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Rocking Reno

Futurity winner Cushing and Bridle champ Williamson both hit million-dollar mark at Snaffle Bit

Special to the Horsetrader - October 18th, 2012 - Cover Story, Show & Event News

RENO, Nev. — With four horses in the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Open finals, the odds were most definitely in Corey Cushing’s favor.

He still had to work for every bit of the $100,000 Championship paycheck as he staged a thrilling come-from-behind victory on CD Diamond (CD Olena x Shiners Diamond Girl x Shining Spark), owned by San Juan Ranch.

It was an emotional night for the 32-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., trainer as he talked about his first Snaffle Bit Futurity Championship and the high-scoring 222 cow work that sealed the win.

“It always comes down to the fence work, and that’s what it came down to today,” Cushing said.

He began the finals performance aboard the palomino stallion with 214.5 in the rein work, and then scored a respectable 215.5 in the rein work. The 430 composite score still put him seven-and-a-half points behind Todd Bergen, who had built an imposing lead after two events with a 437.5 aboard This One Time (One Time Pepto x Katie Starlight x Grays Starlight), owned by Pamela Bailey.

Primo Morales photo

A determined Doug Williamson and Hes Wright On conquer a tough cow en route to a 224 fence work that earned them a memorable Open Bridle crown at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Sept. 28.

Cushing drew first in the cow work and immediately put up the highest score of the Open Finals, a 222. Given CD Diamond’s natural talent for that event, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, Cushing said.

“He’s been a fence horse from day one,” he said. “As the saying goes, great fence horses are born, they are not made. It’s been something that is so easy for him, to wrap himself around that cow. I wanted to put him in the best place I could and let him do his thing. He just gives a guy confidence.”

CD Diamond’s owners, John and Brenda Stephenson of San Juan Ranch, had been in Reno to watch their horse throughout the preliminaries. It was the second time they had seen a home-bred horse win the Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Championship Their mare, Stylish Little Oak (Playin Stylish x Shiners Little Oak x Shining Spark) won the title in 2010 with Tucker Robinson in the saddle.

“I still can’t believe it!” Brenda Stephenson exclaimed. “I’m really excited for Corey. He deserves to win this futurity. He’s a great trainer, a great guy, and he’s good to his horses. He’s just a class act. We love working with him.”

It’s been a remarkable year for Cushing, who qualified four horses for the Open finals and walked away from the event with over $158,000 in earnings. The rider’s total earnings broke the $1 million threshold at Reno, making the 32-year-old trainer the youngest rider in NRCHA history to become a Million Dollar Rider.

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Open Futurity defending champ Todd Bergen and Pam Bailey's This One Time fell 1.5 points shy of a repeat championship, taking the Reserve title worth $80.000.

“I knew I was getting close,” he said. “My wife Kristen and I were keeping tabs from the first of the year. I’ve been having a great year with the Derby horses – at the Stakes and NRCHA Derby. We knew when we left for Reno, we were close.”

Cushing is quick to credit part of his accomplishment to the contributions of others.

“Our family, friends and customers are outstanding,” he said. “They’ve supported me, and I’ve been blessed with good horses — the kind that everyone dreams of.”

He added that he thought the most important thing – at any point in a career – was to never stop learning.

“I was up at Benny Guitron’s before the futurity, getting his opinion on some things and putting on some finishing touches,” he said. “Earlier in the year, Phillip Ralls helped me with my herd work. Last year Don Murphy helped me down the fence – gave me some things to do differently – new ideas. That helps me pay more attention to the little things that can cost me points.”

His best advice to other riders?

“Don’t be afraid to go ask for help or advice,” he said. “Everyone out there has been in that position of needing help, so don’t hesitate to ask.”

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The NRCHA's only Non Pro -- and woman -- Million Dollar Rider, Anne Reynolds of Idaho, takes her fourth consecutive NRCHA SBF Non Pro title on her home-raised stallion, Very Black Magic.It was Reynolds’s eighth time to win the title.

“Respect that older generation, too,” he added. “They had horses that were harder to train than some of the horses we have these days and the different ways they approached that and trained can help us today. We might be missing something that one of them, from experience, has seen before. Try to use that knowledge.”

The low-key Cushing says a celebration may happen soon, but it will be a close group.

“When we heard the news, we kind of joked around about having a party,” he said. “We probably will – but I’d rather it be a situation where I can just enjoy my friends instead of so much about me – it’s more fun to hang out than to be the highlight.”

Besides, the biggest celebration for the Cushings will likely come on or near Jan. 6, when Corey, his wife Kristen and son Caleb, will welcome their new baby to the family.

