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. 

Set Up Your Stop by Developing Your Corner Turn

Developing a well-executed corner turn is the prelude to an expert rundown and sliding stop.

By Sam Schaffhauser, With Allison Armstrong Rehnborg; Photos by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

Your turn at the corner sets you up for success in your rundown and stop. Use my troubleshooting tips when you practice at home.

The success of your sliding stop doesn’t begin when your horse starts picking up speed in the rundown. Instead, your best stop starts in the corner of the arena, just before you make your turn to enter the rundown.

Just like a +1 sliding stop or an expertly rated rundown takes time, patience, and practice to perfect, the best corner turns are developed with shoulder-control drills to create a light, responsive horse. When you and your horse can handle turns with ease, without dropping a shoulder or speeding through them, the stage is set for a good rundown and a first-class stop. Here, I’ll share my best tips and drills for making smooth turns, straight rundowns, and substantial stops, all while teaching your horse to stay light and responsive in the bridle.

What’s in a Corner Turn?

A good, well-timed turn leads to a smoother rundown, which gives you and your horse plenty of time to prepare and think about how to lay down that +1 stop. Your rundown starts at the end of the arena as you’re coming around the turn. I believe that setting up the perfect approach to that rundown is more important than the actual stop itself because that turn determines how the rest of your rundown will go. If you can get your horse properly turned around the end of the arena, and if he stays relaxed during your rundown and waits for you to rate him all the way down the pen, that’s going to lead to the best stop you can have. 

Your horse should enter the turn relaxed and soft in the bridle, allowing you to guide his shoulders with ease.

When I train at home, I work my horses around both ends of the arena to develop control of their shoulders. The experienced reining horse is very familiar with the majority of our patterns, so he often figures out that when you make a turn at the end of the arena, you’re probably going to ask him to run to a stop. That means when you’re working on drills at home or preparing for your next show, you may have to work on surprising your horse with different parts of patterns, so he doesn’t always anticipate what you’ll ask next. For example, when I’m at home getting ready for a show, I practice pieces of my patterns instead of the entire pattern over and over again. I also practice all of my drills on both the left and right leads. I’ll work on that left lead, and as soon as that side feels good, I’ll take a break and then work on the right side. 

With the following drills, make sure you work the left and right leads so your horse can use his body in both directions with ease. 

Drills for Troubleshooting the Corner

Good shoulder control is the key to making a smooth turn. As you’re rounding the corner of the arena, you need to be able to control your horse’s shoulders to direct him onto a straight line down the pen toward your stop.  I want my horse to be nice and quiet and to wait on me to make the turns. I don’t want to have to handle him too much around a turn, either. When I lift my hand, that rein is going to rub on the outside of his neck, and when that rein touches my horse’s neck, I want him to start making that turn on his own, nice and soft, by moving his shoulders and getting into a straight line. There are a few common problems that can happen in the corner, so it’s important to work out those kinks before you get to the show pen.

Problem #1: Reluctance to Steer

I want my horse to respond when light rein pressure tells him to move over. If I find that my horse doesn’t want to steer or respond to my rein, I’ll spend some time working on circles to remind him. 

  • Lope a 10- to 12-foot circle, asking your horse to yield to your inside leg and the bit. As you approach the turn, remove your inside leg and lift your hand. He should yield his chin, without bracing against the bridle, and turn smoothly. Once you get on that straight line, point your horse, slowly relax your hand, and begin building speed into the rundown.
  • If your horse struggles to yield, work on counter bends and counter circles to remind him to respond to your legs, seat, and hands. 

Problem #2: Turning Too Soon

As you approach the corner turn, your horse may anticipate your cues and make the turn before you’ve asked him to. If this happens, start thinking ahead.

  • Surprise your horse with a change in pattern. If I feel my horse start to turn left too early, I’ll pick up his shoulder and ask him to continue going straight instead of turning for the next three to four strides. Then I’ll ask for the turn.

If my horse persists in attempting to turn without my cue, I’ll pick his shoulders up and keep going straight. Then, instead of making a left turn, I’ll lope a small 8- to 10-foot counter circle in that corner, come back around, then go on a straight line toward the opposite end of the arena. Counter circles are a great tool for asking your horse to lift and move his shoulders. 

