Marla Gonnet grew up on a mixed far outside of Hanley, Saskatchewan, where her family grain farmed and raised purebred Maine Anjou cattle. She was active in 4-H beef and light horse until she graduated from High School, and always loved animals, but wasn’t passionate about horses in her younger years. Her true passion for horses came when she started working with now husband, Dustin Gonnet, eleven years ago. She witnessed the passion he had for horses, and the response that the horses, in turn, gave back to him. She speaks of her husband with much admiration, “I had always seen the amazing things he could do with horses and had so much respect and admiration for what he could do I guess I just didn’t think that I could do it!” she admits. She credits Dustin for handing her the keys to her success, “he pushes me to learn and connect with a horse in ways that are so simple, yet so challenging.”
However, being a “Trainer’s Wife” is not an easy task, and Marla’s life is anything but idle. The duo behind “Gonnet Performance Horses” works well together and makes sure to communicate - being open and honest, with each other makes them the great team that they are. Their routine consists of waking up anytime between 5 and 6 am, having breakfast and heading outside. The day begins by saddling and turning out horses, cleaning stalls and beginning to work whichever horses need to be worked for the day. Their young son, Destry, generally wakes up between 7 and 8 am, so Marla continues to check on him untill he’s awake, then she feeds him breakfast, and he too comes outside. Destry will help out whenever his parents need, but he also keeps himself busy riding his bike or the sheep! In the summer months, the Gonnets have to also balance moving and checking yearlings, as well as working horses.
Marla acknowledges that, although the small picture looks gruelling and tough to an outsider, the BIG picture is that the family gets to do exactly what they love doing and every day they work towards what they want. Slowly, they are acquiring more land, more cattle and are beginning to breed their own horses. Gonnet Performance Horses is ever expanding, and Marla credits balancing her life by being definite on her goals. She states, “I have goals for every part of my life, whether it be in the show pen, loping horses, being a good wife and mother or just out moving yearlings. I’ve learned to focus on things that I want in life and have found true happiness in that.” It is these goals, and this focus, that has positioned Marla at the top of her game in the cutting pen.
Marla’s earliest success in Cutting came when family friend and customer, Ron Patton let her show his great mare, “Christina’s Blue”, in the 2000 Limited Rider class. She only showed her a handful of times, but in that period “Christina’s Blue” taught Marla a lot about navigating the show pen. That year, Marla and “Christina’s Blue”, ended up the reserve champion for the year end prizes - quite the accomplishment for a new team, and an up and coming cutting horse rider! However, it was the horse that Marla is currently riding, “Dirty Dreamin”, or “Bean” as they call her at home, that has really catapulted Marla into the next level.
Bean came to the Gonnet family in August of 2013 from Jim and Teri Paradis. She was originally brought up to Alberta as a yearling by Mike Santagelo and was a prize for the aggregate for Open Ranch Cutting at the winter series at the Silver Slate Arena. Jim Paradis won the series, and in turn won the great mare - Dirty Dreamin, who was bred by Wingate Ranch and is by “SR Instant Choice”, out of “Saddle My Dreams”. She was started by local trainer, Cody Smith, then went to Brad Pedersen as a 3 year old. After that, Bean headed to Texas to trainer, Kathy Daughn, where Paradis won the senior amateur at the Super Stakes on her. She returned to Canada as a five year old, and ended up at the Gonnet’s barn to see if Dustin could sell her. On a whim, Marla tried her one day because the family had begun to think it was time she had something of her own to show. Marla calls that first work, “an instant connection” between her and Bean. One day, an emotional Marla came home from dropping Destry off at his very first day of kindergarten and Dustin informed her that Bean was her new horse.
Marla describes Bean as “extremely smart, and extremely honest with how she feels about you. If she likes you, she will do anything for you, and if she doesn’t like you, she will make it very clear how she feels!” Like all good horses, Bean is a little quirky, and Marla says that her biggest quirk is that she doesn’t like to be cinched up - you need to ease her into having the saddle tight. Bean is also a total firecracker in front of a cow and the Gonnets work her regularly to keep the “fresh” off of her and ensure she is ready to show. Dustin has also shown, and been successful on Bean, but Marla explains that she loves that Bean is her own personal horse and Dustin wants Bean to be her own to show.
