Find Your Next Reining Prospect

Find your next reining prospect with tips from horse-shopping experts Nathan Piper, Gabe Hutchins, and Shannon Quinlan.

Article and Photos by Abigail Boatwright

Before you purchase a prospect, do your research to make sure you’re making an informed decision. Three NRHA Professionals offer their advice for navigating the process.

Find your next reining prospect and start your journey with a new horse using these tips from the experts. There’s seemingly endless potential for greatness yet untapped in any young horse embarking on a quest to what could be futurity fame, derby titles, or a career as a weekend warrior. To increase your chances of finding the right prospect to achieve your goals, we asked three trainers to weigh in on what they look for—and where.

Why Choose a Prospect? 

If you want to take a horse to the NRHA Futurity, buying a finished horse at that level can be quite expensive, says NRHA professional Nathan Piper. Choosing to invest in a prospect is a riskier decision, but one with more potential on the upside.

“You don’t know how a prospect is going to turn out,” Piper said. “But you have the opportunity to use less funds to buy a prospect, and if you find a good one, there’s an opportunity to have a great horse to show or sell, and you can end up making money.”

It’s important to determine and plan your goals before going horse hunting, Piper says. Your desired outcome helps you decide your budget and the level of horse you’re looking for.

NRHA Professional Shannon Quinlan said one of the biggest benefits of buying a prospect is the possibility of success on a smaller budget.

“If you spend your money smart, you might come out ahead because you’re not paying the finished-horse price,” Quinlan said. “And you get to choose who starts and finishes the horse, and that’s big for some people.”

Developing a Wish List

Piper prefers a good track record on the dam’s side along with a great sire.

“I really look for one where the mother has produced [offspring] that have earned more than $100,000,” Piper said. “You can buy some reasonably priced horses in that range. Having a great bottom side helps our chances of success. If the mother has produced a lot and the father has produced a lot, the odds are, we’re going to have one that’s more successful.”

With conformation, Piper wants a horse that’s functionally built and attractive.

“I love a pretty-necked horse with a big, soft eye,” Piper said. “I want to watch the horse carry his neck level and low. That makes my job easier, when the horse naturally has good head carriage, because that’s often followed with carrying his shoulders and body well. I also want straight legs, and for me, I like a shorter, athletic build.” 

Temperament-wise, Piper looks for a level-headed horse, even when considering a stallion.

“If I find one that’s attractive that I like, and if he’s acting studdy, he’s going to have to really convince me that he’s the one,” Piper said. “I try to stay away from a horse like that, or a horse that runs to the back of the stall and pins his ears. I want to see one that has good muscle development and a good haircoat—I want to make sure the horse is the whole package.”

When looking for a non pro horse, Piper wants one with quite a bit more riding on it, so the non pro can test-ride the prospect.

“I want the non pro to ride that horse and feel if it’s a fit,” Piper said. “I want the non pro to love the horse. Ultimately, they’ll make the choice to go with what feels right to them.”

NRHA Professional Gabe Hutchins looks at the horse’s mental capacity first and foremost.

“I want to know that the horse’s mind and brain are going to make him a horse that wants to be on my team,” Hutchins said. “With as good as the reining is today, and as good as we’re breeding our horses, it’s very rare to find a horse that doesn’t stop and turn. The breeding is getting better and better all the time, so when you try to set yourself apart at a competitive level, you need a horse with a good mind.”

Conformation and the way the horse moves are also top priorities for Hutchins, because he’s building a breeding program at Tamarack Ranch and wants it based on well-built horses.

“The way our shows have progressed in the last five years, the degree of difficulty is where it’s at,” Hutchins said. “In the reining, if a horse isn’t a good mover, it’s going to be hard to be competitive.”

Talk to the prospect’s handler for an idea of how the youngster does in day-to-day routines—this can lend valuable insight on the horse’s mind.

Bloodlines are part of why modern reiners have good movement and conformation, Hutchins says. He sees good bloodlines as key to the quality of the next set of horses coming up in five to 10 years.

Quinlan says it’s important to determine your horse’s purpose before you start looking—are you buying a prospect to train and resell? A yearling to sell as a 2-year-old? Are you looking for a show horse, and will it be an open horse or a non pro horse?

“As I’m looking for an open rider or a non pro, I look for a set of bloodlines that fit my program and my style, based on bloodlines that have worked for my program in the past,” Quinlan said.

She wants a modern set of papers: a stallion that’s hot at the moment and has produced a lot of winners. She also looks at full siblings, their accomplishments, and the training programs that they worked well under. She’s interested in other crosses with that pair and the mare’s percentage of money-earning offspring. However, Quinlan says pedigree isn’t everything when looking at a prospect.

“You need to take the individual prospect that you’re looking at into account as well,” she said. “Not every horse matches his set of papers. You need to look at the individual horse, too. But for resale, papers are huge, especially if it’s a mare.” 

Conformation is also important to Quinlan, particularly a low hock set, low tail set, short back, and low neckline.  

“You want a horse that’s built to do his job and one whose body makes it easy,” Quinlan said. “A horse that’s built right is going to be healthier. If his legs aren’t straight, or he’s not built for the job, he’s more apt to get hurt.”

Quinlan also looks for a horse that’s a good mover—specifically, one that picks up his leads consistently. 

“If he’s good-leaded, that’s helpful for a non pro horse,” Quinlan said. “A lot of people get in trouble with lead changes, so that’s important.”

Red Flags

All three sources agree: There are signposts that tell you when a horse isn’t right for you or for reining.

“I’ve made the mistake in the past of thinking that I could feed the prospect and he’s going to bulk up and look more mature,” Piper said about assuming a horse will gain size and muscle. “The horse will obviously grow and change, but don’t think you can make a horse big, strong, and fat if he’s on the lighter side.”

Hutchins emphasizes that the rider and the horse need to be able to work together. If the horse doesn’t want to be part of your team, you can’t force it. He’s also picky about clean radiographs.

“When I look at prospects, I’m not looking at a horse that’s just going to be a futurity horse,” Hutchins said. “I’m looking at a horse to be a futurity horse and a derby horse, and when he ages out of the derbies, he’s going to be an ancillary horse. So to me, those radiographs are important so the horse can hopefully go for the long haul.”