Setting up the perfect approach to your rundown can be more important than the actual stop itself, because that turn determines how the rest of your rundown will go.

Problem #3: Rushing the Rundown

Some horses may make a perfect corner turn but then immediately rush into the rundown, caught up in the adrenaline and anticipation of speeding into that stop. When that happens, you can end up feeling like you’re sitting in the back seat of an out-of-control car. By contrast, a reining horse should be willingly guided by its rider, from the first small, slow circles to the last big stop. 

Ideally, as my horse and I exit the turn, my horse waits for my cue before he begins to pick up speed. I wait about three strides, then cluck to begin asking for a gradual increase of speed. With each stride, I want my horse to gradually pick up speed until I say whoa to ask for the stop. When I lift up on the reins slightly to rate my horse’s speed, that’s the cue for my horse to slow down. 

If my horse doesn’t listen, won’t rate, or just takes off, I go back to the basics. I use soft corrections in situations like these. I don’t punish my horses for errors like running off during the rundown, because when you do that, it just creates more anxiety—and in many cases, anxiety is the reason for a fast take-off from a turn.

  • If your horse charges into the rundown, draw him softly back down to a walk or trot. Then work through basic drills like circles and counter circles to help quiet your horse’s mind and get him back to listening to you rather than listening to that adrenaline rush. 
  • If I ride around the corner and my horse tries to take off, but responds to my cue to slow down, I’ll break him down into a trot for a few strides, then ask him to pick back up at the lope. Then we’ll lope down the arena, make the turn, and come back to try again. 
  • If I pick up on the reins to rate speed, and my horse grabs the bridle and pulls against me, that’s when I’m going to pull back steadily until he finally stops and begins to back up for me. Once he yields to my hand, then we can start working together again. 

The most important part of administering a correction is to stay calm and quiet. Things happen because horses have brains just like we do, and they can think outside the box that we want them to think in. When there’s a problem, you must adapt to what just happened, and sometimes that can throw you off. But the softer and more relaxed you can stay while you’re dealing with an issue, the better, because it’ll help keep your horse soft and relaxed, too. 

As you enter the rundown, look ahead and line yourself and your horse up with a spot on the far arena wall. Planning out where your rundowns should fall in the arena is key to ensuring you stay on a straight line during your rundown to set yourself up for a good stop.

Find a Spot

Once you’ve developed a tidy, effortless corner turn and your horse responds well to your cues regarding his speed, it’s time to find that straight line for your rundown. During a rundown, I spend the first two to three strides getting straight and lining my horse up. Then I’ll cluck and start building my horse’s speed. As he speeds up, I want my horse to continue stretching and reaching underneath himself, because the more he’s reaching with his hindquarters, the easier it’ll be for him to get underneath himself during the stop and drop his hocks in one big move. 

At a horse show, I study the arena to decide where I want to lay out my rundowns. Every arena is different, but I like to find a banner on the wall or a pole or other spot on the far end of the arena to help line out my rundowns. Pattern placement is No. 1 in the show pen, so you want to plan your pattern mentally and find ways to help yourself stay on track during your run.

You’ll also want to plan when and where you cue your horse for his stop, but don’t spend your rundown staring at the spot that you’ve picked out in the arena dirt. If you do that, you may find yourself slowing down just before your stop, and that’s not what you want. Instead, look straight ahead between your horse’s ears at the fence or past the fence, and aim your horse at that point. Then, as you ride, stay aware of where you are in the arena. Make your rundowns long and smooth to show the judges what you’re capable of, and once you’re past your center marker, you can ask your horse for that big, beautiful stop.

A well-executed turn and a long, smooth rundown will lead to your best stops.

Avoid Reiner Burnout

For the well-trained horse that knows his maneuvers inside and out, anticipation may always be a potential issue. In addition to working on pieces of patterns at home and surprising your horse with different variations, think about getting outside the arena. If you have a big field available, take your horse on a ride, and let him see the world. That helps keep your horse mentally fresh and reminds him there’s more to the world than the maneuvers he performs in the reining pen.

