SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Mike Berg has liked Outta Dough, the 5-year-old stallion he began training in early 2007, since the moment he laid eyes on him at a 2006 NRHA Futurity Sale. It’s not just the big stops, it’s that little extra about him – the “X” factor.
“He’s one of those horses that just has a presence,” says Berg, 39, who along with wife Christy operate Berg Performance Horses in Temecula. “When he walks into the pen, he makes folks pay attention.”
The attention on Berg and Outta Dough rose markedly March 6 at the Cactus Reining Classic in Scottsdale, where they outdueled a world-class field of reiners and came away the big money-winners. With a 227 score, they captured the $30,000-added Open and $10,000-added Intermediate Open, sending them home with $15,669 in earnings.
The field was full of talent. Randy Paul rode Tinker With Diamonds to the Open reserve ($8,139), and the next-highest California-based trainer, Andrea Fappani, took Shiner Olena to a fourth-place tie ($3,866) and Wimpys Best Jac to a sixth-place tie ($2,848). Paul and Fappani, both NRHA Million Riders, are favorites to qualify for the U.S. team in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games reining this fall.
“It’s been kind of a dry spell for a decent win for me,” says Berg, who along with Christy trailered 13 horses to the Cactus Reining. “I’ve had some finalist finishes and all, but I’d like to get some consistent wins like this. It builds confidence. I know I can do it, and I know I have the horsepower now.”
Outta Dough (Gallo Del Cielo x Dough Olena x Doc O’Lena) is owned by Dorothy Queen, whom Berg is quick to praise as the type of owner that leads to success. Queen, of Whitesboro, Texas, was Berg’s first outside customer after leaving Rose, and their relationship is stronger than ever today. She has four horses in Berg’s bustling Temecula barn.
“She’s put a lot of faith in Christy and I and trusted us,” says Berg. “We’ve done OK here and there, but this horse she just loves. And I like him as if I owned him.”
Berg remembers late 2006 when Queen was searching for some new horses with him, and they spotted Outta Dough at an NRHA Futurity sale in Oklahoma City.“She had seen this horse a few times and she really wanted me to look and see what I thought,” he says. “I saw him and I really liked him. I watched video on him. All of a sudden, it just kind of grew from there. Next thing you know, we’re at the sale of 2-year old prospects, bidding on him.”
They held to their agreed top price, and the colt, disappointingly, went to another bidder. But thoughts of Outta Dough kept returning.
“I was bummed because I liked him,” Berg says. “And Dorothy kept calling me after the sale for a few weeks wondering if we should have bid higher. I told her I can call on him if she would like, so I called.
“I liked him as much riding him as I did watching him, “ Berg adds. ““For one, he is a phenomenal stopper. He stopped really deep, but he was free with his shoulders and front end. Dorothy trusted me with it, and we bought him.”
After early career success in Texas, where he made the NRHA Futurity Finals Top Ten in two of his three years under Carol Rose, Berg admits he came to California with unrealistic expectations.
“In the last year or so, everything’s been coming together for us,” says Berg, who also worked under Todd Crawford from 1995-98 at DLR Ranch prior to his Texas move. “But when we first came back to California from Texas and I hung my shingle out for the first time, I probably thought it was going to come a little easier than it did. It’s proven to be a lot harder than I thought.
“There’s a lot of aspects of the business she’s a lot better at than I am,” Mike smiles. “But I think we complement each other pretty well. As far as teaching a horse and having patience through the methodical process of training a horse, she’s way better at it than I am. I have to listen to her.”
Both Mike and Christy say owners like Queen don’t get credit equal to their contribution to the industry.
“I think a lot of them don’t get the attention they deserve,” says Mike. “These open horses to a horse trainer are awful important, and the owners deserve some credit.”
And attention, which is hard to keep from Berg and Outta Dough after their Cactus Reining performance.