Looking at videos of prospects, Quinlan watches out for a horse that seems like he’s struggling through his paces, or has a hard time picking up his leads. She also rules out horses that lack conformation suitable for reining.

“If a horse isn’t built to do it, you’ll constantly fight it in your training,” Quinlan said.  

Before horse shopping at a sale, spend time educating yourself by studying the sale catalog, pedigrees, and videos.

When to Look

Purchase timing can be everything. Piper says if you want an open rider to show your horse, you may want to purchase earlier when you can get the most bang for your buck.

“With a smaller budget, I may look for a yearling or early 2-year-old prospect,” he said. “If you wait to buy a prospect at the end of his 2-year-old year, a L4 prospect will be very expensive, but you’re gambling less because you can sit on him and try him out. You’ll know how he spins and stops, and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re purchasing.”

Hutchins said if you’re looking for a yearling, you’ll be working with more unknown factors. But there are pluses to starting young. 

“You’ll need to do all your homework with a yearling,” Hutchins said. “You don’t know as much as you would with a 2-year-old. But the nicer thing about buying a yearling is that if he’s unstarted, you’ll know everything he’s done from the time he’s started to the time he goes to the show pen.”

Hutchins starts looking for prospects—yearlings and 2-year-olds—in the fall leading up to the NRHA Futurity. He does this for several reasons. With a yearling, there’s the least amount of cost in the horse, because he’ll often start training in January. For a 2-year-old, the horse is farther along in his training at that point versus earlier in the year.

Where to Look

Piper likes to purchase prospects from familiar families of horses, where he knows the people selling the horse, has purchased from them before, or has ridden full siblings of that horse. If he’s unfamiliar with a horse or its pedigree, Piper reaches out to friends in the reining community for info on the dam or a sibling’s personality, buttons, and style to see if it’s a horse he might get along with. Most of the purchases Piper facilitates are private, within his network in North Texas.

Hutchins says if he goes to a horse sale, he does a lot of homework beforehand.

“Look through the sale catalog; look at the black type and the pedigrees. I’ll watch any videos available—over and over again,” Hutchins said. “I’ll make a long list, and a short list—and then a real short list.”

From that short list, he makes calls to the people who are fitting the horses to get a feel for each prospect’s ground manners and personality. Over the years, Hutchins has developed relationships with horse fitters, so he knows he can depend on their perspective on a horse’s mindset.

“I want to know how the horse is every day when he gets out of his stall, and when you put him in the wash rack, for example,” Hutchins said. “It might sound silly, but that’s the daily regimen of what the horse does. That daily regimen is going to turn into his training every day. And if he’s the kind of horse that pins his ears when you go in his stall and doesn’t want you to put a halter on him, then I really don’t want that one.”

Hutchins also looks at radiographs, which many sales offer, and discusses them with his veterinarian. If possible, Hutchins looks over prospects in person several times before the actual sale begins to see how the horse behaves in and out of the stall.

“I really try to get to know these horses as much as I can before I decide if I’m going to buy one in a sale,” Hutchins said.

Quinlan says the rise of social media makes finding good horses on those platforms even easier. 

She also finds horse sales helpful, due to the ready access to more than one prospect in one location, at one time. She looks at the sale catalog for pedigree info, and then logs on to to dig into records, other crosses on the mare, and additional info.  She’ll peruse videos of prospects, paying attention to how each one moves, their strengths, and where they are in the training process. She also talks to people who may have ridden the dam, sire, or full siblings about their experiences.

“Going into a sale with a game plan and having professional help is huge,” Quinlan said. “Bring a trusted professional you’ve worked with to help you pick one out.”

Vet Checks

All three experts said a prepurchase exam and radiographs are important before making a decision on a prospect. Piper relies on the guidance of his veterinarian to anticipate if a horse’s maintenance requirements will be extensive and how the horse could possibly re-sell.

A prepurchase exam provides important medical information to help you make a good buying decision now and identify selling potential in the horse’s future.

“The vet check is important for resale,” Piper explained. “We want to go in knowing if there are issues that could prevent selling that horse in the future.”

Hutchins feels a vet check is a crucial step, but says a perfect evaluation is not the goal.

“A vet check is more or less for me to find out if the horse has issues that the veterinarian thinks will be a problem; if they’re things that can be managed or not,” Hutchins said. 

Quinlan encourages owners to take horses to be checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there are no issues that need to be addressed before training. 

Final Thoughts

Piper feels that, when making the final decision to purchase a chosen prospect, it’s valuable to have the whole team on the same page. He finds that a final consult with the clients buying the horse and his wife, Jean, help to ensure that no red flags are being overlooked and that everyone is excited about the purchase and on board.

“Buying a prospect is definitely a game of odds,” Piper said. “You’re trying to alleviate as many risks as you can by doing your homework and trying to hedge your bets for the best possible outcome.”

Hutchins said if you’re going to buy a prospect for a trainer to work with, it’s a good idea to ask the trainer’s opinion before purchasing the horse.

“A lot of times the communication between the trainer and owner aren’t clear enough,” Hutchins said. “You need to be clear about what you want to do with the horse, and make sure the horse fits the training program where that horse will be sent. There will always be a horse out there that will fit what you’re looking for. You just have to be patient.”


Nathan Piper, Pilot Point, Texas, is the owner of Nathan Piper Reining Horses, LLC, which is located at Toyon Ranch. He has finished in the top five at both the NRHA Futurity and Derby.

Shannon Quinlan, Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, and her husband Vincienzo Santos operate iSlide Performance Horses. She’s an NRHA world and reserve world champion and a four-time All American Quarter Horse Congress champion.

Gabe Hutchins, Joseph, Oregon, trains out of Tamarack Ranch. He’s been a finalist at all major NRHA events and was reserve in the 2007 NRHA Futurity Intermediate Open.

Why I Rein­: Ric Keele, Spanish Fork, Utah

Ric Keele has worked hard at being the best he can be and enjoying every minute with his reiners. Keele has won a considerable number of awards in a short time, jumping from competing in rookie and limited non pro ancillary classes to earning top spots in just one year.