It’s also good to remember that your finished horses don’t necessarily need to be put through their fastest paces every day. I don’t stop them hard every day. I don’t turn them hard every day. Those horses are trained; they know what their job is, and my job is to keep them mentally fresh, sound, and happy. Make sure your finished horses can complete maneuvers correctly, and then let them go through the motions nice and slow at home. In the end, these horses are athletes, and it’s our duty to keep their minds and bodies sound so they can enjoy and fulfill their jobs for years to come. 


NRHA Professional Sam Schaffhauser operates his business out of Eads, Tennessee. Schaffhauser has been a multiple finalist in every NRHA major event, and has coached futurity and derby champions, as well as NRHA world title contenders and affiliate competitors. Schaffhauser focuses on developing aged-event horses to their highest potential, assisting in client investments, and coaching dedicated non pros.

Andrea Fappani’s Post-Show Evaluation

Learning shouldn’t stop when you exit the show pen. Learn to evaluate your run after the show like NRHA Five Million Dollar Rider Andrea Fappani.

By Andrea Fappani, With Jennifer Paulson; Photos by Jennifer Paulson

Watching the video of your run after your ride is a common practice. But taking a detailed look at it to understand what the judge sees can give you clues for improving your performance.

Whether you have the run of your life or your pattern is a disaster, the notes and thoughts you take away from each performance shape your next steps. Being strategic about using your post-run resources is key to continued improvement with your horse, no matter the level at which you compete. I use two essential components to learn from each run on every single horse I show: notes I write after the run and an evaluation of my video. Here’s how both influence my plans to improve before my next show.

Notebook of Insights

Once I’m home from a show, I write notes about how each horse performed. I consider everything I felt in each maneuver, what I liked and didn’t like, and what I  need to work on. I give my horses two or three days off after a show, so it’s easy to forget. Detailed notes help keep those thoughts at the top of my mind.

My notes aren’t all negative—I keep the things I liked in the back of my mind and note what it took to get to that place. For example, if I spent two weeks working on a left turnaround and saw a marked improvement, I note what I did to get there. If the issue arises again, I can refer to my notes to fix it.

The things I didn’t like about a run can take a while to fix. But by noting what needs to be addressed, I can make a plan and give myself enough time to work on those problems rather than try to tackle them in a short time right before the next competition.

Video Evaluation

Most of us watch videos of our runs. For me, a lot of times what I feel and what an observer (the judge) sees are different. Watching my video puts me in the judge’s chair to see what he sees, and then I can compare that to what I feel in the saddle. For example, I might think I’m going a certain speed, but on the video, it looks much slower. Noticing that allows me to put more effort into showing my horse’s speed and quality of movement the next time we show. A lot of times, a really good mover looks like he’s going slower because it’s effortless. By contrast, a horse that doesn’t have great movement might look faster because he really has to work at it. Watching the video allows me to change my speed to help show my horse’s degree of difficulty.

I also closely observe my body position. It’s easy to get into bad habits when no one is watching, such as looking down, slumping over, or helping my horse too much. All of these things influence my presentation and my horse’s ability to do his job correctly. 

Sometimes I might feel like something is going along well, and I’m pretty satisfied. But when I watch the video, I can see from another perspective that I’m helping my horse too much. Then I know that I need to turn loose of him and let him try harder for me.

Along with seeing what I need to fix, I can also determine what I can leave alone. For example, I might feel like my horse leans too much in his left circles, but when I watch the video, it doesn’t look like it. Instead of focusing on something that’s not going to markedly improve my score, I can focus on other issues that will.  

After every run, focus on the changes you can make that will influence your score. It’s easy to get bogged down in details, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Your desire to get everything just right takes up time you should be spending on fixing issues you identify that can help your outcome. 


headshot of Andrea Fappani

Andrea Fappani is an NRHA Five Million Dollar Rider and has won every NRHA major event multiple times. Learn more at

Determine Your Horse’s Bodyweight

Knowing your horse’s bodyweight is an essential management component for determining the best nutrition plan to keep him healthy.

By Dr. Jyme Nichols, Bluebonnet Feeds

Most horse owners and veterinarians underestimate bodyweight when using only visual assessment. A livestock scale is the most accurate method for determining your horse’s weight, but it’s not easily accessible by most horse owners. This poses two questions for horse owners:

  1. Is it really that important to know your horse’s bodyweight?
  2. Without having access to a scale, are there other ways to make an educated estimate of bodyweight?

Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding Bodyweight

Bodyweight is the single most important factor needed for establishing a nutrition program for any horse. Nutrient requirements set forth by the National Research Council are based on bodyweight, therefore you must have at least a general idea of your horse’s bodyweight to determine the appropriate set of nutrient requirements he requires. Bodyweight is correlated with nutrient requirements and total feed intake; larger horses have higher nutritional requirements and must consume more total food than smaller horses.

Understanding bodyweight is also important when it comes to following label guidelines for feed. Many horse owners don’t consult with a nutritionist when choosing a feed program and must rely on the feeding instructions provided by a feed manufacturer. These instructions are required by law to be listed either on the bag or on an attached tag. Each manufacturer may list instructions in a slightly different format, but they’re always based on bodyweight.

For example, one feed tag may instruct to feed 0.5 pound for every 100 pounds of bodyweight. Another may instruct to feed 0.5 percent of bodyweight. For both examples, that would mean feeding 5 pounds per day if your horse weighs 1,000 pounds. However, if you underestimated your horse’s bodyweight, and he actually weighs 1,250 pounds, your horse should have been fed 6.25 pounds per day. If you overestimated bodyweight and your horse actually weighs 800 pounds, he should’ve been fed 4 pounds per day.

In the case of underestimating your horse’s bodyweight and feeding too little, your horse can end up in a negative energy balance, meaning he’ll begin to lose weight and drop in body condition. If you overestimate your horse’s bodyweight and feed too much feed, he’ll begin to accumulate excess fat and become overweight or obese. Both situations can have negative effects on the health and performance of your horse.

Estimating Bodyweight Without a Scale

While a scale is most accurate, it’s not always most practical. Several systems have been established to help you estimate bodyweight.

The most convenient and inexpensive option is a weight tape, which estimates bodyweight based on circumference of the heart girth. However, this is the most inaccurate method. A 2002 study by Ellis and Hollands evaluated the accuracy of four weight tapes on 2,000 horses, including 112 different breed types, and found significant differences among the tapes.

A preferable method for estimating your horse’s bodyweight is the use of calculations that consider both heart girth and length of the horse as shown on page 114. Additionally, consider your horse’s body-condition scoring, neck circumference, and girth-to-height ratio.

The Henneke body-condition scoring system, based on a 1–9 scale, is the gold standard in evaluating body fat. It evaluates specific areas of fat accumulation, seen at right.

Although body-condition score has been an industry standard, it’s a subjective system and isn’t especially useful in differentiating areas of regional adiposity that may be indicative of disease. For example, heavy fat deposits along the crest of the neck are associated with altered metabolic states such as insulin resistance. A standardized 0–5 cresty-neck scale developed by Carter et al. (2009) is a subjective scoring system developed to help assess regional fat deposits that may indicate health concerns.

Girth-to-height ratio (G:H) is another useful tool in assessing proper body condition in horses and is similar to body mass index (BMI) in humans. For this assessment, a measurement of the heart-girth circumference is divided by height. Horses are considered overweight if the G:H ratio is greater than or equal to 1.26 and obese if the ratio is greater than or equal to 1.29. Ponies are considered overweight and obese at G:H ratios greater than or equal to 1.33 and 1.38, respectively.

The Result = Healthy Horses

Horses that are managed at their optimal healthy bodyweight can lead longer, healthier, happier lives and be less likely to suffer from various metabolic diseases and possibly career-ending performance-related injuries.

With tools such as weight tapes, bodyweight calculations, body-condition scoring, cresty-neck scoring, and girth-to-height ratios, even horse owners who don’t have access to a weight scale are capable of maintaining proper bodyweight and condition of their horse.


Dr. Jyme Nichols

Dr. Jyme Nichols grew up on a cattle ranch in the northern Nebraska sandhills. She’s been involved with horses and agricentire life. Dr. Nichols, an ARPAS-certified Professional Animal Scientist (PAS) in the equine discipline, has been presented with research awards from the Equine Science Society and the American Society of Animal Science.

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.

