Affiliates Take the Spotlight

The Adequan® North American Affiliate Championship Show brought top competitors to vie for prestigious titles, prizes, and bragging rights.

By Megan Arszman; Competition Photos by Waltenberry

Competitors young and old of all experience levels traveled from across North America to showcase their horses and compete for coveted titles during the 2019 edition of the Adequan® North American Affiliate Championship (NAAC) in Oklahoma City. From first-time Adequan® NAAC competitors to seasoned winners, each horse-and-rider pair brought their A-game to compete for prizes and awards, rewarding the culmination of a year’s worth of work. Here are their stories of success.

girl reaching back to pat her horse as she rides out of the arena
The energy in the Adequan® Arena during the NAAC classes amped the competition to a new level in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Kaycie Timm)

Mirjam Stillo and Steppin Little Lena (Wimpys Little Step x Collena O Lena; owned by Heidi Pichotta)
Region: South Central 
Affiliate: Southwest RHA

Mirjam Stillo and Steppin Little Lena

Mirjam Stillo isn’t new to showing in Oklahoma City, but her first experience with the Adequan® NAAC has her looking forward to future opportunities for both herself and her clients to compete in the Adequan® Arena again. She brought home her first Adequan® NAAC championship aboard 8-year-old stallion Steppin Little Lena for owner Heidi Pichotta. Their score of 219.5 clinched the open win on the first day of NAAC competition. 

“When I started to show Steppin Little Lena as a tune-up for Heidi, we decided that our 2019 goals were to get him qualified for both the affiliate finals and the AQHA World Show,” Stillo said. “He’s had an amazing year.”

With just a week between the AQHA World Championship Show and the Adequan® NAAC, the focus was keeping the son of Wimpys Little Step happy. 

“We didn’t have a lot of time to prep for the affiliate class, but it seemed to all work out and he showed really, really well,” Stillo said. “I’d like to thank the owner who allows me to ride him and trusts me with him. We had a plan to step him up slowly, and it all worked out. I also thank my team, my husband, and everyone at home who takes care of things when we’re gone.”

Mark Rafacz and Wimpys Dun Twistin (Wimpys Little Step x Totally Dun Twistin; owned by Mark and Shannon Rafacz) marked a 218.5 to earn the Adequan® NAAC open reserve championship. 

Intermediate Open 
Tanner Boyes and Guns Last Chance (Gunner x Shiners Woman; owned by White River Ag Products, Inc.)
Region: North Central 
Affiliate: North Central RHA

Tanner Boyes and Guns Last Chance

After working for some of the industry’s leading riders, Tanner Boyes is making a name for himself as an NRHA Proessional in Ashland, Wisconsin. 

The Adequan® NAAC Intermediate Open championship he earned riding White River Ag Products’ Guns Last Chance marks his biggest win to date and since going out on his own.

“It’s been amazing coming down here [to Oklahoma City] to do this,” Boyes said. “I was lucky; we were able to cruise through in the affiliate regional championship and compete. It’s been a lot of fun.”  

The Gunner gelding pulls double-duty, showing in non pro classes with Paige Vernon in addition to the open with Boyes, but that hasn’t hindered the horse’s performance. 

“He has such a phenomenal mind on him, with spectacular breeding,” Boyes said. “It was my goal to try to really put on a show and win the intermediate open. I’m just so happy and thankful for the opportunity.” 

Dan Yarbrough and Gunna Bea Natural (Gunnatrashya x Bea Maria Jac; owned by Judy Yarbrough Realty) earned the reserve intermediate open title with a 213. 

Limited Open
Meghan Shea and Master Magnums Dream (Magnum Chic Dream x Tuckalnite; owned by Jack and Suzanne Marlow)
Region: Mountain
Affiliate: Monatana RHA

Meghan Shea and Master Magnums Dream

When owners Jack and Suzanne Marlow moved from Washington to Montana, putting Master Magnums Dream in Meaghan Shea’s barn in April 2019, the pair faced a few stumbles as they got to know each other.

