A thrilling day of reined cow horse action on Saturday, June 17, wrapped up the main event at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby in Paso Robles, California, with the finals for Open and Non Pro competitors. Champions were crowned in three Open and three Non Pro Derby divisions.
The NRCHA Derby is the biggest and richest event for 4- and 5-year-old reined cow horses, with the total payout in 2017 exceeding $300,000. Shown two-handed in a snaffle bit or a hackamore, horses are judged in three events: rein work, herd work and cow work.
Derby Open Finals night was emotional for Justin Wright, of Santa Maria, California. He had three horses in the finals and won the Championship – his first NRCHA Premier Event Open title – with Stephen Silva’s Lil Bay Hawk (Catty Hawk x Gray Little Freckles x Playgun), scoring a phenomenal 672.5 composite (225 herd/220.5 rein/227 fence).
Wright and Lil Bay Hawk were the composite leaders after two events, and were among the last few horses to go down the fence. Wright needed a big score to overtake the leader, NRCHA Two Million Dollar Rider Todd Bergen, Eagle Point, Oregon, and Boonlight Roan Bar (Bet Hesa Cat x Cat Boonlight Jewels x High Brow Cat), who were in the lead with a 666.5 total.
“I don’t remember most of it,” Wright admitted of the fence work. “He went in there, and it felt good, and it just all worked out. Every turn, it seemed like we just stayed in time, and it was incredible. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of – winning a major, and it’s just incredible.”
The Championship paid $29,588 and came with prizes including a saddle from Jividen’s Customs, sponsored by McSpyder Ranch; a Gist buckle; boots from Rios of Mercedes; and product from Platinum Performance and Santa Cruz Animal Health.
Wright had two other horses in the Open finals. He tied for 4th on Mark and Kelly Gowing’s home-bred stallion, Step To The Light (CD Lights x Shinersdiamondjackie x Shining Spark, scoring a 663.5 (216.5 herd/224.5 rein/221 cow), earning $12,795. His other finalist, Light N Sassy (CD Lights x Dual Sass x Dual Pep), finished 11th with a 656 composite, earning $3,998 for owners Mark and Kimberly Rauch.
Boonlight Roan Bar and Todd Bergen, the Reserve Champions, earned $22,391 for owner Tony Grover.
Intermediate Open Champion
The Derby Intermediate Open Champion was Nee On Lights (CD Lights x Shine Smartly x Shining Spark), shown by NRCHA Professional Shawn Hays, Nocona, Texas, for owner Yellow Creek Ranch. Nee On Lights, a 2012 stallion bred by Hays’ wife, and her father, Walter Greeman, scored a 655 composite (216 herd/218 rein/221 fence). The Intermediate Open Championship came with a $6,981 paycheck. Hays and Nee On Lights earned another $3,198 for finishing 12th in the Open.
“I drew a good cow, and that little horse, he was on target in the fence work. He was a little tired because it’s been real hot today. The cows, in the prelims, the heat kind of tapped them out, but the cows didn’t weaken today. They stayed strong. We went down and made a good right turn, jumped out and made a good left turn and got circled up,” Hays said.
He praised the honest nature of the horse he has known since he was foaled, out of the Hays family’s champion performing and producing mare, Shine Smartly.
“He goes in and tries to give you the same run every time. He doesn’t try and cheat you. He’s just a really solid little show horse,” he said.
Hays had two other horses in the finals. He earned combined paychecks of $3,317 in the Open and Intermediate Open on Hes The Katz Meow, owned by Dustin Deckard; and picked up $551 in the Intermediate Open aboard Playin Motown, owned by Moncrief and Lee.
Limited Open Champion
Hollister, California, professional Brendon Clark piloted Metal Cat (Metallic Cat x Tipofthestar x Grays Starlight) to the Derby Limited Open Championship, scoring a 632.5 composite (215 herd/210.5 rein/207 fence). The win paid $5,836.
“I won the Level 1 Limited Open here last year, and was Reserve in the Limited Open, so to come back this year and be able to win the Limited, is exciting. I worked really hard over the last few years trying to learn as much as I can, and I’m still learning something every day,” Clark, a former professional bull rider, said.
He owns Metal Cat in partnership with friends Quentin Kersh and Jonathan Fine, and praised the gelding’s steady temperament and cow sense.
“He’s a horse that doesn’t need a lot of work. You don’t need to warm him up much. You just go in, and he does what you want. He’s a nice-minded horse.”
Level 1 Limited Open Champion
The Wright Quarter Horses team had another reason to celebrate on Thursday, as Justin Wright’s assistant trainer, Daniel Sanchez, won the Level 1 Limited Open Championship riding Mi Smart Ichi Girl (Cat Ichi x A Smart Laker Girl x Laker Doc), owned by Mary Hobbs. The 2012 mare scored a 641.5 composite (211 herd/212 rein/218.5 fence), earning $2,123.