As Told to  Wendy Lind

Man rides a red horse in a sliding stop
“What I love about reining is that almost anything can happen, even if you’re on the best horse.” –Ric Keele

How long have horses been a part of your life?

I grew up around horses, in large part because of my grandfather. My father wasn’t really into horses, but my grandfather raised and supplied remount horses to the US Army. They were largely a cross of drafts and Thoroughbreds. 

When I was 9 years old, my grandfather gave me an untrained mare and said if I got her trained, I could have her. He stuck me on her; ponied us around while he was riding another horse; and before too long, just let me loose. I rode that mare about every day for four years. 

I was really lucky to have my grandfather give that mare to me. I just loved riding. As I grew up, I felt like I wasn’t a good enough rider to be competitive, so I started showing halter horses. Overall, I’ve won 31 world and reserve world championships in halter competition in AQHA, APHA, and PtHA shows. 

How did you get into reining?

I started helping [NRHA Professional] Nathan Ivie manage his breeding program. One day he let me cool out one of his reiners. Then he told me to spin him, and I was pretty much hooked! I was always intrigued by reining, but I didn’t think I was a good enough to ride a reining horse. Once I got that chance to ride a good reining horse and see how cool it is, I jumped in with both feet. I bought some reining horses, and less than a year later I was showing. At my first show—the Reining by the Bay—I won a saddle riding Moonshine N Juice, a stallion I leased from Nathan. 

Are you a competitive person?

Yes. However, in terms of reining,
it’s about being competitive with myself; I’m always trying to be
better than the last time I showed. Part of that is setting goals for myself—sometimes daily, sometimes for a run at a show, or even long-term. Nathan and I recently sat down and outlined my goals for 2020. What I love about reining is that almost anything can happen, even if you’re on the best horse. 

Do you have any especially meaningful reining memories?

I actually have a lot of great reining memories, including making the L1 non pro derby finals at the 2019 NRBC in Katy, Texas. 

I’ll always love conformation horses, but when I showed halter horses, there wasn’t the degree of camaraderie that there is in reining, and I really enjoy that.

Do you have a favorite maneuver?

To be honest, it depends on the
horse I happen to be riding. If I’m riding a good turner, it’s pretty awesome to do spins. If I’m on a
really good-circling horse or a great stopper, then those maneuvers are my favorite. 

One thing I’d like to point out, however, is that I hope our industry begins highlighting freestyle reining a little more. With the costumes, music, and a good reining horse, freestyle reining really attracts people who might not have otherwise [been interested]. You still do all the maneuvers, but going out there and doing them in a different way really has helped me just relax and work on my nerves in a different scenario. The same goes for our horses—there probably isn’t a better way to school than to do a freestyle pattern! 

Outrunning the Rain at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

A 223 clinched the win for Emily Emerson and Give Me Starbucks in the $20,000 Invitational Freestyle Reining Presented by Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau at the 2019 NRHA Futurity.

Article & Photos by Kaycie Timm

NRHA Professional Emily Emerson and Give Me Starbucks earned plenty of cheers from the crowd of spectators with their bridleless performance.

Two spotlights lit the pitch-black arena as NRHA Professional Emily Emerson and Give Me Starbucks (Walla Walla Whiz x Starbucks Rosy Blend) stood in the center of the pen. Emerson’s simple duster and cowboy hat contrasted the blue glitter and shimmering streamers that adorned her mount. More notable than the pair’s costume, however, was something the crowd couldn’t see. Emerson had arrived in Oklahoma City just that morning, missing her chance to school “Mocha” in the Jim Norick Coliseum arena—and Mocha was bridleless.

“I took the bridle off of her not knowing how she was going to be out here, because this is the first time I’ve gotten to be super serious with her,” Emerson explained. “She was rock-solid. She locked right in and gave me the ride I was looking for.”

As Gary Allen’s “Every Storm Runs Out of Rain” began to play, Emerson and Mocha moved easily from a walk to a jog before stopping to perform an impressive set of spins. With each successful maneuver, the crowd cheered
louder, sensing the emotion of the run and the weight of Emerson’s chosen song.

“This song just hits a certain spot inside of you when you have a year that you’d hoped would be better,” Emerson revealed.

Growing up on a ranch in Montana, Emerson knows the power of a rainstorm—and during 13 years working for NRHA Professional Shane Brown, she’s seen her share of less-than-perfect show seasons, too. 

Dramatic lighting in the dark arena intensified Mocha’s powerful stops and showed off her connection with Emerson.

“Emily wasn’t planning to come to the Futurity,” shared Mocha’s owner, Kelly Rainford. “She didn’t have any Futurity horses this year and needed to stay home to take care of everything there.”

  But when Emerson received a call inviting her to compete in the Freestyle, Brown encouraged her to go. Rainford, who was planning to show her 9-year-old mare in the Adequan® NAAC and ancillary portion of the Futurity, offered Mocha as a partner for the ride.

“Emily has helped me a ton with Mocha,” Rainford continued. “She tried her out bridleless, and Mocha was just awesome. She rides just like she has a bridle, so I thought, ‘This might work.’”

Emerson’s song choice held special meaning for Rainford, too, who has owned her mare since 2016.  

“We’ve all seen that darkness, and we’ve all had hard times,” she shared. “In a lot of ways, Mocha was my dawn after the dark. I was close to quitting when my mom found Mocha and encouraged me to try her. She’s the first mare I’ve really connected with, and I feel like we’re teammates when we show up to work. She’s very special.”

Emerson showcased Mocha’s talent throughout their run, flowing through the required maneuvers in perfect time with the moving song. Mocha stayed in sync with her rider, responding to each cue without missing a beat—despite the missing bridle. 

Emerson’s song choice reflected her determination to persist despite setbacks and overcome every storm she faced both in and out of the arena.

“Turning her around can be a challenge, because every now and then she over-tries,” Emerson revealed. “But when you take that bridle off, she turns better every time.”

