There’s certainly something to be said for peaking at just the right time in the training process—particularly, in the John Justin Arena Oct. 20, 2023, in the finals of the Open Heading at the American Rope Horse Futurity Association’s World Championship.
And certainly A Painted Sunshine (by Second Painted Sign and out of Miss Freckles Handle by Mr Cross Play) and Tate Kirchenschlager did just that as they won the 2023 ARHFA’s Heading World Championship, making Kirchenschlager the first header to win the head side twice on two different horses in the events’ seven-year history.
“The first place I showed him was Scottsdale, and I came back second call there and I missed on him,” Kirchenschlager said of the gelding owned by Iowa’s Riley Weehler. “I showed him at Graham and didn’t do any good, I showed him at Ardmore and didn’t do any good, and I showed him at Oklahoma City and didn’t do any good. So, he’s honestly a good horse, it just hadn’t fell our way until today. We just haven’t been able to put it together. I guess we put it together at the right time.”
Kirchenschlager was second call in a tough-as-nails heading short round, and with the help of Shay Carroll on the heels made an event-best 237.87-point run, putting the heat on the high-call team of Rhen Richard and Reys Sunset, the duo that had roped a steer earlier in the day to win $20,000 for the 4-year-old title.
“I will say, that was his best run in the box by far. When I started to the box, he put his head down and went and it felt good. Turning around, he’s a little sticky but not bad. When I hit the corner, I felt him take a breath and lock in, and I knew I could take as long as I want because he was locked in. So I sat there for a minute, and the gates banged and he scored good. I did miss the barrier, but I was OK with it because I knew he would run him down.
“I wasn’t planning on the neck shot. I wasn’t real fond of my loop. When I roped him around the neck, that horse hit his ass, that steer followed good. So honestly that steer leading the way he did made the turn look better than it would of have if I’d have roped horns and that steer had been heavier. I wasn’t real happy with my loop, but Shay did good all week.”
At high call, Richard’s steer tried, and he and helper Wesley Thorp were 233.85 farther down the pen, putting them second for another $20,000 check in the Open heading.
A Painted Sunshine and Kirchenschlager also picked up $3,000 for second in Round 3 and $2,500 for splitting second in Round 1, bringing his haul for the week to $30,500. Before this weekend, the horse had only placed at the Badlands Bits & Spurs Futurity with Weelher, earning $2,440 per QData.
“He’s a grandson of PYC [Paint Your Wagon], so he can run,” Kirchenschlager explained. “He’s hot, and he can run. His biggest deal is his rating and breathing on the way to the steer. Honestly here in the last couple months, he’s finally got to where he’ll take a breath or two on the way to the steer. Now when I only ask him for 70%, he’ll give me 70%. He’s the type of horse who wants to give you 110% every time. And I used him a bunch this year helping on him. That’s where he’s fun. That horse can run. He finally grew up.”
Kirchenschlager—who made the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2019 with Buddy Hawkins—has been home training rope horses exclusively these days, and he put in the time in the Stephenville, Texas heat all summer on this A Painted Sunrise to break through to the horse.
“I do a lot of tracking on him, a lot of breakawaying, a lot of trying to control his breathing,” Kirchenschlager said. “I’m trying to teach him, when I pick up the reins, come back to me and breathe. Don’t tense up, don’t get your body tight to where I can’t control it. I just want him to breathe. You can feel him when he’d leave the box, he’d be tense. He’s running to the steer tight to where you can’t do anything to him. His body was so tense. He’d run to the steer nervous and tight.”