Some of Marla’s favourite moments with Bean thus far have been winning the 5000 Novice Horse Non-Pro in Denver at the Western National Finals in 2014. Then, winning the Classic Challenge at the Calgary Futurity and finally, her favourite win so far - winning the Calgary Stampede Non-Pro this year. Another big moment for the duo was at the Idaho Mercuria show last year, where they made the finals. Marla was pitted up against the best of the bes, and was just happy to be there. However, her great mare, was noticeably excited to be in the show pen, and worked perfectly for her owner. Marla remembers that the music was loud and pounding, and her cheering section was even louder, that when the buzzer went to signal her run over - she couldn’t even hear it! They had a teeny, tiny, bobble at the very end but walked away with a more than respectable 218 for their efforts.
It goes without saying that Calgary has become Marla and Bean’s territory - both the Stampede Mercuria Cutting and the Futurity, have seen them take home big wins. Marla credits this to Bean, who “feels different at Stampede then at other venues, she loves the new venue, and she just seems to love the shows!” Marla has quickly become a main stay in the Non-Pro pen, for her efforts she has won over $45,000 and her mare “Dirty Dreamin” has won over $58,000.
As a Canadian, Calgary is significant because it’s the biggest cutting horse shows that Canada has to offer, but the Gonnets have been enjoying success south of the border as well. Many people say that it’s very hard for Canadian cutters to see success in the states, but Marla disagrees. “We are no different than them [Americans], we all put our pants on the same way! There’s no way to get better if you don’t get out of your comfort zone and go show against the best.” She continues, “The thing is there is way more competitors down there so you have to be good all the time - one little mistake can really take you out when you are showing against guys like Dan Hanson, or Constance Jaeggi (World Non-Pro Champion). It only makes you better showing against them, because they don’t make mistakes very often, so you try to do the same.” Marla credits having a strong competitive streak, and the fact that her and Dustin are constantly striving to be better than they were the day before that helps them state-side. Cutting in the states can be, “mentally tough but very, very rewarding when it pays off.” Gonnet Performance Horses will be showing as much as they can in the US this year, and are fortunate to have 2 horses to show at The Futurity in Fort Worth this upcoming December.
As previously stated, Marla is a goal-setter, and says that her and Bean are “so close to meeting my goals I have set for us this year.” After this year, Marla has plans to breed Bean, and would like to see her crossed with Metallic Cat, for her first foal. She is tentatively looking for a new horse for next year, but is taking her time, as she admits that “Bean has left some pretty big shoes to fill!”
When it comes to fashion, and the show pen, Marla sticks to the comfortable basics. Her boots are always the same, whether at home on the ranch, or in the show pen. She sticks to high top Anderson Bean boots. Marla is tall and so her main concern when it comes to choosing outfits to ride and show in, is that her shirts stay tucked in during her runs! So, she has her choice of a few select favourite shirts and jeans that suit her well when it comes to entering the show pen.
Finally, Marla’s advice for female competitors is to be strong and confident. Cutting is a “mentally tough sport, where you can go from hero to zero in a matter of 2 minutes. There’s lots of people out there that will gladly tell you what your doing wrong, or how to “fix” it.” She continues that personally, she is very selective for who she asks for advice, and help, when it comes to showing. “I have picked my support group of people I respect and value their opinion, and I stick with them.” Reflecting on her path in the Cutting pen thus far, Marla says that she has a had a great journey of “ups and downs, that have led me to where I am right now… which I am so happy with.”
Marla Gonnet, mother, trainer’s wife, and fierce Non-Pro Cutting Horse competitor, shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Marla and the great mare Bean, are currently closing in on the race to make the Non-Pro World Finals in Fort Worth in December. I think I stand for everyone when I say, Marla, we really hope you and Bean make it - what a terrific team, and outstanding competitor, and woman, you are.
* all photos provided by Marla Gonnet