From the Judge’s Chair: Wall & Marker Penalties

While markers are mostly there for guidance, they can play a big part in your score.

By Megan Arszman

Markers can make or break your run. NRHA Judge Brett Walters explains how.

The placement of the markers in an arena is important for a couple of reasons. First, they’re there to help guide in the placement of maneuvers, which is key for pattern placement. Second, they help protect the safety of both horse and rider. In the early days of NRHA, exhibitors negotiated a multitude of arena footings, sizes, and conditions. Not only did riders have to navigate through various sizes of patterns, but some had to steer clear of the tractor and dragging equipment resting along the same wall used for circles and rundowns.

Thankfully, today’s arenas are safer, with horse-and-rider teams using the markers mostly for pattern placement, without the concern of safety.

Mark Your Patterns

Typically there are six markers placed in the arena, with pairs placed according to the 2020 NRHA Handbook, page 99: Markers will be placed on the wall or fence of the arena as follows: at the center of the arena and at least 50 feet (15 meters) from each end wall. 

The angle of the judge’s view of each marker depends on his chair placement, which was covered in the September 2019 NRHA Reiner. Larry Kasten, member of the NRHA Judge’s Committee and NRHA-carded judge explained how judges handle the placement of the judge when it comes to evaluating the rider’s placement of stops with the marker.

Getting past markers on the far ends of the arenas can be difficult for a judge on the opposite end to see and judge accurately. “It’s very important when a judge goes into the arena that he gets in his vision where that line would be on the markers for rollbacks that have to be beyond the marker,” Kasten says. “You have to get your eyes set on that line.”

If the rider misses the marker, it’s a two-point penalty, and it is not reviewable. “That puts a lot of burden on the judges to get that line and make sure they have it right every time,” he says. 

NRHA Professional, Judge, and member of the NRHA Judges Committee Brett Walters echoes Kasten. It’s important to him, and most judges, to point out that judges will give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to marker penalties. 

“As far as a marker penalty goes, my rule of thumb as a judge is the first one gets the benefit of the doubt,” Walters explains. “The second time, I’m going to give the marker penalty.” 

One example Walters cites is when a rider must begin his stop after the center. Walters knows it can be difficult to see if the horse and rider passed the marker. 

“The benefit always goes to the rider,” he says. “But, if you do that twice in the same pattern and really make me work to think if you went by that marker, I’ll probably give you the penalty. Most of our arenas are big enough; there’s no excuse for you to miss the center marker.”

According to the NRHA Handbook: “Where designated in the pattern for stops to be beyond a marker, the horse should begin his stop after he passes the specified marker.” That penalty is explained on page 145.

2 Point Penalties.
Section 4.
NRHA patterns require a horse to run past a marker placed in the arena prior to stopping. If the horse does not completely pass the specified marker before assuming a stop position, a penalty of 2 points is to be applied. It is important to note that this penalty is to be applied if the horse assumes a stop position (rear legs up underneath, setting up) whether or not this stop is completed. Further, the judge, by applying this penalty, is only reflecting the fact it happened, and should not be concerned with whether it was caused by the horse or by the rider. Judges should note that it is their responsibility to insure that these markers are placed correctly, and in such a fashion that a horse could reasonably be expected to go past them before executing a stop or rollback maneuver. The NRHA has specified that the end markers be no less than 50 feet from the end wall or fence of the arena. 

When you look at how the patterns are drawn in the NRHA Handbook, it looks as if circles should not go very far past the end markers. Understanding the need to show a difference in the size of small and large circles, as well as adding speed, Walters says judges have allowed riders to go beyond those markers for the large, fast circles. 

Judges try to give riders the benefit of the doubt on a first questionable marker infraction. 

Walls for Containment

The NRHA Handbook also states that riders must stay at least 20 feet off the wall for rundowns. Walters acknowledges that, especially at the more prestigious shows, exhibitors are pushing the limits when it comes to the level of difficulty to gain as much of a point advantage as possible. Because of this, he says when a rider pushes the envelope of the pattern, as long as the horse stays straight on the rundown, it’s most likely that a wall penalty won’t be given. 