A beautifully timed final stop brought the crowd to life with cheers as Emerson and Mocha exited the arena and awaited their score. The resulting 223 held the lead through the remaining runs, clinching championship honors for the deserving pair.

“I’m very excited to come out at the top and start out hopefully having a good year next year,” Emerson said. “I’m very happy.”

As for Mocha’s future, Rainford has big goals to keep improving and return to the show pen for another season. 

“I have some things to learn about riding her and getting her to do as good for me as she did for Emily,” Rainford shared. “I think she’ll make a really nice broodmare someday, so we’ve been shopping the boys, too.”

Veteran freestyler Dan James took reserve aboard Don Magnum with a score of 222.5 with a tribute to his home country of Australia.

A Homegrown Win at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

No stranger to the NRHA Futurity finals, Jose Vazquez took home the 2019 NRHA CINCH Prime Time championship on his homebred stallion Xtra Winding Step.

By Nichole Chirico; Photos by Waltenberry

It’s not often a rider wins a Futurity championship on a horse they bred, raised, and trained, but Jose Vazquez did just that when he won the Prime Time Non Pro Futurity Championship.

For more than a decade, NRHA Million Dollar Rider Jose Vazquez has been showing horses that come from his own breeding program, creating his own reining empire. The 2019 NRHA Futurity was no different. After winning the Prime Time championship aboard Xtra Winding Step, a stallion sired by NRHA Eleven Million Dollar Sire Wimpys Little Step and out of SLJ Smartlikewhinny, Vazquez described the win as extra special because of his background showing Xtra Winding Step’s dam and granddam in years past, making the young stallion the third generation of offspring Vazquez has ridden and shown.

“We’re very proud of the breeding and showing program we’ve developed,” he shared. “Not many people can say they do what we’ve done over the years. We breed, raise, and train all of the horses we show, which makes showing them even more special. It’s always great to be able to make the Futurity finals year after year on our homegrown horses, but this one is very special because I showed Xtra Winding Step’s mother, SLJ Smartlikewhinny, at the Futurity, I’ve shown his grandmother [on the dam’s side], and I’ve shown [NRHA Four Million Dollar Sire] Smart Like Juice, who’s his granddad [on the dam’s side].”

The Complete Horse

Vazquez gives a lot of credit to his Smart Like Juice mares when talking about his breeding decisions. 

“I’ve kept all my ‘Juice’ broodmares because they’re just such great mares, and it’s really paid off for my showing program,” he explained. “I had been breeding to several of Xtra Quarter Horse’s stallions, trying different crosses, and this particular one worked great.” 

Since the beginning, Vazquez knew that he had a Futurity contender with Xtra Winding Step, going as far to describe the stud as the complete horse. 

“To do well at a higher level of competition like the Futurity, you have to have a horse that can plus-one all the maneuvers and make the hard stuff look easy,” Vazquez explained. “He has the same personality traits as his mother did when I showed her, which is why I knew he was going to be the complete horse. During the show he stopped big, circled big, turned great—he’s the type of horse you know will turn out to be a big-time horse.”

Vazquez knew Xtra Winding Step was going to be a great show horse because he showed similar traits to his dam, a horse Vazquez owns and showed.

Just the Start

This Futurity win is only the beginning of Xtra Winding Step’s career. Vazquez believes his horse’s personality and work ethic makes him a great contender for future competitions.

“When you have a horse at this level, you keep him happy,” he shared. “This horse is always really happy, easy-going, and doesn’t need a lot of work to get ready. He’s going to be a great show horse with a lot of longevity in his career!”

A Dream Come True at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

In the short amount of time they’ve been a team, Blair McFarlin and Starlight N Dreams were able to come together and win the 2019 NRHA CINCH L1 Non Pro Futurity Championship.

By Nichole Chirico; Photos by Waltenberry

After taking a break from showing to compete for her university’s equestrian team, McFarlin came back to the show pen to claim the L1 championship.

It takes some horse-and-rider teams years to fully understand each other in the show pen, but when Blair McFarlin threw her leg over Starlight N Dreams, a mare by NRHA Six Million Dollar Sire Magnum Chic Dream and out of Strike A Star, three months prior to the 2019 NRHA Futurity, she knew they had an instant connection. McFarlin’s gut feeling was right, and the two took home the win in the NRHA CINCH L1 Non Pro Futurity.

Mare Power

When breeders and nominators Todd and Angie Albers had the chance to buy back their former show mare Strike A Star, they knew she would do well in the next chapter of her life as a broodmare. 

“Strike A Star was such an athletic, pretty, and good-minded show horse,” Angie shared. “We knew we wanted to try breeding Strike A Star to some of the top reining studs in the country to see how she did as a broodmare. When we met Magnum Chic Dream in person, we fell in love with him and knew the baby would be super gorgeous and athletic. As breeders, we were just beaming with excitement knowing that one of our babies made the NRHA Futurity finals.”

The Perfect Match

McFarlin, no stranger to the show pen, started her reining career at the young age of 12. However, for the last four years her main focus has been competing on Auburn University’s equestrian team—leaving her without a futurity mount. This year, McFarlin decided it was finally time to return to the NRHA show pen, working with NRHA Professional Nathan Piper to find the perfect horse. 

When they came across “Vanna,” who was in training with NRHA Professional Kole Price at the time, they knew she was the one. 

“We had tried several horses before her, and she was actually the greenest one we’d ridden so far, but I connected with her instantly,” McFarlin shared. “We would’ve been fools if we didn’t get her.”

While Starlight N Dreams may have been considered green, Price said she had no problem making up for lost time when she got to his house. 

“I got this mare in February of 2019 after my buddy Jason Donahue started her, and he did a great job,” Price explained. “She was fairly green at the start of the year but picked up on things really fast. 

“When Nathan [Piper] tried her at the end of summer, I told him, ‘You’re going to feel like she’s a nice horse, but you have no idea how far she came. If you take the time needed with her, she’ll be a really nice show horse for you.’”

It was an exciting win for McFarlin who only had her mount, Starlight N Dreams, for three months before attending the NRHA Futurity.

Piper agreed with Price, adding that within the last few months before the show the mare just kept getting better and better with each ride. 

