Alexis and Meeko (Ima Little Ichi) at the World Finals
#Goals pretty much sums up my general feelings for Alexis Stephas. Maybe throw in a little #WomanCrush too, because heck, why not? The 23 year old Tennessee native is a force to be reckoned with in the cutting pen, in both the Weekend and Aged Event shows. Her lifetime earnings are currently sitting at over $500,000, and she has the accolades to show why. In 2011 she won the coveted NCHA Senior Youth title, and from that year onwards she has placed, every single year, in the Top 15 of the NCHA Non-Pro. So why interview her now, this year in particular? Because she killed 2015… that’s why. On the Weekend side of things, Alexis finished 14th in the world in the Non-Pro on her talented and beloved gelding Meeko (Ima Little Ichi), and 4th on her newest acquisition Tonka (Peeka Spice Cat) in the 15,000 Novice Non-Pro Class. In the Aged Events she showed us how to get down in cowtown, at the Super Stakes she was crowned Amateur Champion, as well as the first ever Slot Cutting Amateur Champion, on her gorgeous black stallion Zorro, whose registered name is “Once You Go Black”… I know, how can you not die over that name? It’s perfect. By the way, the Slot Cutting? At $20,000, it was the richest amateur cutting payout to date. Thats a girl boss paycheque if I ever did see one!
Zorro & Alexis winning the Amateur Super Stakes
So, who is Alexis Stephas? She has serious show-stopping looks, coupled with an impeccable fashion sense, and top it off with the drive of a seasoned competitor. But deep down, she just loves horses. Her love of horses began at an early age at the family house in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where her dad would take her for pony rides during their vacations. However, the rest of her family wasn’t as horse-inclined as she was, but fate would have it that her competitive dance teacher had horses, and a cutting horse trainer that worked out of her facility. The rest is, as they say it, history - she caught the bug and ran with it. She started to become consistent in the show pen around 2007-2008, the latter year she began hauling by herself to competitions, and by 2009 she tried for top 15 in the Senior Youth, where she finished in fourth place. She credits 2011 as one of her favourite years, “I won the Senior Youth world title, and also qualified for the first time in the top 15 in the Non Pro! I accomplished my youth title on Tina Bars Queen, who is now my broodmare, and my top 15 in the Non Pro on my sweet boy, Swing In Time.” Alexis is a self professed horse-hoarder, “I’ve sold one horse, and that was to purchase Swinger (Swing In Time). So, if that says anything all my horses are very special to me.” Her squad of horses at the moment includes Tiara (Tina Bars Queen) who she has now retired to become a broodmare. She currently has two up-and-coming mares from Tiara, Kiss, who will be three and futurity-bound in 2016, and Smooch who is a coming two year old. Her current show horses are Meeko, Tonka and Zorro, who she campaigned throughout the year. Finally, she has a second retiree in the herd - Swinger, who she holds a very soft sport in her heart for. She credits Swinger as the first horse to really teach her, and take her to where she is today. “I could put him in any situation and the tougher, the better. I “retired” him in 2013 when Meeko could step up to take his place as my non pro horse. I turned him out with nearly $150,000 in earnings, and that was earned weekend after weekend. I pulled him out for Eastern Nationals this year, and he was a Non Pro finalist! That might be his one appearance from now on!”
Alexis and Tonka (Peeka Spice Cat) at the NCHA World Finals
It’s no doubt that the time, effort, and money it takes to haul for the world, as well as show in the Aged Events, can really wear someone down. However, Alexis insists that she is happiest on the road, and that her LQ trailer is like home to her. “Every single day that I get to walk to the herd is a great day.” This year alone, she hit over 50 weekend shows, and her absolute favourite is Batesville, Mississippi. She spends 8 days out of each month there in the year, making it a must-hit so that she can win the money she needs to stay in the Top 15. Not just a show, Alexis calls Batesville her second home. She has the same stalls every time she there and she doesn’t even have to call ahead anymore - the crew at Batesville just know she’ll be there. She credits Lee Garner and his crew making sure everyone is happy to the reason she’s so comfortable there - but it also might be the fact that Nick and Angie make the best homemade food everyday. Aside from horses, food ranks pretty high in her “favourite things” list, and who can blame a gal really? There's somethin' about a homecooked meal in the south, I’ll tell you what. Aside from Batesville, Alexis tries to go to Harriman, Tennessee, as much as she can because it was the show she started at, the people there are like family to her, and it’s a nice reminder of why she started loving the sport in the first place. Each day on the road has become routine for Alexis, who used to spend 6 weeks at a time gone, sometimes longer, when she was still living in Tenessee. Since she has relocated to Weatherford, she can typically get home during the week. During a show she get’s up and feeds her horses, goes back to bed for a few hours, will do her chores, and wait until she gets to show. Her hauling partner is her 7 year old border collie, Kippy, who she purchased before she began hauling alone. Weekend shows, she insists, are still her favourite because of how much she simply loves to show. “I love being able to walk to the herd nearly every day of the year if I wanted to. If something happens in the show pen that day, there’s always tomorrow.” However, Alexis had a dramatic turn towards the end of the point year where with 4 days left to go, her and Meeko slipped to 16th in the world standings. Her trainer (and conveniently her boyfriend as well) Cullen Chartier, and her, made an unplanned trip to Batesville to try and save her year. She collected $2200 the first day, which gave her a bit of breathing room, and $1700 the third day to secure her in the top 15. It gave her an extra day to rest, before they headed to Fort Worth to show at the Slot Cutting, where they made the finals again! Next year, she professes, she wont change much of her game-plan, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” but maybe will safety up towards the end of the year, “The only thing I will do differently is make sure I’m not hanging low enough to be kicked out of the top 15 with only a few days left!”
