RENO, Nev. — In its final go at the Reno Livestock Events Center, the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity played out Sept. 19-Oct. 1, and while tradition was on center stage throughout the event, so was its future.
Top riders and horses in all divisions sparked intense competition that made goosebumps and fed anticipation for next year’s Futurity at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I heard from several people, it’s one of the best finals they’ve ever seen,” said NRCHA 2 Million Dollar Rider and Open finalist Todd Bergen of Eagle Point, Ore. “I think that just shows where this sport is going, how good it’s gotten, how good the horses are, how good the trainers are.”
The Oct. 1 Open Finals had 25 horses who had risen to the top of the field of nearly 200 preliminary entries for a shot at the coveted $100,000 Championship and the title which represents a life-altering, pinnacle moment for owners, trainers, and breeders alike. The young equine triathletes were piloted by capable horsemen and horsewomen with a wide range of experience, from NRCHA Hall of Fame Horseman Ken Wold, who is pushing 70 years old, to newlyweds Chris and Sarah Dawson, each with two horses in the finals — to first-time Open Finalist Tyson Benson, who had celebrated his 24th birthday just days before the Futurity preliminaries began.
When the second-to-last horse in the draw, Duals Lucky Charm, scored a 224.5 down the fence to lock up the Championship for owners Mike and Robyne Stewart, the gelding’s trainer, Kelby Phillips, punched the air three times. It was an uncharacteristic celebration for the soft-spoken 28-year-old horseman, but he couldn’t help it. He knew everything had just changed.
To win, Duals Lucky Charm (Dual Smart Rey x TRR Miss Pepcid Olena x Pepcid), a gelding shown by Kelby Phillips of Bend, Ore., and owned by Mark and Robyne Stewart, edged past two-time Futurity Champion and Million Dollar Rider Corey Cushing of Scottsdale, Ariz., on Moonstruck One Time (One Time Pepto x Moonstruck Cat x High Brow Cat), owned by Allan Kaplan.
Phillips, winner of the National Stock Horse Association pre-Futurity in Paso Robles in August, had arrived in Reno with just over $276,000 in lifetime earnings and had been in the Futurity Open finals before — but never won the big prize. That all changed in the span of one fast fence work, as his 224.5 became a life-changing moment for the young horseman. His composite score was 663 (218 herd/220.5 rein/224.5 cow).
After the big moment, Phillips admitted the full impact of his achievement with Duals Lucky Charm hadn’t quite sunk in. The resident trainer at NRCHA Corporate Partner DT Horses, Bend, Ore., felt confident on the gelding he started riding last November.
“This horse, he’s solid every day. He doesn’t ever do anything bad. He’s been really fun to train. He’s really good in the cutting. I didn’t get good cows cut for him here, especially in the prelims,” Phillips said. “In the reining, he does about the same thing every time. Every time I’ve shown him, he’s been a 220, so I can rely on him in the reining to be pretty solid there.”
“We usually don’t have this kind of luck!” said Robyne Stewart. “I had tears in my eyes when they called out the score. This is something we’ve never experienced. It’s awesome.”
It was an unforgettable night of fence work, with 10 of the 25 finalists marking a 219 score or above.
“As many years as I’ve been doing this, I can’t remember a finals where so many people got showed in the reining, and so many people got showed down the fence,” said Bergen.
Phillips knew he had to bring a big fence work score if he was to overtake Cushing for the Championship.
“I knew it was going to be plenty of cow when it came out. Brandon Buttars, he had been telling me, ‘Don’t weaken,’ so I was trying not to. Once I knocked him around down there, I knew I had to go, because to be a big enough score to win, I knew we had to go with a little bit of cow. After the first turn, I knew he was good, because he’s always good after the first turn, if I can get him out of there. And then he circles really good. I know I can turn him loose and he’ll just hunt that cow on both sides. I can trust him there,” Phillips said.
Besides the $100,000 paycheck, the Futurity Championship came with a Scottsdale Saddlery Custom Saddle sponsored by Matthews Cutting Horses, an original CR Morrison bronze trophy sponsored by Beverly Vaughn/Triangle Bar V Ranch, a Gist buckle sponsored by McSpyder Ranch, boots from Rios of Mercedes, a 100x and 30x JW Brooks Custom Hat, a $500 CR RanchWear gift certificate, a cooler from Classic Equine, a jacket from NRCHA, and product from Platinum Performance.
