“I love everything to do with horses and horse people.”
Not exactly the way she said it, but the statement defines Renee Nichols most concisely while not nearly completely.
In her own words, the Walker, Kansas, horsewoman, all-inclusive far beyond cowgirl and horseback rider:
“I love trail riding, riding in all horse shows, clinics, parades, and other horse activities. If it involves riding and I have the free time I will do my best to be there.
“I try to give back. I was taught as a kid to share my horses, my love for horses, and to help where I can.”
No questioning or doubting Renee Nichols’ horse enthusiasm for those who have been near her at anything horse related.
Intending completely complimentary: “Renee is ‘gung-ho,’ never shy, the most enthusiastic horse rider and leader imaginable.”
Growing up at Alton in Osborne County, Renee’s family all rode horses. “My parents and grandparents were horseback riders,” Renee said. “Back then everyone had a horse to move cattle with or for grandkids to ride.”
An only child, Renee, then three-years-old, started riding a Shetland Pony called Twerp. “He was a twerp, too, a classic Shetland,” Renee said. “I would climb on to ride him, and he’d buck me off. But I kept getting back on to get where I wanted to go.”
Her mother often told the story about Renee riding in the lead line class. “I screamed the whole time that I would do it myself. From that point I was riding alone,” Renee’s version.
Within a year, Renee started riding her Appaloosa gelding named Echo. “He would only go as fast as I wanted and stop to wait on me if I lost my balance. Echo thought he was fast but in honesty he was more running in place forward motion,” she said.
“Echo is not my favorite horse of all time, but he holds a high spot for sure. He just loved kids and would do anything a kid wanted.”
As a member of the Bull City Saddle Club, Renee started riding in Kansas Western Horseman’s Association (KWHA) shows. “Likely because of Echo, Appaloosas are still my favorite breed of horses, but we also had Quarter Horses and I competed on them, too” she said.
When she was 14-years-old, Renee started taking barrel racing lessons from a family friend Glenda Randall. “She had a younger horse named Breeze that captured my heart,” Renee said. “Breeze was more than 16-hands tall and had the most beautiful warm eyes.”
Renee rode Breeze at the fair and won first place barrel racing. “I knew that Breeze was for sale. It was my mission to convince my parents that this horse was the only one for me,” she said.
“I spent the entire summer working on the farm begging to get that horse. It was the only thing I wanted. I would do anything to get Breeze.”
Eventually, her parents gave in and got Breeze for Renee as a surprise Christmas present.
“We had the best connection that any two partners could have,” Renee said. “Breeze made me a better rider. I owe much of my success to his ability to make me look good. I can say that when Breeze became mine was by far one of the happiest days of my life.”
Osborne, Alton, and Portis schools consolidated to Osborne High School where Renee graduated. “After high school I joined the military which I can say was the best job I ever had,” she declared.
Her military career took Renee to Asia Pacific, Aleutian Islands, White House, Pentagon, and other locations in the United States. “I was Airborne and Air Assault and it drove my mom crazy every time I volunteered to go somewhere,” Renee said.
While serving, Renee studied and obtained an agriculture economics degree. She retired from military as a sergeant first class SFC promotable.
“I can say it was a true pleasure to serve our country which is close to my heart,” Renee reiterated. “I have never put that degree to work because I had so many other opportunities from my applied military education.”
After her military service, Renee moved to Oklahoma and reconnected with family friends who raised Quarter Horses. “I got back into the horse world there mainly riding pleasure and reining in registered Quarter Horse shows,” she said. “I did lots of trail riding with friends.”
Credit was given to Kenny Mulligan by Renee for influencing her love for horses both as a child and as an adult.
“A lot of people have helped me throughout my lifetime,” Renee emphasized. “But, when I had an issue, which were many times, Kenny was there to help. He’d say, ‘I told you this when you were a kid.’ I responded, ‘I didn’t listen as a kid, but I am now.’”
Today, Renee makes her home at Walker, an unincorporated community in Herzog Township, Ellis County, Kansas, between Hays and Russell.
“I ride for the Walker Wranglers club in KWHA shows,” she said. “The club’s name really didn’t come from the community but because I’m a fan of Chuck Norris, Walker Texas Ranger. Now if we could only get Chuck Norris to one of our shows how great that would be.”
She rides in all horseshow events. “But I have to say my favorites will always be the judged classes, pleasure, reining, and bareback horsemanship,” Renee insisted.
“I ride in the speed classes love going fast although I am not as fast as I used to be,” she said. “I love riding in team events, because my team always makes me look so good.”
Her main horse is a mare named Sassy. “We have had a connection from the first time I saw Benton Hrabe ride her,” Renee said. “I’m partial to mares and was on cloud nine when Benton offered her for sale. I can’t imagine not riding Sassy, as I have tried, and I always navigate back.”
Helping others with their horses is especially important to Renee. “I try to give back,” she said. “I give riding lessons although not as many as before. I lost some of my lesson horses and I needed to slow down and do more riding of my own.”
Hauling youth to competitions when they need assistance, Renee said, “I try to keep kids and adults involved in the horse community. I have had several exceptional students over the years.
“I still have some amazing students riding with me that continue to be champions,” she added.
While she’s had many exciting times with horses, Renee recalled one that stands out from the others.
“My proudest accomplishment was riding Jazira a Clydesdale mare in Battle of the Breeds at EquiFest of Kansas,” she said. “When this competition came to light, I hoped that riding a Clydesdale in various disciplines would get me in and it did.”
She was fifth overall out of 18 horses participating in rail classes, driving, trail, English, jumping, and barrel racing.
That same year Renee competed for the Senior Horse and Rider Award at the Rooks County Fair. “Jazira performed well, and we pulled it off,” Renee said. “This was my most defining moment, knowing I could train her to do everything that I asked.”
Serving in intelligence and communications positions while in the military, Renee currently works in Enersys document and quality control. “I have done about everything I have wanted throughout my career,” Renee said. “I am on the downhill slide and looking forward to retirement in six years.
“When that time comes, Tom Drew and I plan to move to my family home at Alton,” Renee said. “Tom served in the Air Force and was a rodeo saddle bronc rider. He was injured during military service so is unable to ride for extended times but is our support system.”
Tom’s sons, Renee’s stepsons Tyler of Gorham and Will, soon moving to Wichita, are both still active in KWHA.
“I have had the opportunity to have many friends with different horse breeds who ride in various disciplines.” Renee said. “Horses are a big part of my life.
“They have defined me as a person, taught me how to care for and be responsible, to love unconditionally,” she continued. “Things may not go as planned but the opportunity to improve, grow, and learn is there daily with a horse.
“One of my favorite sayings with a horse is ‘If you don’t get the result, you are looking for then you aren’t asking the question correctly.’”
Admitting horses are often considered a hobby, Renee is optimistic for all aspects of the horse industry economically and therapeutically.
“I am a firm believer that horses are a calm like no other,” she continued. “If you have a bad day or are worried, going out to brush a horse can bring peace to soul and mind.
“I will always put a kid on a horse at every opportunity,” Renee commented. “The more we can bring back the horse industry the better it would be for everyone.”
Serving in various KWHA leadership roles, Renee is the association secretary as well as participant. She collected numerous awards at the KWHA state show as well as yearend awards.
“I look forward to participating in and promoting horse activities across the state,” Renee said. “KWHA is a great place to get started, learn, grow, and have fun together as a family.
“I plan on riding as long and as often as possible,” all-around horsewoman Renee Nichols insisted.