“This little mare has been a team player the whole time,” Piper gushed. “The two just keep getting better and better with each ride.” 

With college graduation coming up, McFarlin wasn’t sure how much she’d be able to show in 2020 but planned to take it easy and attend a couple of derbies to see how Vanna feels going into her 4-year-old year.

Piper, on the other hand, joked that after some of the schooling rides he had on the young mare at the 2019 Futurity that he was thinking about flipping a coin with McFarlin to see who gets to show her in 2020. 

“We’re going to flip a coin, and I have a coin with heads on both sides,” he said with a smile. “She’s just going to have to pick tails.” 

An Unforgettable Night at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

After an exciting runoff, Jesse Asmussen claimed the NRHA CINCH L4 and L3 Non Pro Futurity Championships aboard Ruf Style Of Play.

By Nichole Chirico

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.

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.”

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.

Asmussen’s L4 and L3 wins came with a bounty of prizes, including checks totaling $61,455.

“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.” 

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.”

Prime Time to Shine at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

NRHA Professional Martin Larcombe and Shines Like Spook took home the Prime Time Open victory with a score of 221.5.

By Kaycie Timm; Photos by Waltenberry

Man and red horse execute a sliding stop
Shines Like Spook’s success at the 2019 NRHA Futurity pushed owner Rosanne Sternberg past the NRHA Two Million Dollar Owner milestone.

When you cross two NRHA Hall of Fame inductees—NRHA Six Million Dollar Sire Smart Spook and NRHA Million Dollar Dam Ebony Shines—the result is destined for greatness. So when Shines Like Spook clinched the Prime Time Open Futurity championship with NRHA Professional Martin Larcombe of Whitesboro, Texas,  in the saddle, he simply proved what owner, breeder, and nominator-—and NRHA Hall of Famer—Rosanne Sternberg already knew to be true: the sorrel colt was born to be a champion. 

“He’s very royally bred,” Larcombe agreed. “When Rosanne told me in April that she had a Smart Spook and Ebony Shines baby, it didn’t take very much convincing to get me to give him a try.”

Historically, that cross has resulted in 11 money-earning offspring to date, including 2014 NRHA L4 Open Futurity Champion Shine N Spook, 2016 NRHA L4 Open Futurity finalist Smart Ebony Spook, and 2017 National Reining Breeders Classic L4 Open fourth-place finisher Smart Shiners Spook. After bringing the newest prospect into his barn, Larcombe debuted Shines Like Spook at the Tulsa Reining Classic, then took him to one other pre-futurity before hauling to Oklahoma City. 

Making the Rounds

In the first round of the NRHA Futurity Open prelims, Larcombe faced what every rider fears when his mount stumbled in the first stop. However, the seasoned professional had confidence that the horse could make up for the mistake. 

“I knew I had to make up some ground, so I really ran him hard in the circles, and he was great,” Larcombe recalled. “He really stayed with me.”

Although Larcombe feels stopping is the horse’s best maneuver, the go-round run revealed his realm of talent includes circling, too.

“He’s got a really cool way of curling up and stopping, but he’s a good circler, too,” he explained. “You can really push him out there, and he comes back. He’s a show horse.”

While the stallion’s small stature might deceive onlookers, his athleticism and heart more than make up what he lacks in size. In fact, his compact stature makes the horse’s stops and circles even more impressive. 

In the open semifinal, Shines Like Spook brought his A-game again, marking a 221 to secure a spot in the L4 Open finals. 

“He really stepped up and played with the big boys,” remarked Larcombe regarding the horse’s performance.

Larcombe and Shines Like Spook took home more than $42,600 in combined earnings from their success in L4–3 and Prime Time Open win.

A Prime Finale

On the final Saturday of the Futurity, the field of 31 contenders in the second section of the open finals included stellar competitors in all divisions—Level 4–1 and Prime Time. Larcombe needed to top a 217.5 to best his own score aboard One Sensationaldream, which held the lead in the Prime Time after the first section of the finals. When he ran into the Jim Norick Coliseum arena for his final run on Shines Like Spook, he knew his horse had what it would take to secure a one-two victory. 

“I didn’t get turned to the right as well as I could have,” Larcombe admitted. “But he was really good everywhere else. He stopped every time, stayed with me in the circles, changed leads really good.”

The judges agreed, and a score of 221.5 earned the pair a 10th place finish in L4 Open and third in L3, in addition to the Prime Time Open championship. To top it off, Shines Like Spook’s earnings, which totaled more than $42,600, pushed Sternberg over the mark to become the second NRHA Two Million Dollar Owner. (Read more about her achievement on page 46.) As the team looks ahead to the horse’s derby years, Sternberg and Larcombe have high hopes for him to stay on top.

“I know he’s got a lot of ability,” Larcombe noted. “I think he’ll mature a little bit more and get a little more solid as a show horse.” 

Full Circle at the 2019 NRHA Futurity

Jacob Ballard and Flashin Benjamins marked a 218 to clinch the L1 Open title at the 2019 NRHA Futurity.

By Kaycie Timm; Photos by Waltenberry

Male rider completes sliding stop on chestnut horse
Flashin Benjamins took Jacob Ballard to his first NRHA Open Futurity finals, and the pair finished at the top in Level 1.

Jaccob Ballard dreamed of making the NRHA Futurity finals for as long as he can remember. This year, the NRHA Professional not only achieved that goal, but he came out a champion. Although 2019 marked his first time qualifying for the open finals, the young professional is no stranger to NRHA competition.

“The first time I showed a horse, I was 7 years old,” Ballard recalled. “I showed in youth until I was 17, then I turned in my non pro card.”

In January 2019, Ballard set out on his own, armed with the knowledge he’d gained working for other NRHA Professionals including Kole Price, for whom he worked from 2016 through 2018. When he chose to make that difficult transition from assistant to stand-alone professional, Ballard had no idea he’d close the year with an NRHA Futurity title. But after marking a 218 in the first section of the open finals, Ballard and Flashin Benjamins, nominated by Nicole Miller and owned by Leann Spurlock, came out at the top of the L1 Open Futurity.

