The dynamic duo made up the inaugural NWRCHA Hall of Fame class.
Ebony Power was one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of horses.
Bred by Edward B. Rust of Bloomington, Illinois, Ebony Power was a 1971 son of Power Light and out of the Poco Bay mare Poco Tena.
Power Light was a son of the legendary Power Command. Power Light’s forte was reining, where he earned 10 wins out of 11 shows in AQHA competition, but the 1954 bay stallion did have some National Cutting Horse Association money to his name, too. Yet out of the 140 foals he sired, he only produced one world and reserve world champion: Ebony Power.
Ebony Power’s dam, Poco Tena, never competed. However, her 16 foals did earn 402.5 points combined. Poco Tena’s sire, Poco Bay, was an AQHA Champion, boasting NCHA earnings, plus points in halter, cutting and western pleasure. Poco Bay, by Poco Bueno, was a full brother to a head-turner in the cutting pen: Poco Mona. The 1948 bay mare earned $49,655 in NCHA lifetime earnings – quite a considerable amount of money for that day and age. The titles to her name included third-place finishes in the NCHA Open World Championships, earned in 1955 and 1956, as well as a fourth-place finish in 1975. She was also the 1958 AQHA open high-point cutting mare.
Ebony Power got a slow start in life; he wasn’t started under saddle until he was 5 years old. Then, in November 1976, the black gelding was purchased by youth competitor Robert W. Smith, also of Illinois. With Robert, Ebony Power scored a 10th-place finish at the 1977 American Junior Quarter Horse Association (now the American Quarter Horse Youth Association) World Championship Show. That was just a taste of what was to come for the little black horse.
A year later, Bonnie Christiansen was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 1978 AJQHA World Show, as was Ebony Power. Bonnie’s son, Terry, was competing at the event, and Terry had already gotten hooked on the thrill of reining, but was looking for a new mount. When Bonnie and trainer Steve Metcalf laid eyes on Ebony Power, they knew had found a champion in the making for 15-year-old Terry.
There was only one problem: Nice horses don’t come cheap. Bonnie made a quick call back home to her husband, Dave, noting imperatively that this was the horse. Dave still jokes to this day that he still can’t believe he took out a second mortgage on their house to buy a horse.
Fast forward a few years, and you’ve covered multiple top-10 finishes at the AJQHA World Show, awards and points racked up by Ebony Power and Terry in working cow horse, reining and western horsemanship. The duo’s crowning glory came in 1980, when they scored the youth reining reserve world championship and the American Horse Show Association Stock Seat Medal Finals crown.
Terry’s youth career came to a close in 1982, and Ebony Power enjoyed a life of leisure out in the pasture.
Long before Terry took a shine to horse showing, Bonnie’s life was steeped in horses. Her father, Howard Merrin, was a rodeo cowboy, and often required Bonnie to head or heel for him in practice. Bonnie’s mother, Irene, made her way as a seamstress, making custom Western shirts for all the cowboys. Spending the majority of the year at her home in North Seattle, Bonnie enjoyed many a summer in the Okanagan Valley of Eastern Washington on a ranch belonging to family friends, and her days in the wide-open spaces of Okanagan were spent rounding up herds of cattle and horses.
After years of putting on rodeos across the state of Washington, Howard Merrin set his sights on raising Thoroughbred racehorses. And, since horse racing involves horses, Bonnie was there on the backstretch, soaking up any knowledge she could glean of horse care, including nutrition, lameness and sports therapy.
Years went by, and Bonnie found herself married and with a son, living in Snohomish, Washington. Terry’s show career was Bonnie’s focus for a decade, and some of her fondest memories of horse showing comes from their trips across the western half of the United States – from weekend jaunts to California for reined cow horse shows to fairs in Oregon, all-breed shows in Eastern Washington, and the long hauls to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the AJQHA World Show.
But in 1986, Bonnie was missing the horse-show life. Terry was newly married and focusing on his career, and there was Ebony Power out in the pasture – a perfectly good show horse, albeit 15 years old.
Bonnie isn’t one to take it well when you tell her she can’t do something, and there were a few naysayers who said a horse-show newbie would never be able to see any success in her first year. So the 43-year-old set her mind towards qualifying for the 1986 AQHA World Championship Show. It took a lot of hard work to get up to speed, but every night, Bonnie made the trek through rush-hour traffic in Seattle to Steve Metcalf’s barn in Snohomish, just so she could ride her black gelding. For her perseverance, Bonnie earned a trip back to Oklahoma City in both reining and working cow horse.
If you’re going all the way to Oklahoma from the Pacific Northwest, you might as well ride to win it. Having earned a fifth-place finish in amateur reining at the 1986 AQHA World Show, Bonnie was on Cloud 9. What really sweetened the deal, though, was when first-year competitor Bonnie Christiansen and 15-year-old Ebony Power clinched the amateur working cow horse world championship.
There was talk that Bonnie and Ebony Power’s win was a fluke – but Bonnie would hear none of that. Bonnie, Steve and Terry refocused their energy, giving Bonnie a chance at gold once more.
The next year, they found themselves in Oklahoma City once more, and a 1987 amateur working cow horse third-place finish to their name. It was not exactly the kind of loot they were hoping, but there was the amateur reining. So, dazzling the crowd, Bonnie and Ebony Power worked their way to the 1987 amateur reining world title.
Bonnie and Ebony Power competed for one more year before the black gelding was officially retired. From then on, his mission in life was to teach Terry’s children how to ride, instilling in the kids a drive to compete in reining and cow horse. Ebony Power died in 2007 at the ripe ol’ age of 36.
Forever a horsewoman, Bonnie continued showing for a few years in reining, cow horse and cutting, but she finally hung up her chaps in favor of cheering on Terry and her grandkids at NWRCHA, NRCHA and AQHA shows. And rather than riding a world champion, Bonnie took an interest in raising world champions. Her count stands at two now: TC Lena, an AQHA youth world champion, and Classy Sugari, an NRCHA world champion. But not one to give up riding, Bonnie still enjoys the recreational side of riding.
If there’s anything to take away from this tale, it’s this: Don’t ever let the facts get in the way of your dreams. You’re never too gray-haired to start winning.
*Bonnie Christiansen of Snohomish, Washington, and her black gelding Ebony Power were inducted into the NWRCHA Hall of Fame in 2008.