But, as their partnership became stronger throughout the year, Shea decided she’d aim to compete at the Adequan® NAAC for the first time. The 30-hour drive to Oklahoma City culminated with a score of 216 in the Adequan® NAAC Limited Open, giving Shea her first Adequan® NAAC win. 

Although Shea hasn’t previously competed in the Adequan® Arena, she’s shown in Oklahoma City before. 

“You definitely feel pressure to do well, but it’s far less stressful coming to Oklahoma knowing what you have with an older horse versus a futurity horse,” Shea laughed. 

In 2020, Suzanne Marlow plans to take a spin on the stallion, with Shea coaching the pair. 

“She’s been waiting for a good one to show, and I think this will work out,” Shea said of the match. 

Earning reserve in the Adequan® NAAC Limited Open was  Marco Formentin, who rode CC Plain Vanilla (Wimpys Little Step x Sheza Bonita Whiz) to mark a 214.5 for owner Audrey Kidd.

Rookie Professional  
Cody Garrison and Bombshell Banjo (Banjo Whiz x Bob Acre Badgerlena; owned by Brogan Lee)
Region: North Central 
Affiliate: Midwest RHA

Cody Garrison and Bombshell Banjo

Don’t tell Bombshell Banjo she’s an older horse. The 12-year-old mare by Banjo Whiz didn’t show any sign of her age when she won the runoff for the Adequan® NAAC Rookie Professional championship with Cody Garrison. The pair’s first score of 214 left them tied with Kaleigh Geringer and Lil Coded Jac, but their runoff score of 212.5 secured then win. 

“She’s one of those horses that truly enjoys her job,” Garrison said. “We didn’t have much time to recover before our runoff, but she didn’t quit on me, and she didn’t try to anticipate or get ahead of me.”

Garrison spent most of the year tuning up Bombshell Banjo  for his girlfriend, Brogan Lee, to show. Lee owns the mare, but when a back injury prevented her from competing after the Run for the Million in August, Garrison took over. 

“My girlfriend loves to just ride her around our Indiana farm to keep her in shape, and I basically catch-ride at the horse shows,” Garrison said. 

Kaleigh Geringer and Lil Coded Jac (Jacs Electric Spark x Hot Coded Candy; owned by Susan Meyer) took the reserve title after the runoff with Garrison. 

Novice Horse Open Level 1 
Jeromy Lipps and Some LikeIt Hot (Wimpys Little Step x Princessontheprowl; owned by Deana and Kenny Nell)
Region: North Central 
Affiliate: Midwest RHA

Jeromy Lipps and Some LikeIt Hot

Jeromy Lipps is a pushover for giving scratches to Some LikeIt Hot. After scoring a 212.5 to win the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Open Level 1 championship, the Wimpys Little Step mare got a lot of scratches both from Lipps and her owners, Deana and Kenny Nell. 

“She’s got just the most wonderful personality and is so sweet,” Lipps said of the mare. 

Her sweet personality and easygoing attitude came in handy when it was show time, because Lipps didn’t have much time to warm-up the mare before entering the pen.

“I had three horses to show in the Novice Horse Open, and she was the last in the pen,” Lipps explained. “I didn’t have a lot of time to get her prepared, but she went in and did what she always does. It’s exciting to win this for the owners; it’s been a great road to ride along with them.” 

Drake Johnson marked a 212 to take home the Novice Horse Open Level 1 reserve title aboard Gunners Special Chic (Gunners Special Nite x Smart Chico Lashes) for owner Kristle Raile.

Novice Horse Open Level 2
Devin Warren and Outlaw Dreams (Magnum With A Dream x Mollie Montana; owned by Megan Mulqueen)
Region: Mountain
Affiliate: Rocky Mountain RHA

Devin Warren and Outlaw Dreams

It can be challenging for a horse to show in both non pro and open, but Outlaw Dreams did just that—and he earned the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Open Level 2 championship for his efforts. 

