The 2017 National Reined Cow Horse Association World’s Greatest Horseman, held in conjunction with the Celebration of Champions in Fort Worth, Texas, attracted one of the largest, most unique set of entries in the event’s history. Thirty-six horse and rider combinations ran in an arduous quartet of preliminary events: herd work, rein work, steer stopping and fence work. They all craved one of the 10 available finals berths and a clean-slate shot at the title before a sellout crowd in the John Justin Arena on Saturday, February 18.
A diverse assortment of riders joined the quest for the $35,000 championship paycheck, part of a total $138,000 payout. The overall purse was up 42 percent over 2016, thanks to a 33 percent growth in entries and a $25,000 boost in added money from the World’s Greatest Horseman presenting sponsor, DT Horses.
When Canadian professional John Swales, of Millarville, Alberta, guided Heza Diamond Spark (Diamond J Star x Sheza Shinette x Shining Spark), to the World’s Greatest Horseman Championship, he became the first non-American rider to win the title. Heza Diamond Spark is a 2005 stallion owned by Jesse and Elyse Thomson of 7P Ranch, High River, Alberta, Canada.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s pretty unreal,” Swales said, immediately following the win.
The tight-knit Canadian reined cow horse community claimed Swales’ triumph as further validation that their country’s horses and trainers belong among the NRCHA elite.
“It went as planned. It’s fantastic,” Jesse Thomson said. “It should open some eyes that Canada does have some nice horses, and some good horsemen, kicking around up here.”
Jesse and Elyse Thomson bought their World’s Greatest champion horse in a somewhat unlikely way: through public auction. They had wanted to own “Sting” for years, and when previous owner, Dr. Michael Garver, was phasing out of the horse business, he consigned the stallion to the February 2014 Billings
Livestock Commission Horse Sale in Billings, Montana. The Thomsons were ready to snatch him up, paid a sale-topping $45,000, and promptly put Heza Diamond Spark to work, under saddle and in the breeding shed.
“We had watched this horse his whole life. He was always a superstar, every- where we had seen him,” Thomson, a professional reined cow horse trainer, said. “When you watch that horse, any- body will tell you, he’s got a presence about him, whether it be roping or show- ing or just standing in the barn. What
ride him, that’s what he makes you feel like,” Thomson said. “He’s 14.2, but it feels like you’re on a mountain.”
If Thomson’s other career as a film and TV stunt performer and animal wrangler had not interfered, he likely would have been the one riding Heza Diamond Spark in Fort Worth.
“I darn sure would have loved to show him myself, but I’ve been in the movie business my whole life. I got a good gig last summer, I couldn’t turn it down, and I just couldn’t commit to show- ing,” he said. Thomson gave up his 2016 futurity prospects to other trainers, and recruited his friend Swales to show Sting.
After squeaking into the finals by a scant half-point, Swales and Sting had a rocky start in front of the World’s Greatest Horseman sold-out crowd in Fort Worth. They were first to work in the herd, scoring a lackluster 207, which put them in eighth place and 14 points off the high score, a 221 by Jay McLaughlin and Blind Sided. But Swales knew he was extremely well mounted on a horse that could shine in the next three events.
The began making a comeback in the next event, the rein work, where they earned the high score, a 222.5. This moved them in to fourth place after two events with a 429.5 composite. They still had plenty of ground to make up, as McLaughlin and Blind Sided maintained the lead with a 438.
Next was the steer stopping, with McLaughlin and Blind Sided first in the draw. McLaughlin’s loop was true for a clean catch, but the momentum was sucked out of his run as the steer quit on its own, before Blind Sided could go to the ground and stop it. The judges awarded him another steer and a chance to start over. Although McLaughlin made a textbook run on the second try, a bro- ken barrier penalty, five points per judge, took what would have been a 225 score down to a 210.
Swales and Sting, second in the draw, had an identical experience. Their steer also hit the brakes too soon, and they also received a second animal, which they roped in credit-earning fashion for a 218.
With three events down, Swales still clung to fourth place. He was nine points behind NRCHA Million Dollar Rider and past World’s Greatest Horseman Boyd Rice, who, with Royal Smart Fletch, had made a big 221.5 in the rein work and a 219 in the steer stopping, to become the composite leader heading into the fence work.
Rice was number two in the fence draw and, until his second turn on the cow, appeared on point to win another World’s Greatest Horseman title. But a tiny error coming out of the second turn resulted in loss of control, and his 204 score left the door wide open for another finalist to make a big run and claim the lead.
It happened minutes later, when the fourth horse to work, and the second in the composite, Tommy Boon, shown by Luke Jones, earned a 218.5 with a scorching-fast run. Jones moved into first place, with an 869.5 composite.
