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Equine Obituary - CH Callaway's Criterion

A Gaited Horse Like No Other

CH Callaway's Criterion

by Bob Funkhouser

Alice Nunley gave CH Callaway’s Criterion the life he deserved in retirement after enjoying many great performances with the big-hearted gelding.

At Callaway’s Criterion’s retirement in 2003 one of his former trainers, John Conatser, described the gelding as “the classic five-gaited horse. He’s shod extremely light as most great gaited horses are; he has the natural bred-in stamina that most great horses do; and he’s the best racking horse I’ve ever seen. Everything a top gaited horse has to have – he’s got!”

Conatser’s description was spot on and that’s from someone who has had more than his share of top horses that could rack and trot with the best of them.

The foundation for his greatness came from Callaway Hills where he was bred and started. Foaled March 28, 1988, Criterion was a son of Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion CH Will Shriver out of Callaway’s First Lady who was by Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion CH Yorktown. Criterion’s second dam, First Lady Of Loch Brae, was sired by Continental Contract, a son of Private Contract, a world’s champion producing full brother to Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion CH Wing Commander. What choice did Criterion have but to be a great gaited horse?

Mike Benn gave him his start at Callaway Hills and after winning the UPHA Five-Gaited Classic at the Oklahoma Centennial, sold the gelding to Scott Smith with Wyatt DeHart as the trainer. In just his four-year-old season Criterion, better known as “Critter,” was Reserve World’s Champion Amateur Gentlemen’s Five-Gaited with Smith who then sold him to Patricia Treiber for her son Paul.

Bonnie Byrne had the first few rides with Critter for the Treiber family. In 1994 the “Tall Man,” Tom Moore, took over the gelding that was just getting seasoned. They won the 16-horse Five-Gaited Gelding Stake at Lexington Junior League and returned to win the championship.

In 1995, under the direction of John Conatser, Paul Treiber had his first show ring appearances with Critter, placing reserve in both the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding and Amateur Five-Gaited Championship at the American Royal. After a winter’s work Conatser had this team tuned to perfection, reeling off 13 consecutive wins over two seasons, including Midwest Charity, Wisconsin Futurity, Bonnie Blue and back to back World’s Champion Amateur Gentlemen’s Five-Gaited titles and two consecutive World’s Champion of Champions Amateur Five-Gaited titles.

“He’s absolutely one of my favorite horses that I’ve ever trained,” said Conatser. “He was perfectly balanced in his bridle and was the greatest racking horse I’ve ever ridden. You could ride him to the limit with the reins lightly pinched between your fingers. He had the stamina, the pedigree, the athletic ability and a great brain. He had it all, truly a once in a lifetime horse.”

Following his second blanket of roses Critter was sold to Alice and Larry Nunley for Alice’s amateur mount. Paul and Betsy Boone first trained the new combination. They would end their career under the direction of Jerry Hutson and Melissa Moore. From the fall of 1997 to early summer 2002, Alice and Critter would win 24 times and place reserve seven times. Aboard her lifetime dream horse Alice garnered the World’s Champion of Champions Amateur Five-Gaited title, two Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding World’s Championships, two Reserve World’s Champion of Champions titles and two amateur stallion/gelding reserve world’s championships.

“We bought Critter over the rail in the qualifier at Louisville with Paul Treiber riding,” said Betsy Boone. “I got to take care of him when we brought him home. He loved skittles and to smell hairspray in your hair. Paul did a good job of teaching Alice to ride Critter even though many were skeptical. John Conatser gave Paul a good instruction manual. He was a grand, grand horse! I can’t thank Alice enough for giving him a wonderful retirement. More should follow that path.”

“Critter was a very special horse,” said Melissa Moore. “He was a powerful stake horse for my father and an amazing amateur horse for Alice. My husband at the time, Jerry Hutson, did all the work on him, preparing Alice and Critter to win the Amateur Five-Gaited World’s Championship. He was a true show horse and gave 110% every time he hit the ring.”

“I was in the warm up ring at Louisville getting ready to show Magna Cum Laude and the Amateur Gentleman’s Five-Gaited class was in the ring. We had loved Critter when he was at Tom’s and we had horses there. Paul [Boone] and Larry [Nunley] are watching the class and Larry told Paul we had always loved Critter and wondered if he would be for sale. Paul said he heard that he was and he went and found Johnny [Conatser] on the rail and asked him. He told Paul what it would take and Larry told him to buy him. Larry came out before my class and said, ‘if you can ride him, we just bought him,’ Alice Nunley explained.

“Paul [Treiber] showed him back and won the amateur championship. We then got him and I rode him and I knew then we would never sell him. I was so fortunate to have six wonderful years with him. We could have sold him for a lot of money on a couple of occasions but I knew I would never have another horse like him so we kept him.

“He was a little intimidating at first. I had never ridden anything that powerful,” said Nunley. “However, the more I rode him the more confidence he gave me. I trusted him. I showed him the same way every time. We had a pattern to ride and that’s what we did. Johnny [Conatser] had given that instruction to Paul [Boone] and Paul said, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

For the horse that had given her everything, Nunley retired Critter while he was still on top. Her last three classes in 2002 included a sweep of the amateur division at Asheville Lions Club and a victory pass at Rock Creek in their only class, the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding. He went home to her farm in Kingsport, Tennessee, where he lived like a king until his death in April of 2015 due to laminitis. 

“I loved having Critter at home,” said Nunley. “He didn’t like to stay out long. He had a double stall with a turnout but he only stayed out 30 to 45 minutes at a time. He wanted to be brought in and brushed and cared for. He expected his feed and treats first. He has such a great personality and was great to work around.

“It’s still hard to walk in the barn and not see him. He was the grandest horse I’ve ever had. I’m so fortunate to have had my time with him. He was truly a once in a lifetime horse.”



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