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Fight to the Finish Line



STORY BY SADIE FOWLER | PHOTOS BY SHANE SHIFLE T AND PJ WAMBLE

If there’s one message that’s crystal clear about this year’s winner of the 2019 World Grand Championship walking horse title it’s this: “He’s no new kid on the block.” Nothing could be more true and it’s a message that
trainer Rodney Dick stands proudly behind when talking about I’m Mayhem, the horse he finally got to the finish line with for his very first win in the Big Stake.

In fact, those are Dick’s words exactly as he describes the horse that carried him to the coveted moment on Aug. 31 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., after 43 years of training horses.

“He’s no new kid on the block,” said Dick, who had shot for the World Grand Championship five times prior to this year’s win, two of them being with Mayhem.

Having aimed for the roses together twice prior, and fallen just shy last year, it is without question this set of roses meant a whole lot to a lot of people, including owners Jo Ann and SueAnn Dowell, who celebrated thesweet victory from afar.

“They’ve been with me a long, long time,” said Dick, just following the class, adding the appreciation he felt for the Dowells for their long-time support of not only Finish Line, but the entire industry at large.

In addition to the Dowells, I’m Mayhem is known and loved by the entire team at Finish Line including, perhaps by no one more so than Susan Coleman, who also played a starring role in his long career. A bold, flashy, strong, athletic, hard-working, charismatic and steady big gray horse by Lined With Cash, I’m Mayhem’s career has been lined with success.

In fact, since 2017, I’m Mayhem and Dick have won their preliminary rounds of competition at each Celebration. In 2017, they had a disappointing fifth place finish in the championship, and last year they came out number two.

If three’s a charm, 2019 was their year and no one had more faith in him than his partner in the Big Oval, Dick, a master of his trade indeed. Despite their disappointments in previous years, Dick kept the faith and never lost focus of the title he so badly wanted. How was he able to do that — to keep that focus and head held
high? Just what was Rodney Dick feeling as he went into the 2019 World Grand Championship for a third shot?

“Rodney would tell you this … He would tell you that he knew that I’m Mayhem deserved to be the World Grand Champion and he knew that deep down and believed it wholeheartedly,” said Coleman. “He knows this horse’s talent and knew it would eventually pay off …

Actually, Rodney would probably say something like, ‘Even a blind hog will find a nut.’” While Coleman laughed a bit as she described her take on what drove Dick to never give up, her voice took a tone toward the sentimental and serious side as she continued.

“Rodney is persistent,” she said. “And he just truly felt confident that this horse had climbed the ladder since being a two-year-old and he’s not a new kid on the block. Rodney felt confident that this horse deserved to be a World Grand Champion and nothing was going to stop him.”

Finally, they got to the finish line, which ironically represents the name of Dick’s farm, and the entire team from that farm as well as their many long-time and loyal fans cheered on their hometown hero as their number was finally called out first after the last class of the 81st Celebration came to its close.

“How was I feeling?” he said. “I was wondering if they were ever going to call the winner.”

Yes indeed, there was a lot of anticipation leading up to that moment and Dick, being the modest man he is, demonstrated his love for the game when he added, “The worst part of it all is that it’s done and now I have to stop showing him.”

I’m Mayhem is currently nine-years-old, and his career began seven years ago and has remained steady and stellar ever since, improving each step of the way. His grace and style have been shared among a few lucky riders.

Started by Ryan Blackburn, he made a winning debut at the Trainers’ Show in 2012 as a two-year-old. Later that season, Dick found Mayhem for the Dowell family at the Columbia show, and SueAnn took over the reins next, having great success, which culminated with wins in both the preliminary and championship rounds of competition in the amateur two-year-old division.

Interestingly enough, Coleman jokes as she points out that right after making the purchase, SueAnn had wanted to change the horse’s name. “He had an awful name,” laughed Coleman. “She wanted to change it to ‘I’m Mayhem’ after that popular commercial.”

Success continued the next year, where SueAnn repeated their win in the preliminary competition, earning the Amateur Three-Year-Old World Championship.

As the saying goes, “team work makes the dream work,” and the next person up for the ride of a lifetime was Coleman. She and Mayhem teamed up for several blue ribbon performances in 2014 including the Amateur Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship and they maintained their stellar winning ways the following year, going undefeated and ultimately earning both the world and world grand championship titles among the amateur five-year-old contenders.

Unstoppable, in 2016 the year once again ended with another set of roses as Coleman and I’m Mayhem left t\ he Big Oval as the Amateur Canter World Grand Champions, thus it goes without saying that Coleman knows the horse well. And not only does she know I’m Mayhem, but she loves him dearly.

“He’s just such a sweet horse with a kind soul,” she said. “He’s got that special personality and just loves everyone. He loves treats like no other. He’s known for that … Everybody’s always giving him treats and he just eats it up.”

As sweet as he is outside the ring, I’m Mayhem is all business once the competition begins, and he’s known for his consistency and dependability as much as his power and beauty.

In 2017, Dick finally had his turn, and their career in the open division kicked off with a season opening win at Gulf Coast Charity and their Celebration kicked off in winning fashion as they sailed to the win in their preliminary class, but didn’t close the loop. Coming back for another shot in 2018, last year they came closer, as they again won their preliminary and finished out as the reserve world grand champions. Once 2019 came around the pair kicked it up a notch and headed for home.

“Rodney has stayed the course and worked so hard over the years with many of our horses, especially Mayhem,” SueAnn said. “We are incredibly grateful for his work ethic and tenacity.”

Getting stronger and stronger with each performance and each show all season long this year, Dick and I’m Mayhem were undefeated going into the 2019 Celebration and they made an unforgettable impression in the preliminary round of competition in a wide open field.

The showdown was on in the first section of the stallions competition, with the crowd enthusiastically standing up to welcome this year’s entries into Maverick Arena to the tune of the Flat Walk Boogie. It was evident from the start that the fight to the finish line in that preliminary class was one that would require skills, grit and perhaps a little bit of luck.

Each entry worked hard to position themselves throughout the class to get an edge, but perhaps no one more so than Dick, who pulled off every play he could to win the game, including a maverick style move as he stopped abruptly before making his last pass to allow his competitor to “fly right by.” This move allowed him to have the last pass to himself and a few minutes later he and I’m Mayhem had put themselves in a really good position going into the World Grand Championship.

“Rodney is really a showman, and he definitely had his strategy going into this whole thing,” Coleman said. “He knew exactly what he was doing out there.” One week later, and the legendary tale with many winning chapters came to a storybook ending as the entire team from Finish Line celebrated its monumental victory. The Dowells; Rodney, finally getting his first big stake set of roses; Coleman, emotionally running into the winner’s circle to greet her favorite partners; and of course I’m Mayhem, the veteran powerhouse that loves to please his loyal fans.

Yes, it was definitely a win for the team that was full-circle in more ways than one. And as they say, it takes a village, which this story no doubt proves, as there were several who played a hand in this special horse’s arrival and the significance of the win was felt by all parties involved, both near and far.

“Rodney worked hard every step of the way and we are proud for him and the whole team,” SueAnn said. “This was a life-long dream of my mother’s and to see it come true … It’s just hard to describe how proud we are."

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