Devin Warren rode the 6-year-old gelding to mark a 218.5 for the win. 

“He’s been an awesome little horse,” Warren said. “He was shown a day before in the limited non pro, but he did his job and has been so honest for me.”

A veteran of Warren’s program for the past three years, Outlaw Dreams ran one of the best patterns for the professional. 

“They had a really good song playing, and I was able to sit there and enjoy the ride,” Warren laughed. “It was fun.” 

Shauna Larcombe and Gunners Bar Fly (Gunner x Blonde At The Bar; owned by Rosanne Sternberg) earned reserve honors with a score of 217.

Limited Non Pro and Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2
Madison Rafacz and Whizenboonsmal (Peptoleap x She Whiz A Star)
Region: Southeast 
Affiliate: Florida RHA

Madison Rafacz and Whizenboonsmal

When Madison Rafacz met Whizenboonsmal two years ago, they instantly clicked. Now, the 7-year-old gelding, fondly called “Peter,” and his 12-year-old rider are making waves in the show pen, most recently by winning both the Adequan® NAAC Limited Non Pro and Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2 championships. 

“When I tried him, I loved him,” Rafacz recalled. “He’s got such a personality, and he’s my best friend. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

The pair scored a 220 that topped the charts in the Adequan® NAAC Limited Non Pro at the beginning of the show, and then kept their winning streak alive with a 217 in the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2. Rafacz’s attention to her horses kept her gelding happy for the entire week, which concluded with a reserve championship in the Adequan® NAAC Youth 13 & Under for Rafacz and Peter. 

“I’m so proud of her,” shared Rafacz’ mother, NRHA Professional Shannon Rafacz. “She is so dedicated to making sure this horse is happy, healthy, and wants to do his job. She takes care of him from A to Z.”

Rafacz’s trick to keeping her gelding happy through the entire show: treats. Lots of treats. 

“He’ll eat basically anything you want to give him, like my leftover sandwich,” Rafacz laughed. 

“I want to thank my parents (NRHA Professionals Mark and Shannon Rafacz), Kyla Thurlow, Jenna Webb, and Stephen Graycheck,” Rafacz said. “They’re always there for me.” 

Marking just a half-point less than Rafacz in the Adequan® NAAC Limited Non Pro, McKinnon Larcombe and Designed With Shine claimed the reserve title. Stacy Yarbrough and Xtra Rubiesforwimpy (Wimpys Little Step x Ruby Chic Olena; owned by Dan Yarbrough) scored a 216.5 to earn reserve in the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Non Pro Level 2.

Novice Horse Non Pro Level 1  
Stacy Yarbrough and Xtra Rubiesforwimpy (Wimpys Little Step x Ruby Chic Olena; owned by Dan Yarbrough)
Region: Southwest 
Affiliate: Southwest RHA

Stacy Yarbrough and Xtra Rubiesforwimpy

In addition to working as a nurse at a retirement community, Stacy Yarbrough spends her extra time in the barn with her husband, NRHA Professional Dan Yarbrough. Although her main focus is supporting Dan’s endeavors in the arena, she’s also made time in recent years to compete in her own right. Her score of 216.5 in the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Non Pro Level 1 earned her first big win in Oklahoma City this year. 

Yarbrough said her husband gave her some helpful advice before she went into the show ring: “He told me to look up, put my hand down, and keep driving,” Yarbrough recalled.

Placing reserve in the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Non Pro Level 1 was Jessicah Keller, who rode Smoking Ice (Gunner On Ice x Rondas Tio; owned by Hilldale Farm) to mark a 215.

