A Stampede Success

The Stampede Reining Show, held May 7–10 in Hamilton, Texas, marks one of the first NRHA-approved events to take place as restrictions due to COVID-19 lessen in the U.S. 

By Kaycie Timm

Usually, by May, all eyes are on the majors as non pros and professionals alike begin to select their top derby horses and spend more time with 3-year-olds in anticipation of the fall futurities. This year, however, effects of COVID-19 changed the season’s trajectory, and we’re instead excited to celebrate the gradual resumption of shows in the U.S. as some areas begin to lift restrictions. 

Last weekend, the Stampede Reining Show at Circle T Arena in Hamilton, Texas, set the mark for a safe and successful return to the show pen.

“We had about 151 horses show,” shared Mark Miller, who managed the show running May 7–10. “Within three or four hours of us releasing the information that we would have the show, we started getting calls. We sold out of paid warmups, and a lot of the classes people use for schooling had almost double the entries.”

The event was originally slated to take place in Graham, Texas, but that facility fell under county-based restrictions, such as limiting the outdoor warmup pen to two horse-and-rider pairs, that would have made the show nearly impossible. However, the privately owned Circle T Arena offered a viable alternative, and Miller’s team recognized the need to adapt.

“I’ve put on shows in Hamilton previously, so I was familiar with the arena,” Miller shared. “They asked us to use common sense and good hygiene. The facility had some signs up asking people to be responsible, respect other people, and try to stay apart. Everyone did that—we didn’t have to enforce it. We had disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer in the office, and the facility had supplies in the bathrooms. Everyone was very good about it.” 

NRHA Professional Nathan Piper of Pilot Point, Texas, who won the show’s open derby aboard Armanni (Smart Spook x Ha Lenas Tune), jumped in to help promote the show early on. 

“When they were considering cancelling the show, I called Mark Miller and said, ‘if you can lead us into the first show, it’ll help everyone relax so others can start following suit,’” Piper shared. “This show gave everybody that sigh of relief that we can still have goals and keep training our horses. If you’re in that limbo state without knowing what you’re getting ready for, it’s hard. Horses and riders can get easily complacent without having those goals to reach.”

NRHA Professional Nathan Piper (left) poses with two of his non pro riders and their awards from the Stampede Show. (Photo Courtesy of Nathan Piper)

Miller, who has spent almost 30 years in the reining industry as a show manager, a judge, and an exhibitor, understood the possibility the show might not succeed, but he was willing to take a leap of faith to give exhibitors a chance to return to the arena. 

“You’ve got to be willing to step out—but not in a disrespectful manner, of course,” Miller explained. “You have to take the risk that the show may not be as large as you want and that you might lose money. We didn’t; but you’ve got to be willing to risk it. Work with the facility as best as you can and be willing to negotiate. In this case, I had to realize one facility wasn’t going to work. It has to work for everybody for a show to be successful.”

Cindy Swartzel of Austin, Texas, was among those most thankful for a chance to get back into the show pen. After riding her gelding Smartly Sweetened (The Sweet Spot x Smart Collen) in the Youth and Green Reiner classes, the pair marked a 71.5 to earn co-champion honors in both Rookie 1 and 2. 

“That was the first NRHA class I’ve ever won,” Swartzel shared. “We showed in the youth and the green, then I thought I’d take him in the Rookie class. He felt really good, so I pushed him a little, and he stepped up really nice.”

Cindy Swartzel (right) and her trainer Fallon Burger (left) were all smiles after Swartzel tied to win Rookie 1 and 2 at the Stampede Show.(Photo Courtesy of Cindy Swartzel)

While she and her barn mates, who ride with NRHA Professional Fallon Burger of Burger Performance Horses, were excited to get back to showing, the group stayed mindful of the precautions necessary to keep fellow exhibitors safe. 

“It felt like a normal horse show, things were just more spread out,” Swartzel remarked. “I know some people are being careful, but there was still a good, competitive group of riders there. Everyone was really happy to get their horses out and get back to showing.” 

Piper agreed—the show offered him and his non pro riders a reprieve from the stress of COVID-19 and an opportunity to reestablish their goals. 

“That show was so much fun,” Piper remarked. “We all love to horse show, but when you have to live without for a while, you really love it.”