A Unique Opportunity 

When Spurlock approached Ballard about showing “Benji,” who’s by Gunnatrashya and out of Shiners Hot Flash, the 26-year-old professional jumped on the chance to take a horse to the Futurity. The offer’s timing left only two months for Ballard to prepare the 3-year-old to compete at the big event. However, the pair had a history together—Ballard put the first five months of training on the horse while working for Price. Finding confidence both in Price’s program, where the colt had continued his training, and in his own experience with the stallion, Ballard took on the challenge.

“It’s awesome to get this win on a horse I started,” Ballard shared. “He had a really cool feel as a 2-year-old. He was super soft in his face, and he still is. I remember stopping him when he first got sliders, and he still has that same smooth effect—now he does it for 25 feet instead of 10 or 12.”

Even with that previous experience under his belt, Ballard still had his work cut out for him to prepare Benji for the NRHA Futurity. He schooled the horse at every opportunity, even traveling to an arena at a local college to give him a show-like experience in an unfamiliar pen. 

“You have to make every ride count when you only have two months,” Ballard revealed. “Every time I’d throw my leg over him, I had to figure out something about him—something new. When he figures out that everything is good if he does his job, he does a little extra for you. He really has a big heart.”

As the Futurity drew closer, Ballard hoped that heart would carry his mount through the prelims and into the finals for their chance at victory in Oklahoma City. 

Futurity Magic

Marking a solid 216 in the first round of open competition, Ballard and Benji qualified for all four levels of the open semifinals. A score of 217.5 there qualified them for the L3–1 open finals, and Ballard knew they’d have to bring their A-game. As the pair ran into the Jim Norick Coliseum arena for their final shot at Futurity glory, all the pieces came together for a successful ride. 

“He’s always been a huge stopper, so I knew if we could run in, get stopped, and back up, everything would be in a good place,” Ballard shared. “He turned better in the show pen than he did in the warmup arena. Once he loped off, I knew he was locked in and I could push him in his circles. By the time I got through the second lead change, I was home free. He just killed the ground like he does every time.”

Then came the true challenge: waiting until the end of the second section of the open finals to see if their score would hold the L1 lead.

At the end of the evening, Ballard’s efforts proved fruitful as he and Benji entered the arena one more time to be crowned the 2019 NRHA L1 Open Futurity champions. In addition to their L1 win, the pair also tied for fifth place in the L3 Open and ranked fourth in L2.

Horse and rider pose with friends, family, and awards, including a horse trailer
Ballard and “Benji” received a check totaling more than $27,000 in combined earnings from L3–1 of the Open Futurity.

Champion Teamwork

As he reflected on a challenging but fruitful year, Ballard was quick to recognize the importance of having a solid team behind each horse in his barn. In the case of Benji, the young professional benefitted from his relationship with not just the colt, but with his owner, too. 

“I’ve known Leann [Spurlock] and Gary [Olley] for about two years,” Ballard explained. “You couldn’t ask for better owners. They always want to know what’s going on with their horse, and they’re very proactive. You can’t get to where I am without having good owners—they’re a huge part of it.” 

With his first Futurity title under his belt, Ballard is moving forward with renewed drive to keep chasing his dreams. As another season of competition approaches, he’s ready to take on a new set of challenges as he continues to achieve more of his goals in the reining industry. 

“It’s been a long road, but I’m excited to be where I am,” Ballard shared. “I couldn’t have done it without the support from the people around me.”

Cade McCutcheon’s Million Dollar Victory

Cade McCutcheon swept Levels 4–2 of the 2019 NRHA Open Futurity and became an NRHA Million Dollar Rider in the process.

By Kaycie Timm

NRHA Professional Cade McCutcheon and Super Marioo marked a 224.5 to win the 2019 NRHA Futurity L4–2 Open championships.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s everyone’s dream,” shared Mandy McCutcheon, Cade McCutcheon’s mother and an NRHA Two Million Dollar Rider in her own right. 

“Nobody sees a 19-year-old in his first year as a professional be first and second at the Futurity,” agreed Cade’s father, NRHA Million Dollar Rider Tom McCutcheon, who competed alongside his son in the MS Diamonds TX Level 4 Open finals. “It’s just unreal.”

Unreal, certainly; but impossible? Not for Cade. 

A Year for the Record Books

From the start of the season, Cade planned to set a precedent for the future during his first year as a professional. But he never dreamed he’d make such a mark on the industry or earn more than $605,450 LTE in a single year, making him the No. 1 Open Rider for 2019. 

From placing reserve in the L3 open and winning the L2 open at the 2019 NRBC to championing the L3 Open at the NRHA Derby presented by Markel to making history as co-champion in the Million Dollar Invitational at the first-ever Run for a Million, Cade saw unprecedented success throughout the 2019 show season. 

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Cade admitted. “I’ve won a lot more than I expected to.” 

Despite his wins, the young professional didn’t let success distract him when preparing for the NRHA Futurity. Shortly before the Run for a Million in August, Cade added Super Marioo (Gunnatrashya x HA Chic A Tune) to his 3-year-old string when Justin “Gunny” Mathison sold the budding prospect to Freddie Brasfield. Mathison, a longtime friend of the McCutcheon family, felt confident “Marioo” could be just the horse Cade needed to finish his already-stellar year on a high note. 

“To give Cade that opportunity means the world to me,” Mathison reflected. “I pushed that kid around in a stroller. He’s my hero. It’s a dream come true for me.”

Family friend Justin ‘Gunny’ Mathison (right), who started Marioo, played a key role in supporting Cade on his path to the NRHA Futurity. Photo by Carolyn Simancik.

In October, Cade and Marioo’s L3–2 open futurity win at the Best of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona, caught the attention of Brenda Joyce, non pro rider and owner of Story Book Stables, who’d been keeping a close eye on Cade’s success as a professional. “Brenda [Joyce], called me and said, ‘I want to have a horse with you. What about Super Marioo?’” Cade recalled. “She’s been amazing to work with ever since.” 

As the NRHA Futurity approached, Cade relied on coaching from his parents and grandparents, as well as frequent phone conversations with Mathison, to help him prepare.