Prime Time Non Pro 
Morris Kulmer and NVR What A Lucky Joe (Lil Joe Cash x What A Lucky Hit)
Region: Southwest 
Affiliate: Arizona RHA

Morris Kulmer and NVR What A Lucky Joe

Morris Kulmer capped a successful year showing his 5-year-old gelding in the derbies with a win in the Adequan® NAAC Prime Time Non Pro. The pair scored a 215 to secure the title. But Kulmer has big plans on the horizon in 2020 for his horse’s next year of derby eligibility. 

“I thank God first. He has blessed me with a lot of good horses and more than I deserve,” Kulmer shared. “I also thank my trainer, Dan Huss, and my wife for all her support. My grandchildren are my biggest inspiration. They’re amazing and a lot better athletes than I am. They keep me going.”

Earning reserve in the Adequan® NAAC Prime Time, Kim Niven and Cashing Black Chex (Big Chex To Cash x Blazing In Black) marked a 214.

Rookie Level 2
Kyla Thurlow and Kachina Olena Tag (Whiz N Tag Chex x Kachina Oak Olena)
Region: Southeast
Affiliate: Florida RHA

Kyla Thurlow and Kachina Olena Tag

Originally purchased through an online auction—and barn-named “Facebook” as a result—Kachina Tag Olena stole Kyla Thurlow’s heart. When Thurlow’s boyfriend, Stephen Borgia, decided to sell the gelding as a 4-year-old, Thurlow couldn’t stand the idea of him leaving the barn. Her solution? Make him her own.

“He’s my pet and my forever horse,” Thurlow revealed. “He’s never going anywhere.”

Although Thurlow lives in Massachusetts, a significant distance from her gelding’s home in Florida, the pair has an unmistakable bond. However, Thurlow didn’t have big plans for the year, so her win in the Adequan® NAAC Rookie Level 2 was a great surprise and the perfect way to wrap up her first trip to the NAAC. 

“I hadn’t shown in years, but he’s my horse of a lifetime,” she said of the gelding, with whom she marked a 217. 

Kalena Reynolds and Gun Whiz It (Gunner x Roll Whiz It; owned by Tammy Reynolds) earned the reserve Adequan® NAAC Rookie Level 2 title with a score of 215.5.

Prime Time Rookie 
Deborah Good and Chics Love Me Wimpy (Wimpys Little Step x Dream About Magic; owned by DAG Ventures LLC)
Region: South Central  
Affiliate: Southwest RHA

Deborah Good and Chics Love Me Wimpy

It’s a good time for Prime Time at the Adequan® NAAC. This year marked the first time offering a Prime Time Rookie division, and Deborah Good rode Chics Love Me Wimpy to mark a 213 that secured the title. For Good, who broke both of her shoulders just nine weeks prior to the event, it was a dream come true.  

“It feels absolutely amazing; I can’t even express it,” she revealed. “Josh [Tishman] won so many awards on this horse, and I’ve just been trying to win one of my own.”

Discovered by NRHA Professional Mike McEntire when Good was searching for a horse, “Duke” is the perfect fit for his rider. 

“He took good care of me this week,” Good shared. 

Taking home the reserve Adequan® NAAC Prime Time Rookie title, Kimberly Brokaw marked a 209.5 with KR Ima Dreamer (Magnum Chic Dream x KR Ima Tejon; owned by Kristen Avila).

Youth 13 & Under  
Madison Rafacz and Wimpys Dun Twistin (Wimpys Little Step x Totally Dun Twistin)
Region: Southeast 
Affiliate: Florida RHA

Madison Rafacz and Wimpys Dun Twistin

Madison Rafacz concluded her stellar show by besting herself for the Adequan® NAAC 13 & Under championship aboard her parents’ mare Wimpys Dun Twistin. The title came as a surprise for the Rafacz family, since the mare has a rocky history with the young rider, who grew up around the horse. 

“She’s the queen of the barn, and she knows it,” Rafacz laughed. “I struggled to ride her in the beginning. I’m still really annoying to her, but she tolerates me now.”

