very beginning. When Lena needed help, Tew quickly found it in Lever Action (PT) (“Mini”). Last year, when tragedy struck in heart of the summer run and she was left afoot, the Keith Nellesen family of Utah graciously sent her an instant fit in Manny Dot Com (“Viper”). Even with the tremendous physical and emotional setback, the new team almost made it to the 2021 National Finals Rodeo. Riding multiple barrel horses and getting with new horses is a skill Tew is mastering under pressure.

In February 2022, Tew got a new ride courtesy of the Nellesen purchase of Sipping On Firewater (“Stella”) through their McColee Land & Livestock. The 7-year-old mare, by Shawne Bug Leo out of Firewater Squaw, by Fire Water Flit, was an aged event finalist with trainer Janna Brown and a 1D and rodeo money earner with her owner Tiffani Sonnier.

Tew had just trotted Stella through the pattern before she threw the mare to the wolves at the San Antonio Rodeo. She later described the run as “a mess.”

Yet, all the while learning to ride one of the most powerful horses that she’s ever swung a leg over, Tew has had some spectacular runs and victories. With $30,710 won as of June 13, Tew has raced her way to 14th in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Standings.

They clocked one of the fastest times in the Buy-Buck Round at The American semifinals but tipped a barrel. At Rodeo Houston, with a chance to advance on the line, they turned in the fastest run at that point of the event. At the Lakeside, California, professional rodeo in April, Tew and Stella clocked a 16.73 on an outdoor WPRA standard pattern to take the win.

Recently, they topped the $350,000 Run For The Rubies West, a Ruby Buckle sidepot held in conjunction with the National Barrel Horse Association Professional’s Choice Las Vegas Show. The victory was worth $15,750 plus an additional $2,244 for placing third in the NBHA show.

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Tew said it came down to trusting the powerful mare to do her job and doing her best to stay out of her way.

“I really can’t describe how strong Stella is,” she said. “It’s the sports car that goes zero to 60 in like two seconds.”

Here, Tew gives six hints as to what has helped her “click” with her newest “sports car.”

1. Maximize Slow Work

Not wanting to waste the mare’s talents on practice runs at home, Tew has spent a lot of time doing slow work. The fastest they’ve gone through at home has been a slow lope.

“It’s not for Stella,” she said. “It’s for us getting together.”

2. Don’t Waste Her Horse

In the same vein, Tew is reluctant to waste the powerful mare’s runs when they don’t count for much.

“She just uses herself so darn much because she’s so powerful,” she said. “I’m trying to save her.”

Stella’s runs thus far have all been at major events or pro rodeos, which Tew admitted was out of her comfort zone for getting with a new horse. Tew also knew what Stella was capable of accomplishing, so even though she didn’t know her well, the mare was her best chance at winning.

“I didn’t have Lena for The American semifinals,” she recalled. “I wasn’t ready to run her yet. Mini is a great small pen horse, but the semifinals is a different league. Those horses are freaks. You just have to throw down there. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just try it out!’ Obviously, she did amazing!

“At Houston, Mini was getting the job done, but what’s the point of running if you’re not able to make the top four and win the deal? I thought, ‘Let’s try Stella!’ She was doing so amazing in practice. The ground was a little bit better at Houston this year, so it was a great time to be able to try it. Obviously, she showed us what she was capable of there too.”

3. The Right Help

Tew was quick to turn to Stella’s previous riders Brown and Sonnier for help.

“That mare has won so much with two different people, why would I not ask them for help?” she said. “I’m just trying to make myself better and do the mare justice. I’m very willing to take all the help they’re willing to give.

“Tiffani and Janna have done anything and everything to help me and answer my questions. We’ve Facetimed when I’ve worked her. We’ve sent videos. It’s been awesome.”

Jimmie Smith and Sippin On Firewater won the 2022 Lakeside Pro Rodeo by running a 16.73 on a standard set in April. Photograph by Kaus Photos

4. Stick With The Familiar

Although she has several different bits she’s used at home during slow work, Tew has chosen to compete with the two bits that Stella came with—an O-ring and smooth-mouth Ed Wright Lifter.

Sonnier had been running Stella in the O-ring, a bit that Tew says doesn’t fit her hands very well. Although she ran in it at The American semifinals, by Houston, Tew had switched to the Lifter.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable running in an O-ring at Houston,” she said. Although the mare is turny, there are literally no fences in sight of a barrel at Rodeo Houston. “I made the switch and it’s pretty much stuck ever since.”

5. Give It Time

“You have to just give it time,” Tew said. “Last summer when I got on Viper, it just clicked right away. That doesn’t happen very often. I did click with Stella right away, but we’ve also gone through some struggles when I don’t ride her correctly, like when I do the panic pull (using the outside rein to hold her off a turn).”

6. Stay Positive

Before making the winning run at Run For The Rubies, Tew literally told herself that she could ride Stella.

“I told the girl that was with me, ‘I can ride this mare. I know I can!’ I have to believe that I can and I have to do it. I literally said those words out aloud.

“It is so hard riding behind someone that rides so well and that’s won so much on her. Tiffani and Janna—Janna won an incredible amount on that mare and did so well with her. You’re trying not to disappoint people. You don’t want people saying, ‘Oh, that mare was better with Janna.’ You want people thinking she’s amazing with everyone. But, you have to put that out of your mind. You can’t care what people think.”

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