“However, if the horse veers toward the wall, that becomes a real problem, or somebody just goes right up against the wall, then that becomes a penalty 1/2,” Walters explains. “Usually that also goes along with a maneuver reduction. It’s very hard to have a horse take you to the wall and give it a 0 (correct score) and then give it a penalty 1/2 because he took you to the wall. Usually with a wall penalty, you have a maneuver deduction, also. Usually—not always, but usually.”

In keeping with A. General, judges are keenly aware of the importance of a horse being willingly guided throughout the pattern. Some outsiders might argue that if a horse and rider push their larger circles as close to the wall as they can that the horse isn’t being guided and should receive a penalty. However, Walters points out how judges can tell if the horse is using the wall to guide himself or if it’s just the inertia: how the horse reacts as the pair comes to the center. 

“Our theory has always been that when the horse and rider come to the center, there’s a large open space,” Walters explains. “So, if the horse is using the wall to guide his circle, he’s going to tell us when he doesn’t guide as he crosses center. Therefore, we’ve never allowed the wall to interfere with the judgement of our circles or anything else.”

Size Matters

Judges also take into account the overall size of the arena itself when it comes to the preferred distance a horse and rider must be between the center line and the wall for their rundowns and stops. 

One small arena that Walters has experience with is at Gordyville USA in Gifford, Illinois. 

“We have that rule that describes running around the ends and down the sides, and if you run too close to center, you receive a 1/2-point penalty,” Walters says. “But, Gordyville’s arena is only 90 feet wide, and you have to stay 20 feet off the wall and 10 feet from center. There’s not much space when you’re at 45 feet from the wall at center already. So, there’s some leeway in the smaller arenas.”

“We love to mark people well—judges don’t sit in the chair to see how many penalties we can give,” Walters says.

Benefit of the Doubt

Walters hopes exhibitors understand that judges aren’t sitting in the chair looking for ways to penalize or deduct from your overall score. It’s actually the opposite. 

“We love to mark people well—judges don’t sit in the chair to see how many penalties we can give someone,” he says. “We’re not out hunting to give you a penalty. It has to be obvious that you’re too close to center. It has to be obvious that you’re too close to the wall before you receive any of those penalties or maneuver deductions. 

“We love marking correct runs or higher,” he continues. “We don’t want to mark them low, but if that’s what the penalties or maneuvers dictate, then we have to. I know some exhibitors think the judges are hard on them, and I just say ‘Well, we’re really not, but we try not to ever change our focus or our maneuver evaluation as to what a maneuver should be. We try to hold that to be true all year round and wherever we go.’ 

“We try to be as consistent as we can with our wall and marker penalties,” he concludes. “Try not to show to where you make us question, ‘Is that a penalty or not?’” 


Brett Walters, Bourbon, Indiana, has been an NRHA Professional for more than 30 years, as well as a member of the NRHA Judges Committee and is the chairman of the Nominating/Governance Committee. His family’s Walters Equestrian Center provided training and coaching for youth and non pros for the breed circuits as well as NRHA competition.

Reining in Asia

NRHA staff, affiliate leadership, and professionals work together to promote the expansion of the sport of reining in Asian countries.

By Kaycie Timm

Woman in Elsa costume rides red horse with man in white shirt and cowboy hat on a palomino horse
NRHA Professionals Sharee Schwartzenberger of Longmont, Colorado, and Toru Tamaoki-McCoy of Japan performed a Frozen-themed freestyle routine at an event in Anping, China.

Most reining enthusiasts understand the amount of effort that goes into an incredible freestyle routine—from choreography to costumes and everything in between. NRHA Professional Sharee Schwartzenberger of Longmont, Colorado, has performed her share of freestyles, but before last October, she’d never put together something quite like this.

When she was invited to showcase the sport of reining with a special performance at the World Horse Training Congress and International Horse Show in Anping, China, Schwartzenberger started developing ideas. After the long flight to China, selecting her mount, and riding for only a few days before the first show, Schwartzenberger joined Japanese-native NRHA Professional Toru Tamaoki-McCoy to perform an Elsa-themed Frozen freestyle routine.

“The group organizing the event wanted an American female to come demonstrate a freestyle performance,” she said. “When Doug (Milholland) called and asked if I would be interested in performing, I couldn’t say no. It’s been interesting to learn about all this, because reining is really new to China. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure.”

