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Justin Wright, NRCHA Million Dollar Rider

SANTA MARIA—Justin Wright’s 17-year journey as part of the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s competitive circuit has reached a benchmark as the NRCHA’s newest One Million Dollar Rider.

The 33-year-old native California trainer has come a long way.

Wright’s career began as a non-pro, riding horses from his family’s ranch in San Juan Bautista. He is the son of Walter and Sharon Wright, acclaimed horse breeders who stood legendary stallions including Smokum Oak Smokums Prize. The ranch featured 40-60 broodmares.

“I think I was 14 when my dad took me to my first real NRCHA show” to compete, Wright said. “I hadn’t a clue. I’d watched a bunch of old videos of my brother and dad when they were competing. That’s all I knew until I started going to those shows. It was eye-opening. In 15 years, it had changed a lot from the videos I was watching.”

He opened eyes at age 16, winning three buckles — youngest rider, top five in the Amateur Division and third in the Limited Non-Pro Division — at the World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno. He was believed to be the youngest rider ever to make the finals at the time.

In 2017, though he had already won more than $500,000 and finished in the money in big events, he won his first premier open event, the NRCHA Derby Open aboard 2012 Stephen Silva-owned gelding Lil Bay Hawk (Catty Hawk x Little Gray Freckles x Playgun).

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