It was like he rode in from out of the blue. When Shawn Renshaw and Smokums Prize showed up at the 2000 NRHA Futurity, they were practically ...It was like he rode in from out of the blue. When Shawn Renshaw and Smokums Prize showed up at the 2000 NRHA Futurity, they were practically ...
It was like he rode in from out of the blue. When Shawn Renshaw and Smokums Prize showed up at the 2000 NRHA Futurity, they were practically unkowns in the reining world. The horse had been shown just a couple of times and this event was the cowboy’s first major reining event.
When the 10 days of competition came to a close, however, this dark horse team walked home with a remarkable third place in the Futurity’s Non-Pro and Limited Non-Pro, a fifth finish in the Intermediate Non-Pro and a very impressive purse totaling $13,914.02. Not too bad for the first time out.
The non-pro’s success at the Snaffle Bit Futurity was a story in itself, but tragedy and eventual victory made the tale a whole lot taller.
Riding high on his success in the preliminary rounds, Renshaw knew all he had to do was play it cool in the finals. After all, he’d easily advanced to the Open finals with the leading score in the reined work go, a third in the herd and a fifth in the fence work. Talk was flying around the grounds about the non-pro from Nipomo, Calif., going up against and actually beating the seasoned big leaguers.
A horseshoer by trade, Renshaw was eager for work during the show. While tacking a shoe on a fellow competitor’s horse, disaster struck in the form of a serious back injury for Renshaw. For the Non-Pro finals, there was no choice, he had to show his horse or scratch. He gathered himself up and put in an impressive performance that earned him the Reserve Championship. As for the Open, there was an alternative.
Although Renshaw had trained Smokums Oak on his own, he took lessons from Teddy Robinson. The injured non-pro asked the trainer to catch ride the sorrel stud in the finals. It was a request that was difficult, but necessary since Renshaw was in so much pain he could hardly ride. The pairing seemed like a natural at the time.
"I tried to copy Ted’s style, so he was the best fit for the horse," Renshaw said.
And the rest, as they say, is sweet history. Smokums Oak and Robinson took the Open finals after a heart-pounding finish in the fence work. Renshaw went home with a new reputation.
Training a top-notch open futurity horse might seem ordinary for some riders, but Renshaw has relatively little experience in the show pen. Growing up in Humbolt County in California, Renshaw never had a horse of his own.
"My family was on the poor side, so it was unreasonable to have a horse around when you have five brothers and sisters around," he explained. "But I always loved horses when I was a kid."
Most weekends, the young Renshaw would pedal his bike eight miles to his uncle’s place where there were some horses in the pasture.
"I’d work all weekend just for a chance to ride," he said.
The desire to live the cowboy life took another path when Renshaw took up bull riding. He competed in the sport for about eight years, until his first child was born.
By then, Renshaw was married and working as heavy equipment operator in southern California. Although he’d gotten away from consistent horseback riding, his wife had a trail horse that filled a void once Renshaw quit riding bulls.
With a goal in mind, he happened upon a Les Vogt clinic.
"A friend asked me if I wanted to go and I didn’t know what I was getting into," Renshaw recalled. "I watched those horses and was amazed. I had to get one and get into it."
For over a year Renshaw took the independent route.
"I was going to play cowboy and do it on my own," he laughed. "Then I bought a bunch of knot heads that I never could get to do anything."
Frustrated, Renshaw eventually turned to Sandy Collier for help. Lessons were started and a decent horse was purchased.
A year later, Renshaw began competing. He scored a 61 in the reined work and a 61 in the cow portion. Was he satisfied with his performance?
"Heck no!" he responded. "I thought I was going to go knock them dead. I was deflated to say the least so I went home and went to work."
He would show for nearly two years without placing once.
"I was like the most determined person you’d ever seen. I was either going to do it or die trying. I damn near died, but I hung in there until I got something going on."
In 1993, Renshaw won his first event, the Buckaroo class at the Ventura County Fair. It was as though a light lit up as he went on to win both the Triple Crown and the Cow Place Non-Pro classes the next year.
By then, Renshaw was ready to sell his older horse and try his hand in the aged events. After training on his own for a few months, Renshaw eventually called Teddy Robinson, who helped the non-pro find his first 2-year-old.
At the 1995 Snaffle Bit Futurity, Renshaw won the Non-Pro herd work and ended up seventh in the finals. After taking a hiatus the next year, Renshaw returned in 1997 and placed fourth in the Non-Pro and made the Limited Open finals. In 1998, he missed the last go after his horse fell in the fence work.
With two horses, Renshaw came to the 1999 Futurity and finished third in the Non-Pro with one mount and failed to make the finals with the other. By then, he was already in serious training with Smokums Prize, the horse that would make music at the 2000 event.
From the way things appear, Renshaw might be making money on the wrong end of the horse. He’s already 2001 Futurity bound on another Smokums Oak offspring. But for now, the horseshoer has no plans to switch job descriptions.
"The training business is not something that tempts me," he noted. "I just enjoy picking my own horses, riding for myself and betting that they’re going to go be winners. That’s the most rewarding experience for me."
Making his home in Nipomo, Calif., Renshaw lives with his girlfriend, GiGi Gortner, who was the NRCHA 2000 World Champion Non-Pro Hackamore rider. The two met a few years back at Robinson’s place. Renshaw has two children, a 16-year-old daughter, Nicholle, and a 13-year-old son, Brandon.