"She went walking by in those white wranglers."
And that was it, said trainer Jim Meyaard, about meeting jockey Amber Dickinson at a bush meet in Grand Prairie, Alta., in 2004. The couple started working together that year and married in 2009.
Since 2004, horses in their care have won 239 races and earned $3,438,739 from 907 starts. This year, the couple is burning up the track again with a 39 per cent strike rate. They've started 31 horses and compiled a record of 12-9-5. That's good for 84 per cent in the money, best on the grounds at Assiniboia Downs.
It's probably safe to say they were a match made in heaven.
The Meyaards currently condition the top three-year-old Manitoba-bred in both the male and female divisions. Jet Again, a three-year-old gelding by Going Commando, won the $25,000 Frank Arnason Sire Stakes last Friday by an easy 51/2 lengths, and stablemate Nose the Pose, a three-year-old filly, also by Going Commando, won the $25,000 Hazel Wright Sire Stakes last Saturday by 23/4 lengths.
Both horses have improved substantially this year and are a perfect three-for-three. Cam Ziprick had a hand in the breeding of both horses, partnering with Charles Fouillard to breed Nose the Pose and with Arnason Farms on the mating that produced Jet Again. And they're not done yet.
Last year's Horse of the Year, Zdeno, another bred by Ziprick, is now back in training with the Meyaards, after a virus attack in Phoenix. Fans will be happy to know Zdeno has been back in action for almost three weeks and he can still "skim over the ground."
Two trademarks of good horsemen are their ability to hold horses in peak form for long periods of time and to improve horses on a regular basis. The Meyaards have proven they can do both.
One of their more recent high-profile repeat winners was No Hesitation, who went on a roll in Alberta in 2010 and won five in a row, including four stakes, culminating with a win in the $300,000 Canadian Derby-G3.
As far as improving horses goes, a few that stand out for the Meyaards are Alywyn, who was claimed for $12,000 and went on six- and four-race winning streaks in 2009 and 2010 that included four stakes wins at Northlands Park and Fonner Park, increasing her lifetime earnings to $282,314; and Salt Flat Speed, who was claimed for $7,500 and later went on a five-race win streak that included victories in three $50,000 stakes at Northlands Park.
"We pay attention to detail," said Meyaard. "Amber and I exercise all the horses and she breezes them. And I shoe them myself. And we let the horses tell us where they are at and what they want to do. We let them tell us when they are ready to do more. When we lead them over there they're relaxed and ready."
The Meyaards spend a lot of time in the barn and have an excellent feeding and training program based on that of the best trainers from years gone by. Their exercise program also includes jogging, a rare and much-underrated practice that has been used by many Hall of Fame trainers over the years, most notably "Giant Killer" H. Allen Jerkens in his heyday.
And their feeding program is also surprisingly similar to that of Jerkens, who used a wide variety of natural plant remedies in his barn. The only difference being that now companies take the plant derivatives and make liquid supplements out of them.
If you can find the right feed combination and combine it with excellent care and training, along with the ability to get inside the mind of a horse and figure out what they want, you're going to get a lot of repeat winners and improve a lot of horses.
"You still need the horses," said Meyaard. "But the keys are hard work and paying attention. We've tried many different supplements and feeds over the year years and we've discovered what works. You have to feed good. And every horse is an individual. You have to get to know their character, what makes them tick. Get them confident."
"And it isn't just me training these horses. Amber is just as much the trainer as I am. Number one, she's my best friend in the world. Number two, we're married. And number three, she's my working partner."
Amber, who is 39 going on 40, hails from Spences Bridge, B.C., population 138. Jim, 46, grew up in Cleardale, Alta., population 407.
Lucky they missed date night. Back on the ranch.