After posting the winning score of 216.5, Rafacz returned to the pen with Whizenboonsmal. 

“My goal was to get first and second, and I drew close to the end with Whizenboonsmal,” she explained. “Since I was still leading, I just wanted to have a quiet ride aboard him because I already won with him earlier in the show.”

Her score of 214 aboard Whizenboonsmal allowed her to achieve that goal, earning the Adequan® NAAC Youth 13 & Under reserve title.

Short Stirrup  
Colt Mitchell and Playgun Chic Olena (Smart Chic Olena x Mamas Packin; owned by Molly Mitchell)
Region: North Central 
Affiliate: Midwest RHA

Colt Mitchell and Playgun Chic Olena

It’s not often a champion takes home a trophy and a puppy, but 10-year-old Colt Mitchell got to do just that when he won the Short Stirrup title aboard his family’s Playgun Chic Olena. 

The Mitchells have owned the gelding for nine years now, and he first served as Colt’s older sister Molly’s horse. 

“He’s just a great horse that’s really good at everything,” Colt shared. “He does it all right, and I love him.” 

But don’t let his young age fool you: Colt was already critiquing his 217.5-scoring ride by pointing out where he slowed down going into the middle of his circle.  

“I knew where I had a little bobble,” he said. “But my horse took care of me.”

Earning reserve in the Short Stirrup was Becca Schaffhauser, who rode her father NRHA Professional Sam Schaffhauser’s Dun Got My Rest to mark a 212.5.

Rewarding Success for All Levels  

Championships have long been an important part of the NRHA Futurity, giving horses and riders of all levels the opportunity to compete on NRHA’s biggest stage. Competitors qualify each year by competing at various Affiliate Regional Championships across North America before to traveling to Oklahoma City. 

NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter and NRHyA member Madison Rafacz
NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter presents Madison Rafacz with an Adequan® NAAC Champion vest.

“It’s so exciting,” shared Adequan® NAAC Non Pro and Intermediate Non Pro champion McKinnon Lacombe. “You’re running for a saddle and a big trophy, and it’s a prestigious thing for the riders and horses. The fact that it’s ran with the Futurity, too, gives the NAAC an overall exciting atmosphere. I appreciate the big deal NRHA makes about this because it gives people who aren’t competing in the Futurity something to run for.”

NRHA Affiliate Program Representative Lauren Rufo was excited to crown the 2019 Adequan® NAAC Champions. She explained that the Adequan® NAAC helps spotlight a variety of members and horses from across North America. 

“It’s an excellent opportunity to recognize riders and horses from our grassroots program at the most exciting, prestigious NRHA event of the year,” Rufo said. 

In addition to prize money, winners received an Adequan® NAAC-exclusive Lawson, a saddle from either Continental Saddlery or Bob’s Custom Saddles, an Adequan® vest, a Montana Silversmiths buckle, Classic Equine product, and gift certificates from Bluebonnet and SmartPak. Reserve Champions earned an Adequan® vest, a custom Montana Silversmiths trophy buckle, gift certificates to Bluebonnet and Platinum Performance, and product from SmartPak and Classic Equine. All top 10 winners received a Platinum Performance jacket, among other awards. 

“The Adequan® NAAC has gotten so much more prestigious, and they’ve been working hard with the sponsors to make this a bigger part of the show,” revealed NRHA Professional Devin Warren, winner of the Adequan® NAAC Novice Horse Open Level 2. “The owners are more apt to send their horses down here, so that makes it nice.”

For the first time, the 2019 Adequan® NAAC Champions were recognized in the Jim Norick Coliseum on the day following their victory. There, they received their Adequan® NAAC Champion vests while spectators enjoyed a video showcasing the winners’ runs. 

“I was honestly scared the first time we did the presentation,” laughed three-time 2019 NAAC champion Madison Rafacz. “But it was fun to be introduced like that.”