As one of 20 invited professionals who represented various disciplines from nations around the world, Schwartzenberger rode a horse provided by local reining enthusiasts trying to grow the sport in China.

“Growing up going to shows with my dad [NRHA Professional Steve Schwartzenberger], I frequently showed horses I’d never ridden before. Now, as a professional, I’ve learned even better how to adapt and adjust to other horses,” Schwartzenberger shared. “The mare I used [in China] was one of their best, but since reining is so new, they’ve let everyone ride her. She was confused and frustrated at first, but she tried so hard for me.”

For Schwartzenberger, the experience in China marked her first time to witness reining in Asia. Her freestyle partner, Tamaoki-McCoy, on the other hand, has been an active proponent for the sport’s growth in his home country and surrounding regions. From 1993 to 2008, Tamaoki-McCoy spent five years living in Castle Rock, Colorado, and almost 10 years in Whitesboro, Texas. During those years, he worked for NRHA Professionals Craig Johnson and Scott McCutcheon, then started his own training business, McCoy Stables, Inc. While living in the States, he frequently flew back to Japan, where he competed successfully in shows including the All Japan Reining Championship. 

However, he soon learned the majority of reining events in his home country didn’t meet NRHA standards for management, have approved judges, or use standardized purse schedules. Tamaoki-McCoy dreamed of developing a better system—one that could lead to the formation of an NRHA-approved club that hosted frequent shows. After moving back to Japan in 2008, he put that dream into action, starting with education about NRHA’s standard procedures and rules. 

In 2014, his years of work proved worth the effort when his team spearheaded the first NRHA-approved show in Japan. But the effort was far from over. The shows had few entries, due to lack of trained reining horses and limited locations to practice, which kept them from turning a profit—or even breaking even. Determined to see their goals come to fruition, Tamaoki-McCoy and his team contributed their own funds to keep the shows running. 

“I have a passion for reining, and I want to help others in my country with that same passion,” Tamaoki-McCoy shared. “I try to explain everything I’ve learned about this sport from showing in the U.S. People are starting to understand how having approved shows is important for all the competitors and horse owners.”

Now, his efforts and those of others, including Tim Shelley who has continuously supported reining’s growth in Japan, are paying big dividends. Tamaoki-McCoy traveled the globe hosting clinics in Asia; rode at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina; assisted at the inaugural Global Youth Reining Cup in Italy; and more.

Last spring, he also had a chance to meet with NRHA representatives Samantha Oldfield and Kristen Liesman when they traveled to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa. During their trip, they enjoyed meeting with various affiliates and local groups, aiding with seminars, and more. As they focused on planting seeds of future growth, Oldfield and Liesman also spent time with members of one of the newest NRHA Affiliates, NRHA Thailand. 

“We were so impressed with the level of professionalism in Thailand,” Oldfield recalled. “We were overwhelmed by their generous hospitality, remarkable organization, and the progress they’ve made in such a short time since creating the first Thai affiliate.” 

As reining continues to increase its prevalence in Asia, the future rests in the capable hands of forward-thinking leaders and grassroots supporters who continue to promote good practices and explore new areas of potential growth.  

Don’t ‘Safety Up’ When Your Trainer Asks For Speed

Build the confidence in yourself and your horse at home so you can go fast in the show pen.

By Patrick Flaherty, With Jennifer Paulson, Photos by Jennifer Paulson

The last thing you want to do when your trainer asks you to step up your speed is lose confidence and ‘safety up.’ Instead, build speed while building your confidence and consistency.

When you hear your trainer yell, “Go faster!” at a show or when you’re at home practicing, chances are, you already think you’re going pretty fast—maybe as fast as you’re comfortable going. 

Comfort zones are understandable, and your trainer should know yours. But it’s also his or her job to push you past your threshold as you become a stronger rider and have loftier goals. Speed is one common area where I see non pros struggle with taking their riding to the next level. 

The Trust Factor

I won’t ask a non pro to do any more than I know he or she can. Pushing too hard is a recipe for disaster, and your coach knows that, too. It’s my job to identify when you’re ready and push as needed to get you where you need to be. I could tell you to go out there and run fast, but that’s not going to achieve your goals. Your speed has to be controlled, and you have to be ready for it.