NRCHA Hall of Fame Rider Doug Williamson passed the Million Dollar mark at the Snaffle Bit Futurity, too, and along with Cushing will be honored at the 2013 Snaffle Bit Futurity with the signature Carol Owens bronzes. It will be historic: Williamson, at 70, will be the oldest to ever achieve the distinction, Cushing, the youngest.

Bergen, who won the 2011 Snaffle Bit Futurity Championship aboard Shiners Dun Juan (Smart Shiner x Cremes Chic Olena x Smart Chic Olena), claimed the $80,000 Reserve Championship check with This One Time for owner Pam Bailey. He admitted it was disappointing to see the Championship slip away, but he couldn’t help being happy that his long-time friend and fellow trainer reached the winner’s circle.

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Monica DeBie of Tulare scores her first major NRCHA win, taking Full Throttle Pepinic to the SBF Limited Open Championship to earn $6,260 for owner Robert Klems, Jr.

“I was very close tonight to winning it again, but one little misstep is all it takes,” Bergen said. He scored a 650.5 composite to earn the reserve placing. “I’ve known Corey and watched him show since he was 12 years old. You just watched him and knew he was going to be here one of these days. You knew he was going to be one of the best in the industry.”

Demonstrating his typical flair in the fence work, timeless champion Williamson claimed the Open Bridle Championship at the Snaffle Bit Futurity aboard Hes Wright On (Lenas Wright On x Shesa Lota Nic), owned by Gardiner Quarter Horses.

Williamson guided the 9-year-old stallion to a 218.5 in the rein work, and then conquered an uncooperative cow in the fence work for a 224 – the highest score of Thursday’s Open Bridle finals. The Championship paid $6,076.

“When it comes to a tough cow, he says, ‘Bring it on, because I can handle it’,” said Williamson, who joined the NRCHA Million Dollar Rider club after his performance in Reno this year. “That cow was really a bad one. It wouldn’t stay on the fence, for one thing. After the first turn it wouldn’t get there. He just open-field turned it anyhow. He’s such a gritty, good horse. The harder it is, the better he likes it.”

The two-time Snaffle Bit Futurity Champion horseman is thrilled to have Hes Wright On back under his saddle, following a year-long rehabilitation for a suspensory ligament injury.

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After six years, Molly Russell returned to showing a 3-year old at the SBF Futurity and took her TF Cats Lilypad to the Amateur Championship.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get to ride him again,” he admitted. “He had several stem cell treatments, and we laid him off, swam him all winter and spring, and they brought him back to me as good as new. About four months ago we started riding him and getting him in shape again, and here we are, back in the ring!”

He thanked his farrier and Hes Wright On’s owners, Garth and Amanda Gardiner, who plan to send Williamson and the stallion to the NRCHA World’s Greatest Horseman in San Angelo, Texas, in January. The pair came close to the title in 2010, but had to settle for the Reserve Championship.

“We’re going to try to get it this time. That’s our next goal,” said Williamson, adding that Hes Wright On tops his personal list of all-time great horses.

“I had a horse called Baldy Cee back in the 1960s that was probably the best horse I’ve ever ridden, until this one. This one has the same heart, he’s the same size, and if you had them both together, they’d look just alike. It’s amazing,” Willamson said.

The Open Bridle Reserve Champion was Jake Telford, riding Nabisco Roan for Holy Cow Performance Horses. Telford and the stallion scored a 440 composite to earn $4,774.

The NRCHA’s only female and only Non Pro Million Dollar Rider, Anne Reynolds of King Hill, Idaho, had another dominant performance, claiming the Non Pro Bridle Championship with her enduring home-raised, 10-year-old gelding, More Magic Please (Chic Please x Magical Lena x Little Lenas Legend). Reynolds and “Midget” scored a 146.5 in the rein work and a 147 in the cow work, for a 293.5 total.

“He was good everywhere,” she said. “He’s kind of like a little machine. He’s just so honest and fun to show. The fence work was just great. He really boxed, the cow was moving around down there, and he was jumping around, and it was really fast and fun. Then we took off down the fence, and he was right on top of it in that first turn and all over it in the second turn. We were running really fast when we went to circle, and he got there.”

More Magic Please has carried Reynolds to numerous titles during his career, beginning with the 2005 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Non Pro Championship. The pair won the Non Pro Bridle Spectacular at the NRCHA Derby in June, and have accumulated numerous other wins during their partnership.

The Snaffle Bit Futurity Non Pro Bridle win added $4,189 to More Magic Please’s lifetime earnings, which are right at the $100,000 mark.

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