Alexis and her beloved "Whale"
Meeko (Ima Little Ichi) deserves some recognition as well for his superstar status. Cullen found Meeko for Alexis at the end of his 5 year old year, and was purchased from Tarin and Katie Rice. He has quite the personality, “he acts like a raccoon! He’s into everything, which is how he got his name. He’s a happy horse that just wants to be fed, or scratched in his favourite spots. I call him my whale. He also grows a massive winter coat every October, no matter what, so he gets clipped every winter. He just got his hair cut - so he’s my naked whale right now!” At the last show of the point year, in Batesville, Meeko crossed over $200,000 in lifetime earnings while Alexis simultaneously crossed over $500,000. “He’s been a huge part of my success. I won my first Non Pro aged event on him, which is one of my favourite successes in the cutting pen. I get so excited every single day I get to show him.” The 2006 gelding out of Cat ichi is incredibly cowy and smart. “He’s so big, that he traps a cow so easy, it’s pretty cool. He’s gritty and has more heart than any horse I’ve ever watched. That trait means more to me than anything, because I know he's trying and loves his job. When he tell me he’s done, I’ll retire him and turn him out in the same big pasture as my other ones.” (no surprise there!) In their downtime in between shows, Alexis turns Meeko out and wont bring him into the arena. If she exercises him, it’s just in the pasture. She credits this program to why her horses have stayed good mentally and physically. “They’re old enough to know their job, and they need to be horses, just like we need to kick our feet up and hang outside some days! I’m a HUGE believer in that!”
Her lifestyle totally centres around horses however, she also works for CR Ranchwear, which has become the darling clothing company of the elite cutting crowd. Alexis takes care of a lot of online orders and all of the social media for the company. She has been with CR Ranchwear from their early beginnings, and has become their poster child as well, she loves watching the company grow and of course - sporting their shirts in the show pen! She also takes time and consideration into how she looks in the show pen. “I am HUGE on matching my shirt with my Yucca Flats saddle blanket. I feel we need to walk to the herd like it's the one time we'll be remembered for. My parents are stylish people and I know I got that from them. I always have my hair in a ponytail behind my hat, too. I want to look like I care about what I do and how myself and my animals look. Yes, cutting isn't judged on looks, but a little eye appeal never killed anyone. It's a “cocky” way to describe it, but that's how I feel. Look the part, feel the part, do the part.” She also maintains a level of comfort in the show pen as well, quipping “if you’re not comfortable, it shows pretty quick in this sport.”
Alexis and Once You Go Black
For her fellow female competitors, Alexis’ advice is to always be your toughest competitor and put as much into it as you want to get out it. She advises to take one thing from every single run and try to get better at that one thing for the next time, and most important of all - never give up. Alexis has learned this advice from her competitors in the top 15, they are consistently there for a reason and she takes bits and pieces from everyone she comes in contact with. “You can never stop learning in this sport, or any sport for that matter, the moment you do - you lose not only your competitive edge but your competitors respect. That's one thing I tell myself often.” Now that 2015 is coming to an end, Alexis’ 2016 is a little undecided. She wants to show enough to stay in the Top 15 in the Non Pro, and will show Kiss in The Futurity, but that is about as far as her plans go for now. Mentally, I'm sure she deserves a little bit of a break this holiday season! Just thinking about her schedule this year makes me dizzy! Alexis is just one of those women you want to follow, she's come so far since 2008, a mere 8 years ago, it’s anyone’s best guess where the next 8 years will take her. If I can tell you one thing, I'm sure it will be in an impeccably matched CR Ranchwear shirt, a Yucca Flats saddle pad, and a seriously competitive horse with a big personality, or eye-catching name. Like I said, #goals people, watch out for this one.
Modeling for CR Ranchwear
*Photos provided by Alexis Stephas