An Unforgettable Night for Jesse Asmussen

Jesse Asmussen and Ruf Style Of Play claimed two Non Pro Futurity championships.

By Nichole Chirico

Jesse Asmussen and Ruf Style Of Play at the 2019 NRHA Futurity
When Jesse Asmussen drew up first in the Level 4 finals, he knew he’d have to blow the judges away to claim the L4 championship. (Photo by Waltenberry)

When Jesse Asmussen drew up first in the 2019 NRHA CINCH Non Pro Futurity finals aboard his mare Ruf Style Of Play (Not Ruf At All x UB Stylin With Me), he knew he needed to set the bar high if he wanted to claim the Level 4 and L3 championships. But little did he know that was only the beginning of an exciting non pro finals that’ll go down in reining history.

Make That Three

Thirty horses into the draw, Asmussen clung to the lead with the 220 he marked early in the night, until a bizarre incident left Luca Fappani with a re-ride after a dog sprung into the arena during his second set of circles. When Fappani came back in for his re-ride, he matched Asmussen’s 220, leaving Asmussen and Fappani with the tough decision about taking the tie or running it off for the win. 

“You don’t expect to have someone tie your score; you just assume they’ll beat you,” Asmussen explained. “I’d been pacing back and forth at the stalls trying to keep busy when I heard we’d tied. I looked over at my horse, who wasn’t saddled or ready to go, and thought, ‘What are we going to do?’” 

Ultimately the two decided to ride again, giving Asmussen only 15 minutes to warm up his horse before heading back into the arena for his second run of the night. 

“In the runoff, she was phenomenal,” Asmussen gushed. “She stopped big, had great turnarounds, and pretty circles. I couldn’t believe she was better there than she was the first time I showed her in the finals.” 

By the end of his run it was clear from the audience’s reaction that Asmussen had once again set the bar high, and with a score of 222 Asmussen would go on to win his third L4 championship and also claim the L3 title. 

However, that wasn’t the part that stood out the most to Asmussen, who says it’s always a dream come true when you have a horse that’s special enough to win an NRHA Futurity championship. For the first time, Asmussen’s dear friend Dave Kunkle was sitting in the stands, cheering him on as he competed in the Futurity finals.

“Dave [Kunkle] was the person who got me into reining,” shared Asmussen. “The first two times I won he was back in Iowa; it was really special to have him here tonight.”

Jesse Asmussen and Dave Kunkle
While Asmussen is no stranger to winning the NRHA Non Pro Futurity—he’s done it twice before—this was the first time Asmussen’s longtime friend Dave Kunkle, the man who introduced Asmussen to reining, was able to be in Oklahoma City to watch him win. (Photo by Carolyn Simancik.)

Sight Unseen

It was never the plan to buy another horse. In fact, when Bobby Avila Jr. originally called to tell Asmussen about Ruf Style Of Play, Asmussen turned him down. 

“I begged Jesse to buy [Ruf Style Of Play],” Avila joked after he was asked about selling the horse. “I knew that if I could pick the rider of this horse, she’d be successful. I know how Jesse rides, and I knew he would get along great with this mare. She has a ton of talent and wants to be trained; she just needed someone who’s patient and willing to put in the work to get her ready for a show like the Futurity. Jesse was the perfect fit.”

Asmussen finally gave in to Avila and decided to buy the mare sight unseen. 

“When I told my wife I ended up buying this mare, she just rolled her eyes at me because we already had too many horses,” Asmussen said with a smile. “When we got her home, I was really excited about her. Bobby had told me she was really good-minded and a great stopper, and he was spot on.” 

After Asmussen decided to pull the trigger on buying Ruf Style Of Play, she originally came back to Iowa to be under his guidance, and for the first couple of months Asmussen did the majority of the riding himself. It wasn’t until the weather in Iowa began to get colder that he decided it was time to send the mare to NRHA Professional Kole Price to prepare for NRHA’s premier 3-year-old event.

Jesse Asmussen and Ruf Style Of Play with their awards at the 2019 NRHA Futurity
Asmussen’s L4 and L3 wins came with a bounty of prizes, including checks totaling $61,455. (Photo by Waltenberry)

“This mare really surprised me,” Price exclaimed. “She had a few green spots when she got to my house, but she stepped up to the plate fast. When Jesse came out to ride her, he couldn’t believe it’s the same horse.” 

Asmussen agreed, and credited Price’s help as to why the two were able to put everything together in the show pen. “I felt that I changed her a lot, but he really got her ready for this show. I don’t think I could’ve done it without his help and guidance.”

‘She’s a Show Horse’

It’s not often you find a 3-year-old capable of so easily handling the pressure of a long event like the NRHA Futurity, but Ruf Style Of Play was ready for the challenge and handled the workload like a seasoned veteran, even beating her previous score each time she went to compete in the show pen throughout the NRHA Futurity.

“It’s really hard to stay this consistent, especially with a 3-year-old, but every ride Jesse and this mare had together was a productive ride,” Price shared. “They just kept getting better and better each time they went into the show pen, and
the end result was great.”

After the consistency Ruf Style Of Play demonstrated in the show pen at the NRHA Futurity, it’s no surprise both Price and Asmussen agree that she’s the definition of a
show horse.

“You can tell that she really enjoys her work,” Asmussen explained. “She never gets mad, she’s always happy and tries so hard every time you get on her. She truly wants to be a show horse.” 

Price added, “It’s not an ideal situation to only get 15 minutes to warm up to runoff at an event like this, especially after going so early in the draw and sitting for as long as she did. But you can tell she’s a show horse because she went in that arena with very little warm-up and managed to get even better in the show pen.” 

Jesse Asmussen and Ruf Style Of Play at the 2019 NRHA Futurity
Before going into the show pen, Asmussen took a quick minute to himself to pray. (Photo by Carolyn Simancik.)

Next to Come

Asmussen doesn’t have his game plan finalized going into 2020, and jokes that he still has too many horses, but one thing they know for sure is Ruf Style Of Play will be getting a well-deserved break.

“When she’s on a break there will still probably be some light riding involved because she’s fresh every day,” Price laughed. “Even after an event like the Futurity she’ll be fresh the next day.”  

And while Asmussen’s not sure what’s next for the mare at this moment, Price knows that whatever it is she does, she’ll be great at it. “Just judging by how she showed at the Futurity, this mare has a really long career ahead of her. She’s going to make a really nice derby horse.”