“My granddad [NRHA Hall of Fame inductee and Three Million Dollar Rider Tim McQuay] is there every morning doing whatever it takes to make me as good as I can be,” Cade remarked. “My parents make sure all I have to do is ride horses, and they take care of the rest. Gunny [Mathison] told me, ‘Just stay in the moment and do your job, and the rest will fall into place.” 

With that advice, Cade stayed dedicated to helping Marioo master each maneuver. Mathison’s foundation of training gave Cade a head start in his preparation, allowing him to focus on tailoring the horse to suit his style. 

“Gunny had him stopping big and running big, fast circles,” he shared. “He did a phenomenal job training him. I just had to do some of my things and try to take him to the next level as a show horse.”

Futurity Finale 

Once he arrived in OKC, Cade continued his game plan: stay focused and keep polishing.

“I just kept my head down, one maneuver and one step at a time,” he revealed. “I tried not to look at the big picture and just focus on what I’m doing at each moment.”

Marioo, who was nominated by Hillis Akin Family Partners, gave Cade a solid start, marking a 222.5 in the prelims to rank second overall. In the semis, the pair marked a 219.5 for a composite score that placed them fourth among the L4 Open finalists. 

“I just cruised him through the go-rounds,” Cade explained. “I knew he was a lot of horse turning and stopping, so I didn’t go crazy on him. He did the big stuff for me, I did the little stuff, and it worked out.”

With three horses running at draws 1, 12, and 24 in the MS Diamonds TX L4 Open finals, Cade knew he had an opportunity to finish his first year as a professional on a sky-high note.

Cade earned a check for $196,175 for his three level wins, while Super Marioo’s nominator, Hillis Akin Family Partnership, received $9,808.

“I knew I could have a big year,” Cade said. “I knew this horse, and the horse I was [reserve champion] on, Guns And Dynamite, could be very good. I just had to stay in the moment and do my job.”

With that strategy, Cade piloted Marioo through a stellar pattern, marking a 224.5 that would hold the lead through the remaining 19 finalists. 

“I ran in, hit my first stop, got turned big, and before I loped off, I said to myself, ‘just be sure you lope off on the right lead,’” Cade laughed. “He was there for me the whole way.”

Cade knew his horse had given his all, but he didn’t realize that effort—combined with the placings of his other two mounts—would result in enough winnings to fulfill his goal of becoming an NRHA Million Dollar Rider.

“We joked that if I won on one horse and got the other two in the top seven, I could cross the million mark,” Cade shared. “We didn’t think it was actually possible. To hear it announced during the Run for the Roses—I can’t believe that really happened. There’s no way I could have expected that. It was incredible.” 

Make It a Double-Header 

Not only did Cade secure the L4–2 Open championship titles and cross his first milestone as an NRHA Million Dollar Rider, he also earned the L4 Open co-reserve championship, tying with NRHA Six Million Dollar Rider Shawn Flarida and 2018 NRHA/Markel Futurity Prospect Sale high-seller Shine Colt Shine (Shine Chic Shine x Gunners Miss Oak), and claimed reserve in L3–2. A score of 223.5 with Guns And Dynamite (Gunners Special Nite x Chic Olena Starbuck) made the double-victory possible for Cade. 

“I took a chance on Cade because I’ve watched him riding for many years, his work ethic and how he showed,” shared Guns And Dynamite’s owner Kirstin Booth about choosing to send her horse to Cade. “I believed in Cade, and he beyond proved my expectations.”

Cade also earned the L4 Open co-reserve championship and took reserve honors in L3–2 Open with Guns And Dynamite, marking a 223.5 for owner Kirstin Booth.

Achieving that feat was no easy task for the young professional, but he trusted in his preparation, his horses, and his intuition. 

“I just tried to stay clean,” Cade revealed. “That’s easier said than done, but I was able to follow that game plan. I had three really good horses, and they took care of me.” 

A Lifelong  Journey

Cade has spent his entire life in the saddle, anticipating the day he’d get to circle the Norick arena while the Run for the Roses played. As he fulfilled that dream at age 19, those who’ve guided him through his journey thus far watched with pride. 

“He’s been dreaming about this since he started talking,” shared Cade’s grandma, Colleen McQuay. “I have five stick horses hanging in my garage that he’s been running Pattern 10 on since he could walk. I’m so proud that even on his greenest horse [in the MS Diamonds TX L4 Open Finals], he still showed well and still looked good.”

Cade knows as well as anyone that achieving such lofty goals requires personal dedication and plenty of support. 

“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Mandy said. “He’s been so focused on his game plan and stuck to it all year with everything he’s done—all the horse shows and all the horses. And he’s had so much support from all of his owners and all of our clients and friends. It’s amazing.”

With a strong team behind him since Day 1, Cade has remained committed to his goals through every step of the process, from competing in short stirrup classes to winning the 2012 NRHA Futurity Youth Non Pro title aboard Dually With A Star. 

Cade is no stranger to the NRHA Futurity winner’s circle. At age 12, he took home the 2012 NRHA Youth Non Pro Futurity championship aboard Dually With A Star.

That same year, at age 12, he set the goal of becoming an NRHA Million Dollar Rider. At the time, Cade hoped he’d achieve that milestone in his mid-20s, but his drive to compete helped his dream come to fruition much sooner.

“It’s unreal how that kid can horse-show,” shared Cade’s father. “He craves it—he eats, sleeps, and drinks it, and I know his goal is to continue to win.”

Groomed for Greatness

As a third-generation NRHA Million Dollar Rider, Cade has big shoes to fill, but he’s well on his way to making his mark for the family.

“I want to carry on the Million Dollar legacy just like any good tradition,” he said. “I want to keep the family going. I’ve been very blessed with great support. That’s the biggest part of it: I don’t want to let my support group down.”

That support group, of course, includes Cade’s parents and grandparents, who have helped the young professional develop his training skills in their respective areas of expertise. 

“My grandpa Tim [McQuay] is known for his turnaround, so I learned as much of that as I could from him,” he explained. “With changing leads, my dad is very good at making it just an easy change without a lot of swing.”

