Slidin’ Through May

The Southwest Missouri Reining Horse Association welcomed exhibitors back to the show pen for the May Slide at the Lucky J Steakhouse and Arena in Carthage, Missouri. 

By Kaycie Timm, Photos by Traci Davenport Photography 

As many states lessen restrictions in the wake of COVID-19, reiners across the U.S. are eagerly loading their trailers for the gradual resumption of show the season. May 14–17, the Southwest Missouri Reining Horse Association (SMRHA) hosted its May Slide at the Lucky J Steakhouse and Arena in Carthage. 

“For a lot of the people that came, this was the first show they’d been to all year,” shared SMRHA President Jeromy Lipps. “Everyone appreciated being able to have a horse show. They were all there cheering for each other and helping one another. We had a really good time.”

The event not only marked the club’s first show of the year, but also Lipps’ first show as the SMRHA President. When he assumed the role in January, the NRHA Professional from Miami, Oklahoma, had no idea he and the club’s board would be faced with the difficult decision to either cancel or continue with a show come May.  

“We were a little worried going into it wondering if anyone would show up,” Lipps revealed. “Our board voted to have the show just 10 days before move-in started. It wasn’t unanimous, but the majority said yes. As soon as we got the go-ahead, I started calling people to let them know.”

Their decision proved profitable, and the show attracted a record number of attendees. 

“This was the biggest show our club has ever had. It was about 30% bigger than normal, even with some people who weren’t able to come,” Lipps said. “We had 130 paid warmups—almost 16 hours’ worth.”

“I think it came off famously,” agreed Winona Walker, Louisburg, Kansas, who judged the show. “People were just so excited to get out and get their horses in the pen. Everybody was very patient with little glitches here and there, and we all worked together to try to follow social distancing etiquette.”  

Walker originally planned to judge in Idaho that weekend, but when the other event was canceled, she stepped up to fill in for the originally slated judge, who couldn’t travel to Missouri due to COVID-19 restrictions. Another last-minute addition to the show gave non pro riders a chance to qualify for the 2020 Run for a Million, which is scheduled to take place July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas. 

The Run for a Million qualifier wasn’t originally planned,” Lipps explained. “We told Amanda [Brumley] we were going to have a show, and she jumped on board to let us have the qualifier.”

The class attracted a remarkable group of non pros who gave it their all in an effort to earn a ticket to Vegas. 

“That was the best non pro class I’ve watched in a long, long time,” Lipps revealed. “It was a big class, and probably one of the most exciting classes we had all weekend.”

“I was very impressed,” Walter agreed. “Everybody just seemed to be on their game. They came out fresh, and they all did great. I’m very happy for the qualifiers.”

Non pro Cindy Johnson, who rides under the guidance of NRHA Professional Bobby Avila Jr., took her mare Shes All Rufed Up (Not Ruf At All x Finally Annie) for a spin in the qualifier, and their score was enough to secure the pair a slot in Vegas. 

“The Run for a Million qualifier gave us a goal to work for that put a little pressure on,” Johnson revealed. “That Saturday night, the qualifier was the last class of the evening, so there was a lot of cheering and a lot of excitement. It was a very good test for the horses.”

Another qualifier, non pro Kaylee Dunfresne, Bixby, Oklahoma, didn’t plan to show in Carthage, but decided to make the trip with her trainer Sean Johnson shortly before the event. 

“We didn’t know if we’d have another show before the [NRHA] Derby,” Dunfresne explained. “We had a big group of people go from our barn. For the first show back, it was pretty good. We were just trying to get back into the groove of things. It was a lot of fun.”

Johnson agreed: it was good to get back to showing. Everyone contributed to make the show a success while observing social distancing guidelines.

“I don’t think anybody knew how things would go or how we would interact with each other,” Johnson admitted. “Then when people got there, we social distanced to the extent we could, and everyone was just so happy to see friends and be riding our horses that everything else took a back seat. People were respectful about the environment that we’re in right now [with COVID-19], and everyone was very supportive, whether it was showing or respecting social distancing.”

“We were aware of what’s going on, but it felt very normal,” Lipps agreed. “We were just ready to have a horse show and get back to our lives. It was wonderful to get the horse show family back together and see everybody.”

While the show wasn’t seamless, the extra effort required to host a show in this uncertain climate didn’t go unnoticed. 

“The folks that put on the show had a lot on the line, but it all worked out,” Johnson praised. “Everything didn’t go perfectly, but everyone was so accommodating, I really congratulate the SMRHA on pulling something together. Anything that went wrong was overshadowed by everything that went right. It was the biggest little show we’ve ever had!”

From the judge’s chair, Walker shared a similar opinion, commenting that everyone involved worked together to make the event a success. 

“To have this show and see so many people show up and be very positive and supporting of each other—I’m excited,” Walker shared. “There were several folks that I know who I’ve seen ride for many years, and I think I saw some of their better rides [at the May Slide]. I think we’re going to come back stronger than ever.”