Matt Hoekenga and IX Smart Starlight Win NRCHA Derby Level 1 Limited Open

The National Reined Cow Horse Association debuted the Level 1 Limited Open division in 2011, and the fledgling class was a huge success over the year. At the NRCHA Derby, Matt Hoekenga and IX Smart Starlight won their second NRCHA Premier Event Level 1 Limited Open Championship. They received $1,163, a pair of Rios of Mercedes boots, a bit from Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, and an NRCHA trophy.

The pair kicked off the event with the high score of the herd work - a 204 - and followed that with a 214.5 in the rein work. "My horse tried really hard for me in the herd work. We had a couple hang-ups getting the first cow out, but once we got it to the center he was really watching. I still have a lot to work on in the herd, but I was really proud of him," Hoekenga, of Fallon, Nevada, said. "I was also pleased in the rein work. I pushed him a little harder than I have before and he handled it well and felt very solid."

The pair finished with a 216 in the cow work. "We drew a good cow that boxed nicely. We got him lined out and had a good first turn and then a really good second turn, and then he circled up well," he said.

Hoekenga began riding "Rex" since 2010. Owner Liz Younger noted, "Rex got started late. He was almost three and had a very big motor. Luckily Flint Lee and Matt were able to buckaroo on him many, many times, and Flint's dad Kenny even put some wet saddle blankets on him. It's been fun to see him figure things out and come back so strong this year."

In April, Hoekenga and IX Smart Starlight won the Level 1 Limited Open at the Hackamore Classic in Paso Robles, California. "He's a 5-year-old now and he's really coming on. Every time I'm able to push him a little more. I'd say he's improved a lot. I hope he keeps going and I'm looking forward to showing him in the two rein next year."

Younger said, "I think I'm going to have a great horse going forward in the two rein and the bridle." Rex will be competing at the Western States Ranch Rodeo Finals next week in the ranch horse class.

Hoekenga added that he has a great support staff. "I thank Flint Lee first and foremost, because I wouldn't be here without all his help. I also thank Kenny and Tammy Lee for letting me use their facility. I really appreciate my girlfriend, Michelle Nicholson, for being so supportive, and my son Tyler for being such a trooper," he said. "Of course I thank Liz Younger for letting me show her horse, and all the Open trainers who have helped me so much in the herd work."

Younger noted, "I think this Level 1 Limited Open class for upcoming trainers and hroses who weren't quite ready for the 3- and 4-year-old requirements works very well."

Finishing just a half-point behind Hoekenga and IX Smart Starlight were Gary Bayles and CD Hen House with a 634 composite. The pair marked 203 in the herd work, 219 in the rein work, and 212 in the cow work. The Reserve Championship netted $698. CD Hen House, by Cluck Rooster Cluck and out of Rafter S Santa Golda, is owned by Brandon and Sophia Buttars.

Complete results can be found by visiting The entire event is being webcast live thanks to NRCHA Official Videographers Galloping Video. To view the webcast, visit