ONE OF THE FEW THINGS THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Mc Kenzie Mullins likes more than squeezing a horse’s nose is messing with its lower lip. Taking second place, she beat out her sixty-year-old stepfather, Robert Rust, a two-time world champion and NCHA hall of famer, as well as several men four times her age with barrel chests and Clint Eastwood squints who could probably bench-press her with one arm.“It’s all about the lip,” she told me one morning last summer, standing in her family’s stables, in Gordon, which house seventy horses, including Twister, Swingin’, Bully, Fancy, Player, Lizzie, Plagiarism, and Snoopy. This season she has continued her streak, maintaining second place on an otherwise adult-dominated circuit, and this month, she will compete again in the World Finals, in Amarillo. She reached up, tugged on its lip, and the horse twisted its face like an annoyed Mr. Pink rubber bands cover her braces, and her freckled cheeks retain a ten-year-old’s plumpness.
Not a single relative or friend came to lend support or to hear the verdict, delivered after three hours of deliberation.
There is a long military tradition in Van Dien's family.
Aside from his father, his grandfather was a Marine during World War II.
When we’d arrived, Mc Kenzie had hopped up onto a fence and waved to the horses with the enthusiasm of somebody entering a giant family reunion. To compete at such a high level, Mc Kenzie is on the road nearly 250 days out of the year, and she has forfeited childhood as we normally conceive of it: She earns enough money that she could live on her own if she wanted (she has a sponsorship contract with Wrangler to wear its clothes in the arena, and so far this season she has pulled in more than ,000 in prize money); rather than attend school, she squeezes in homeschool lessons; and in place of passive greetings, she often responds to routine questions like “How are you doing? She can act remarkably mature—such as when she strokes her chin and discusses the finer points of taking a horse to stud—and since she’s often on the road, Mc Kenzie spends more time with her parents than most adolescents would tolerate.
But last year, at the end of the 2002 season, Mc Kenzie became the youngest competitor ever to enter the open division of the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Championship Finals—the Super Bowl of cutting.