CINCH Intermediate Open Champion
In the Thursday evening before the Open Finals stage, Dual N Tomcat, a small but mighty gelding bought on a whim at last year’s Snaffle Bit Futurity Select 2-Year-Old Sale, worked his way to the CINCH Intermediate Open Futurity Championship. Shown by California-turned-Texas professional Sarah Dawson, Dual N Tomcat (Tomcat Chex x Dual N Mary x Dual Rey), owned by Dawson’s parents, Richard and Cheryl Winters, scored a 656 composite (218 herd/215.5 rein/222.5 cow) to earn the $30,000 paycheck. “I thought he was great,” said Dawson, describing Dual N Tomcat’s performance in the finals. “I liked him all year. He was always so little, but he always tried so hard, and he’s been fun to train all year. It’s even more fun that my parents own him, so I’m happy for them.”
Dawson’s father, Richard Winters, also a NRCHA Professional and well known horsemanship clinician, bought Dual N Tomcat at the 2015 Snaffle Bit Futurity Select 2-Year-Old sale with minimal research beforehand.
“Clayton Edsall [a NRCHA Professional from Oakdale] had him in the sale, and I don’t even think my dad looked at him. I think he just saw him down in the sale pen and it was kind of a spur of the moment buy. He seems to have pretty good luck with those so far – so good on him!” Dawson said. “And I have to say, my dad, he’s just about the best owner ever. It’s very low pressure, and he’s just happy to see his horse in there. He’s been fortunate so far because I’ve had two of his horses and they’ve both been in the finals so far.”
In 2015, Dawson rode Shine Smarter (WR This Cats Smart x Shiney Tari x Shining Spark), also owned by her parents, to the CINCH Intermediate Open Reserve Championship, the Limited Open Championship, and 5th place in the Open.
Besides winning the Intermediate title on Dual N Tomcat, Dawson collected the $10,000 third place paycheck aboard Travelin Miss Jonez (Travelin Jonez x Playin With Rubies x Lectric Playboy), owned by Steve Roseberry; and finished with another $2,000 for 11th place on Wright On Hickory (Hes Wright On x Hickorys Miracle x Doc’s Hickory), owned by Wright On Hickory LLC.
When Snaffle Bit Futurity Open and Intermediate Open Finalists Sarah Dawson and Wright On Hickory (Hes Wright On x Hickorys Miracle x Doc’s Hickory) entered the arena for those finals, they were already Snaffle Bit Futurity Champions. Their preliminary score of 656 (216 herd/223.5 rein/216.5 fence) earned the Ladies Champion title.
Wright On Hickory is owned by a unique 10-member syndicate from other segments of the equine industry who are new to the NRCHA.
“I’m extremely happy for those people, because they’re all first time cow horse owners, so its pretty special for them to come here and do well. Now they’re spoiled! They’re going to think it’s easy, when it’s not,” Dawson said, laughing.
She took home a check for $1,134, along with a pile of nice prizes: a CR Morrison Trophy sponsored by Stacy Lynch, a $500 CR Ranchwear gift certificate, a Gist buckle and Cinch jacket from the NRCHA, a JW Brooks Custom Hat, a cooler from Classic Equine, and product from Platinum Performance.
Non Pro/Int. Non Pro/Nov. Non Pro Champion
Kathy Ferguson, of Cottonwood pulled off a clean sweep of all three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Discount Tire Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro and Novice Non Pro Championships on Friday.
Ferguson, who arrived in Reno with just over $17,000 in prior NRCHA lifetime earnings, had plenty of experience showing bridle horses and derby horses, but virtually no prior futurity experience.
She piloted Royal Isabella (One Time Royalty x Oaks Rowdycat x High Brow Cat), to a 644.5 composite score (217 herd/ 215.5 rein/212 cow), winning the Championship by a three point margin.
“I wanted a derby horse, and the only way I could get one was to futurity it, so now I have my derby horse,” she said, smiling. “I knew she could do it. I’m amazed I was with her on the trip. I didn’t think I could do it. I knew she could, but I didn’t think I could.”
Her triple paychecks totaled $28,951. Her husband, Dave, was also a Snaffle Bit Futurity Non Pro finalist, finishing 7th on Metalic Dual (Metallic Cat x Dual Whisper x Kit Dual). Kathy said that typically, her husband shows the Futurity horses and then she takes the reins during their Derby years.
“He did really good. He’s taking it really well. I’ll disappear now. He can have this futurity horses and I’ll keep my derby horses,” she said.
Ferguson purchased Royal Isabella from Cushing, with the help of NRCHA Professional Erin Taormino. Ferguson admitted she had her heart set on a different horse, but Taormino urged her to take a second look at the blaze-faced sorrel mare.
“I’m glad I did,” Ferguson said.
MORE ONLINE: Http://bit.ly/611A_SBF