“She’s a super gritty mare. She’s always been gritty, and a great fence horse. She’s not going to get outrun down the fence. If the cow has a little spunk to it, she’s going to be right there with it, and that’s what she did today. Everyone said it was scary, but we were just trying to get that cow caught,” Sanchez said.
The 22 year old horseman has been an assistant trainer to top NRCHA Professionals, starting his career under Jake Gorrell, Hanford, California. Sanchez currently works for Justin Wright, a full-circle family tradition.
“My dad worked for the Wrights for 20-plus years. Justin has known me since I was a baby. He’s pretty much like my big brother, been a role model my whole life. I’ve looked up to him showing horses, so it’s pretty great to be competing against him now and working for him. It’s pretty awesome,” Sanchez said.
He thanked Wright, Gorrell, his parents, and Mi Smart Ichi Girl’s owner, Mary Hobbs, for believing in him.
“She stuck with me when I was 21 years old and sent this mare to me. I don’t know many people who would send a horse to a 21 year old, but she did, and it’s worked out great for the both of us,” he said.
The Level 1 Limited Open Reserve Champion was another Justin Wright protege, Jared Jones, who rode Linda Tayne’s Gunna Smokum Alittle (Little Lotto Lena x Mia Gunna Smokum x Smokum Oak) to a 637 (214 herd/213 rein/210 cow), earning $1,592.
Derby Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro & Novice Non Pro Champion
A special bond between Hope Miller and her 5-year-old gelding, Dare To Sioux (A Shiner Named Sioux x Tari Darlin x Taris Catalyst) helps the pair consistently achieve fence work performances that any top professional trainer would envy. The non pro from Washington state piloted “Baby Sioux” to the highest fence score of any rider at the 2017 NRCHA Derby, a 229, to seal triple Championships in the Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro and Novice Non Pro divisions.
” He is amazing. That’s the only thing I can say. Amazing. Special,” Miller said. “He tries his hardest with the fence work. It’s his favorite thing to do.”
It’s often said that the most talented horses have oddball qualities, and Dare To Sioux fits that mold.
“He is so quirky. We always joke that he acts like a girl,” Miller said. Her preparation to show consists of keeping him happy. “I walk him around, I pet him, I give him a cookie and tell him he’s so pretty and so cute, and let him have his confidence. He’s an odd horse. Sometimes you have to ride him a lot and sometimes you just walk him. It really just depends on what he needs.”
Their composite score of 656.5 (210 herd/217.5 rein/229 fence) earned triple paychecks totaling $12,364. Miller’s prizes included a saddle from Jividen’s Customs, buckles sponsored by the Will Rogers Memorial Center, boots from Rios of Mercedes, a hat from Shorty’s Caboy Hattery, gift certificates from Farnam, therapeutic equine products from Back On Track, and product from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health.
The Derby Amateur Champion was Jorge Cid, who rode Wright On Hickory (Hes Wright On x Hickorys Miracle x Docs Hickory) to a 640.5 composite (215 herd/215 rein/210.5 fence). The Amateur win paid $1,620, and Cid also earned a spot in the finals for the Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro and Novice Non Pro divisions. The 2017 show season represents a return to cow horse competition for Cid, who graduated from college in Texas and then returned to his native Venezuela.
“I was out for three years. Being able to come back to a big show like this and win in the Amateur is awesome. I moved back to my country, to Venezuela, and have been working with my dad in the family business,” he said.
Living and working in Venezuela does not provide Cid many opportunities to ride, and he appreciates the well-trained and uncomplicated Wright On Hickory, a mare he bought in February at the NRCHA Celebration of Champions.
“That’s the thing, I just ride whenever I come to the shows. I have three days to practice before the shows so it’s quite a challenge,” he said. “Wright On Hickory is just amazing and she’s so easy to get ready and to show. That’s a big help.”
Cid rides with NRCHA Professional Shawn Hays, Nocona, Texas, who suggested he try Wright On Hickory earlier this year. Cid began his cow horse show career in successful fashion on a bridle horse, and had been eager to take on the challenge of a younger mount.
“I always wanted to show in the derby classes. It was a challenge, after three years of not showing, to get a derby horse. They’re not as mature as the bridle horses, so it’s a bigger challenge for sure. It’s been good so far. I made the finals [at the NRCHA Stallion Stakes] in Vegas, I made the finals here, so – just keep showing and see how it goes.”
The Amateur Reserve Champion was Jesse Spence, Yamhill, Oregon, who guided A Stylish Spark (Stylish Rey Gay x Just A Sparknshine x Shining Spark) to a 637 score (210 herd/216.5 rein/210.5 cow), earning $1,350. Spence will also advance to the finals in the Derby Non Pro and Novice Non Pro divisions.
Non Pro Limited Champion
The Non Pro Limited Champion was Meredith Graber, Cannelburg, Indiana, who rode her mare, CSR Lay Down Sally (Dual Spark x Look At Her Glo x CD O Cody), to the 2017 Derby Non Pro Limited Championship with a 654.5 composite (216 herd/219 rein/219.5 cow). The win paid $2,430.