The key is to work up to the speed you need. I speak about it in terms of miles per hour—though I won’t say the exact measurements are correct. But the analogy of going from so many miles per hour to a few more works well.

Finding Your Speedometer

First, let’s talk about speed in terms of training horses. You teach a horse to go 10 miles per hour by going 10 miles per hour. You can’t teach him by going eight or 12 miles per hour. Once he’s confident and comfortable there, you can move up to 12, 14, and 18 miles per hour. I say 18 miles per hour is peak speed when you’re running to a stop for a +1/2 maneuver score. But until your horse knows how to go 18 miles per hour and stay at that speed—not waffling between 18, 16, and back up to 20—you’re not going to get that +1/2. Plus, it’s a great way to build confidence in your horse: he knows what he can do, and he’s comfortable (and reliable) doing it. 

The same things go for you as a rider. There’s no point in you trying to go 18 miles per hour in your large, fast circles when you can’t consistently go 16 miles per hour doing the same thing. Start at one speed, master it consistently, then move to the next notch. If you think you have 16 miles per hour mastered, move up to 18, and you find you’re not ready for it, go back to 16. But the key is not to get stuck! 

When I say, “Let’s go fast,” my rider knows what speed they’re at from previous lessons. Let’s say that’s 14 miles per hour. They ride three or four circles, until it’s smooth and consistent, and then we slow down or break to a walk.

Practice at Home

At home, my riders go whatever speed they’ll show at in the next competition. When I say, “Let’s go fast,” my rider knows what speed they’re at from previous lessons. Let’s say that’s 14 miles per hour. They ride three or four circles, until it’s smooth and consistent, and then we slow down or break to a walk. 

Next, I ask them to build more speed. They get to 15 or 16 miles per hour, lope a circle and a half consistently at that speed, and we quit. I find that slowing down at the top of the circle instead of the middle helps remove some of the anticipation that can build in the middle of the arena. If they fall apart with more speed, we go back to 14 miles per hour.

This type of practice allows you to get a good feel for the actual speed you’re going—especially because it often feels like you’re going faster than you really are. (Putting your hand up between your horse’s ears can feel really fast—but it’s probably not as fast as you think.) It gives you experience to know when your horse is running ahead of you or maybe is getting out of control, because no matter what speed, ideally every stride is identical once you establish your speed.

You have to practice how you’ll show. Going fast at home allows you to get the feel of traveling with speed and consistency. This goes for building speed in rundowns, too, when a consistent speed is crucial to a good stop.

This philosophy doesn’t just apply for circles—it’s a good way to think about rundowns, too. Ideally, when you lope off, your first stride is slower, your next two strides steadily build speed, then you reach the speed you want and maintain it until your stop. You might think you need to build speed with every stride, but that leaves the door open to lose control and safety up before you stop. You never want to be losing speed when you drop your hand and say “woah.” 

Considering your next show comes into play for your practice. If you’re preparing to compete at a smaller show where you won’t have to call on your horse, prepare that way at home. Maybe stay at 16 miles per hour and get super consistent. But if you’re getting ready for a major event—like a world show or a derby—you need to practice that way at home and prepare yourself and your horse at 18 miles per hour, if that’s what speed you intend to show.

Recognize Your Situation

You have to be a certain level of rider, with a certain level of horse, to be able to go 20 miles per hour. It takes years of building yourself as a horseman to confidently, consistently reach that kind of speed. The key is to recognize that you’re building your horsemanship as you progress from 14 miles per hour on up. 

Think of it this way: You have to consistently mark a 0 on a maneuver score before you can +1/2. Marking 70s consistently comes before 72s. It might be that your horse is a 70 horse—he might not have the talent to be the 72 horse you level-up to after a few years of building your skillset and mastering your consistency.


Patrick Flaherty, Scottsdale, Arizona, trains and shows horses in top-caliber aged events while also coaching a strong group of youth and non pro competitors and preparing their horses. He’s been a finalist in all NRHA major events, serves as the chairman of the NRHA Professionals Committee, and is an NRHA Judge.