Other members of the family contribute advice in areas beyond the saddle, too. Cade’s family also supports him by sharing the wisdom they’ve gained from a lifetime in the reining industry. 

“My advice to him is the same as always,” Colleen revealed. “You have to keep everything in perspective—this is still just horse showing. Cade’s that kind of guy, though. He’s already thinking of his 2-year-olds, just like Tim.”

Super Marioo gave his all for Cade, from his electrifying run-in to the final sliding stop. Photo by Kaycie Timm.

“My advice for him is always to trust his gut, do what he thinks, and not worry about any outside noise,” Tom revealed. “His gut is good. He’s got a great feel.”

Although Cade has spent his entire life developing that intuition on horseback, the NRHA Million Dollar Rider strives to keep improving with every ride as he works toward his next set of goals. 

“Reining is in my blood,” Cade shared. “I grew up with it and it’s what I know how to do, but every day I find something new to work on. That’s what I enjoy about the sport.” 

“It’s what we do; it’s what we love,” agreed Cade’s mother. “Horses are our lives and what bring us all together—my family, Tom’s family, all of us. The whole industry is just a big family to us.”

For Mandy, watching her son achieve success at the highest level in the sport has reminded her of the importance of enjoying every minute.

“Horses are horses, and there are going to be ups and downs,” Mandy continued. “I just want to enjoy the ride right now. It’s overwhelming.”

Cade’s combined earnings from all his mounts at the 2019 NRHA Futurity pushed him past the Million Dollar mark in NRHA LTE. Photo by Carolyn Simancik.

Looking Ahead

After wrapping up a Futurity worth more than $367,290 in total earnings, Cade planned some well-earned rest for his mounts and some extra therapy for Marioo. 

“The future for him is to go home, go in the spa, and take a couple months off,” Cade said. “He gave me his heart, and I want to give back to him now.”

As for Cade, it’s on to the next season, the next big win, and maybe even the next million. 

Judges Evaluation and Education Program

NRHA Judge and Chair of the Judges’ Committee Mike McEntire explains the judge-review process.

By Megan Arszman

The Judges Evaluation and Education Program is in place to help further educate NRHA judges beyond the annual schools.

It happens at least once a show—an exhibitor disagrees with the score he or she receives. It’s not necessarily out of spite, but the exhibitor might think she spun four spins to the left when the judge marked a zero because he counted five.  While major penalties can be reviewable, it doesn’t necessarily mean an exhibitor can protest his or her score, request a review, and have the score changed. According to Mike McEntire, chair of the Judges Committee, that’s one of the largest misconceptions exhibitors have.

“As far as the score itself, we consider the judge’s decision final,” he says.

So, is there a guideline to request for the evaluation of a judge’s performance?

Performance Reviews

In addition to being able to request a review of a major penalty, exhibitors and NRHA members may request a performance review on a judge.

Under the Judges section of the NRHA Handbook, under section B. Judges Committee, it reads:

(3) Performance reviews may be requested through the Judges Evaluation and Education Program (JEEP). All reviews performed through the JEEP system are non- punitive in nature and will be used for the education and improvement of NRHA Judges. Reviews will be contingent upon the availability of official show video. Non-approved classes or events will not be evaluated and the Judges Committee has the right to deny a request for review. Parties requesting the review do not receive the results of the review unless it is a review of one’s own judging performance.

“This rule was put in place to help exhibitors and to help our judges be better,” says McEntire.

McEntire points out that while exhibitors may ask for a JEEP review, they must know that the score will not change.

“After the show, if they feel strongly enough, an exhibitor can file a complaint,” he continues. “You can also contact the show office or the Judges Committee and ask for a [JEEP] review, but you will not hear any of those results.”

What Is JEEP?

The Judges Evaluation and Education Program is in place to help further educate NRHA judges beyond the annual schools. It was developed in the 1990s as a way to address concerns the industry had on how judges were performing at NRHA events.

A JEEP review can fall into one of two categories.

  • A review of a judge’s performance initiated by the NRHA Executive Committee, NRHA Judges Committee, or any NRHA Judge. An individual may ask for review of his or her own work or another judge’s work (in which case, findings only go to the reviewed judge and the Judges Committee).
  • A review initiated by a negative show representative’s report, an official protest or grievance, or by referral of an investigative review committee looking at a related issue.

JEEP Review Protocols

The most important part of a JEEP review is that there must be official show video available—not something taken on a smartphone from one end of the pen. The exhibitor must provide the video to NRHA, and then the video is sent to a pool of judges who are anonymous or the Judges Committee Chair/Teaching Panel leaders. The issue in question must have also occurred in an NRHA-approved class.

“If a review is deemed unnecessary, then the run might not be sent to the committee,” points out McEntire. “Sometimes we realize there was a legitimate complaint. Exhibitors can complain about just about anything, and they can file a grievance if they feel strongly enough that they were not judged fairly.”

JEEP Review Results

In most cases, McEntire points out, the member who files for the JEEP review might not hear the results.  However, if there needs to be further education to all accredited judges because of this filing, there will be improvements made because of that filed complaint. Also, the judge can be advised on the problem and how to improve for the future.

“We don’t change scores because somebody complains at the show,” says McEntire. “But if they do feel strongly on something, they can request a [JEEP] review, and we can use it as an educational experience to better our judges, thus bettering the experience of all NRHA members.”

McEntire wants all NRHA members to know that their concerns are important to the association and to the judges themselves. He encourages everyone to read all the policies and be familiar with the system. He wants everyone to feel comfortable discussing concerns with members of the Judges Committee.

 “The Judges Committee does want to know (if there are concerns),” he says. “We want to further educate our judges more than just having them go to the schools. We want to encourage our members to use the JEEP system and know that the judges’ work will be looked at by the committee when they are asked for a review.”


Mike McEntire is a NRHA Million Dollar Rider and is based in Ione, California. He is the NRHA Judges Committee Chair and is also a USEF-approved judge. He’s officiated prestigious events such as the USEF Finals in Gladstone, New Jersey; the NRHA Derby; the NRHA European Futurity; and several shows in Europe, such as the Western Festival in Mallorca, Spain.