Swales was seventh in the draw, and needed at least a 222 score to win. In the dim, orange-tinted light behind the back gate, he tried to steady himself despite the deafening crowd noise and intense energy.
“It was pretty crazy. It’s hard not to get super, super, super nervous. It made a person try a little harder, I guess,” he said, adding that his plan was to “try to go down the fence with a lot of cow, and hope we can handle it.”
They boxed only briefly before heading down the fence. The steer shoved hard on Sting’s right shoulder the whole way, forcing him well off the fence, but the gritty stallion executed two turns in the open, then made a controlled set of circles, first right, then left.
The judges’ horn signaling the end of the run was barely audible in the roar of the crowd. The score – 226.5 – would seal the win.
“I just love this horse. He can run so hard, and feels so cool down the fence. I’m just lucky, I guess,” Swales said. “I can’t believe how good he was, you know? I’m amazed.”
He thanked his family and support team, and especially the Thomsons.
The Reserve Champion was Luke Jones, Allerton, Iowa, in the World’s Greatest Horseman Finals for the first time in his career aboard Tommy Boon (Thomas E Hughes x Chitas Blue Boon x Duals Blue Boon), a 2011 mare owned by Wayne Hanson, Creston, Iowa.
“It turned out really well. I got real excited at the end,” Jones exclaimed. “The crowd was behind it, and it was so loud I could barely hear the whistle… It was just amazing. This is the highlight of my career, right here. It is. It’s just wonderful,” Jones said. “I’ve never showed to this much energy in my life. It was unbelievable. The crowd was into it. It was totally awesome.”
Jones and Hanson picked out Tommy Boon as a yearling in the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity Sales, and Jones has trained her from the beginning. Making the young mare’s performance at the World’s Greatest Horseman even more impressive—her training time in the bridle can be counted in weeks, instead of months or years.
“She is a wonderful mare. She was a bit of a last-minute decision to show here at the World’s Greatest. I showed her in the bridle twice before she came here.” Jones said.
2017 WORLD’S GREATEST HORSEMAN PRESENTED BY DT HORSES
Fort Worth, Texas – February 18, 2017 36 Entries – $75,000 Added – $138,000 Total Purse Event/Horse/Rider/Pedigree/Owner/Score/Money
1. Heza Diamond Spark; John Swales; 05S (Diamond J Star x Sheza Shinette x Shining Spark); 7 P Ranch; 874 (H: 207/R: 222.5/S: 218/C: 226.5); $35,000
2. Tommy Boon; Luke Jones; 11M (Thomas E Hughes x Chitas Blue Boon x Duals Blue Boon); Wayne Hanson; 869.5 (H: 216/R: 213/S: 222/C: 218.5); $23,000
3. Blind Sided; Jay McLaughlin; 10S (Peptoboonsmal x Lil Miss Shiney Chex x Shining Spark); Aaron Ranch; 864 (H: 221/R: 217/S: 210/C: 216); $15,500
4. Travelin Jonez; Chris Dawson; 08S (Smart Chic Olena x Travelin With Sass x Travalena); Chris Dawson; 862 (H: 209/R: 218.5/S: 214/C: 220.5); $13,000
5. Smooth N Cash; Jake Gorrell; 05G (Smooth As A Cat x Dox Gavacash x Miss N Cash); Roloff Ranch; 861.5 (H: 206/R: 218/S: 216/C: 221.5); $10,000
6. Royal Smart Fletch; Boyd Rice; 10S (Royal Fletch x Little Smart Ginger x Smart Little Lena); Kit and Charlie Moncrief; 860.5 (H: 217/R: 220.5/S: 219/C: 204); $8,000
7. Onetimeatbandcamp; Corey Cushing; 09G (One Time Pepto x Shortys Rooster x Gallo Del Cielo); Allan Kaplan; 858.5 (H: 210/R: 221.5/S: 213/C: 214); $5,750
8. Roobiesscoobiedoobie; Brad Lund; 09G (Smart Chic Olena x Playin With Rubies x Lectric Playboy); Rockin’ K Remuda; 856.5 (H: 209/R: 211.5/S: 225/C: 211); $5,750
9. Dueling Chic Olena; Shane Steffen; 09M (Smart Chic Olena x Dual Lena x Dual Pep); McSpyder Ranch; 855.5 (H: 213/R: 211.5/S: 214/C: 217); $5,250
10. Hes Shinettes CD; Jake Telford; 07S (CD Olena x Sheza Shinette x Shining Spark); Holy Cow Performance Horses; 840.5 (H: 193/R: 216/S: 215/C: 216.5); $5,000