Behind the Slide – NRHA Futurity Finals Judges

As reining payouts increase and the quality of horses improves, the judges must scrutinize them more and more closely at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity.

For the Futurity, the judges’ standard of excellence must be impeccable, along with their ethics and judgment.

“We have selected carefully from the best of the AAA judges for this important event,” said Patti Carter, senior director of education and officials. “I couldn’t be prouder of the NRHA Judges Committee for their leadership, passion, and dedication in making the judge education the very best in the equine industry.

“Judging the Futurity is the pinnacle of any judge’s career. Congratulations to these judges on their achievements.”

Combined, the 2023 Open Futurity judges have 174 years of judging experience. The CINCH Non Pro Futurity judges have a combined 164 years of experience judging.

“Around the world, all eyes are turned toward the Futurity when it’s time to show here,” said Eugenio Latorre, who was born in Italy and now resides in Spain. “It is really special to judge the 3-year-olds that will eventually become producers. It’s special, something that any judge would love to do for one time. When we’re at the event, we want to do the best we can.”

Latorre has been judging for 24 years and is chairman of the NRHA Judges Committee. Equipment Judge Greg Darnall from Texas has been judging for 28 years.    

“There are always new faces, and people come in to be excited about,” Darnall said. “My hope is that I can stay open-minded enough and young enough to keep learning with the changes. And I hope we never lose the love for the equine.”

Latorre and Darnall will work both the Open and Non Pro finals. Let’s meet the judges who will be calling scores. They have shared their thoughts on reining and the Futurity.

2023 NRHA Open Futurity Finals Judges

Chair 1: Bub Poplin


NRHA Judge Committee member

Years Judging: 20

“The quality of horses has just gotten so crazy good. We’re up in entries. Our industry’s strong. I mean, how can you not be happy to be here?

Chair 2: Cathy Woosley Luse


Years Judging:28

“This is my first Futurity in the United States. I’ve been coming to this event for a long time, so to sit in the chair and have the best view in the house is amazing. I’m expecting to see great riding, great horses and high scores.”

Chair 3: Mark Turner


Years Judging: 28

“During the finals, you have to concentrate on the horse. You block everything out and get in a zone, and you’re focusing on that horse. There are so many good horses anymore, any one of those horses that go in the finals can win it.”

Chair 4: Kelly Sapp

North Carolina

Years Judging:25

“This is our primary event – our Super Bowl. You want to be involved with the best show on Earth. The 3-year-olds are great, the scores have been great, and there are 25 or 30 horses that could definitely win this futurity, so it’s going to be an amazing show.”

Chair 5: Maik Bartmann


NRHA Director

NRHA Teaching Panel

Years Judging:21

“This whole event has something magic to it, and it’s always interesting to see all these great young horses. I just believe the quality gets better and better every time I come here.  I’m expecting a great, great final as always.”

2023 NRHA Non Pro Futurity Finals Judges

Chair 1: Terry Tompson


Years Judging: 28

“The greatest thing about reining right now is the breeding programs of the wonderful horses that are able to be kept fat and slick, because they’re bred to do the maneuvers. The riders are riding great horses. I’m proud of them and I’m proud of the breeders. I’m proud of the organization.”

Chair 2: Van Luse


Chairman of the NRHA Stewards Committee

Years Judging: 6

“The best thing about judging here is you get to watch the nice horses that we have in our industry and enjoy the camaraderie that we have in the group you judge with. I’m going to expect to be entertained (in the finals). They’re young horses and they’re just so amazing.”

Chair 3: Buddy Fisher


Years Judging: 23

“(When you’re judging reining), it’s like you’re rooting for everybody trying to get every maneuver score right. There are some hard calls, but it’s just fun. (During the finals), I tell myself to focus. When that horse comes through the gate, you’ve got to stay focused for every maneuver through that run. I think it will be a great finals.”

Chair 4: Bob Kail


NRHA Judge Committee Member

Years Judging: 28

“Horses have always ben real close to my heart. I’ve always loved reining horses. Coming here and being involved in the Futurity is one of the highlights of my year, to tell you the truth. It’s a special event.  I think as good as the horseflesh has been at these futurities, we’re fixed on having a really, really good finals.”

Chair 5: Patrick Wickenheiser


NRHA Judge Committee Member

Years Judging: 27

“It’s a big honor to be invited to judge this, just like the referees for the Super Bowl.”