A thrilling day of reined cow horse action on Saturday, June 17, wrapped up the main event at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby in Paso Robles, California, with the finals for Open and Non Pro competitors. Champions were crowned in three Open and three Non Pro Derby divisions.
The NRCHA Derby is the biggest and richest event for 4- and 5-year-old reined cow horses, with the total payout in 2017 exceeding $300,000. Shown two-handed in a snaffle bit or a hackamore, horses are judged in three events: rein work, herd work and cow work.
Derby Open Champion
Derby Open Finals night was emotional for Justin Wright, of Santa Maria, California. He had three horses in the finals and won the Championship – his first NRCHA Premier Event Open title – with Stephen Silva’s Lil Bay Hawk (Catty Hawk x Gray Little Freckles x Playgun), scoring a phenomenal 672.5 composite (225 herd/220.5 rein/227 fence).
“I don’t remember most of it,” Wright admitted of the fence work. “He went in there, and it felt good, and it just all worked out. Every turn, it seemed like we just stayed in time, and it was incredible. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of – winning a major, and it’s just incredible.”
The Championship paid $29,588 and came with prizes including a saddle from Jividen’s Customs, sponsored by McSpyder Ranch; a Gist buckle; boots from Rios of Mercedes; and product from Platinum Performance and Santa Cruz Animal Health.
Wright had two other horses in the Open finals. He tied for 4th on Mark and Kelly Gowing’s home-bred stallion, Step To The Light (CD Lights x Shinersdiamondjackie x Shining Spark, scoring a 663.5 (216.5 herd/224.5 rein/221 cow), earning $12,795. His other finalist, Light N Sassy (CD Lights x Dual Sass x Dual Pep), finished 11th with a 656 composite, earning $3,998 for owners Mark and Kimberly Rauch.
Boonlight Roan Bar and Todd Bergen, the Reserve Champions, earned $22,391 for owner Tony Grover.
Intermediate Open Champion
The Derby Intermediate Open Champion was Nee On Lights (CD Lights x Shine Smartly x Shining Spark), shown by NRCHA Professional Shawn Hays, Nocona, Texas, for owner Yellow Creek Ranch. Nee On Lights, a 2012 stallion bred by Hays’ wife, and her father, Walter Greeman, scored a 655 composite (216 herd/218 rein/221 fence). The Intermediate Open Championship came with a $6,981 paycheck. Hays and Nee On Lights earned another $3,198 for finishing 12th in the Open.
“I drew a good cow, and that little horse, he was on target in the fence work. He was a little tired because it’s been real hot today. The cows, in the prelims, the heat kind of tapped them out, but the cows didn’t weaken today. They stayed strong. We went down and made a good right turn, jumped out and made a good left turn and got circled up,” Hays said.
He praised the honest nature of the horse he has known since he was foaled, out of the Hays family’s champion performing and producing mare, Shine Smartly.
“He goes in and tries to give you the same run every time. He doesn’t try and cheat you. He’s just a really solid little show horse,” he said.
Hays had two other horses in the finals. He earned combined paychecks of $3,317 in the Open and Intermediate Open on Hes The Katz Meow, owned by Dustin Deckard; and picked up $551 in the Intermediate Open aboard Playin Motown, owned by Moncrief and Lee
Limited Open Champion
Hollister, California, professional Brendon Clark piloted Metal Cat (Metallic Cat x Tipofthestar x Grays Starlight) to the Derby Limited Open Championship, scoring a 632.5 composite (215 herd/210.5 rein/207 fence). The win paid $5,836.
“I won the Level 1 Limited Open here last year, and was Reserve in the Limited Open, so to come back this year and be able to win the Limited, is exciting. I worked really hard over the last few years trying to learn as much as I can, and I’m still learning something every day,” Clark, a former professional bull rider, said.
He owns Metal Cat in partnership with friends Quentin Kersh and Jonathan Fine, and praised the gelding’s steady temperament and cow sense.
“He’s a horse that doesn’t need a lot of work. You don’t need to warm him up much. You just go in, and he does what you want. He’s a nice-minded horse.”
Derby Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro & Novice Non Pro Champion
A special bond between Hope Miller and her 5-year-old gelding, Dare To Sioux (A Shiner Named Sioux x Tari Darlin x Taris Catalyst) helps the pair consistently achieve fence work performances that any top professional trainer would envy. The non pro from Washington state piloted “Baby Sioux” to the highest fence score of any rider at the 2017 NRCHA Derby, a 229, to seal triple Championships in the Non Pro, Intermediate Non Pro and Novice Non Pro divisions.
” He is amazing. That’s the only thing I can say. Amazing. Special,” Miller said. “He tries his hardest with the fence work. It’s his favorite thing to do.”
It’s often said that the most talented horses have oddball qualities, and Dare To Sioux fits that mold.
“He is so quirky. We always joke that he acts like a girl,” Miller said. Her preparation to show consists of keeping him happy. “I walk him around, I pet him, I give him a cookie and tell him he’s so pretty and so cute, and let him have his confidence. He’s an odd horse. Sometimes you have to ride him a lot and sometimes you just walk him. It really just depends on what he needs.”
Their composite score of 656.5 (210 herd/217.5 rein/229 fence) earned triple paychecks totaling $12,364. Miller’s prizes included a saddle from Jividen’s Customs, buckles sponsored by the Will Rogers Memorial Center, boots from Rios of Mercedes, a hat from Shorty’s Caboy Hattery, gift certificates from Farnam, therapeutic equine products from Back On Track, and product from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health.
NRCHA Derby Horse Show Classes
Non Pro Bridle Spectacular / Non Pro Bridle / Intermediate Non Pro Bridle & Novice Non Pro Bridle
Cutter McLaughlin, Commerce, Texas, and his family’s gelding, CD Dee Vee Dee (CD Lights x Shiners Missy Jay x Shining Spark), had an incredible day in Paso Robles. The 13-year-old Cutter and the 12-year-old CD Dee Vee Dee, a gelding owned by Cutter’s parents, NRCHA Million Dollar Rider Jay McLaughlin and his wife, Wendy, won the Non Pro Bridle Spectacular when they scored a 654.5 composite (217.5 herd/216 rein/221 cow).
But Cutter didn’t stop there. His 437 rein work and cow work composite score also earned the Championships in the concurrent Non Pro Bridle, Intermediate Non Pro Bridle, and Novice Non Pro Bridle divisions! The quartet of paychecks totaled $7,660.
The prize haul for the four wins included four CR Morrison Trophies sponsored by the Will Rogers Memorial Center; three headstalls from Dennis Moreland Tack; multiple therapeutic blankets, saddle pads, and wraps from Back On Track; two hats from Shorty’s Caboy Hattery, and product from San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health and Platinum Performance.
Non Pro Two Rein Spectacular / Non Pro Two Rein
Winning dual Championships in the Non Pro Two Rein Spectacular and the Non Pro Two Rein horse show class was Vanessa Lawrence, Paso Robles, California. She rode Cash For Diamonds (Nics Black Diamond x Dun It For Cash x Nu Cash) to a 629 composite (205 herd/208 rein/215.5 cow), winning the Spectacular Championship and $1,920.
Vanessa’s rein and cow work scores also earned the win in the Non Pro Two Rein class, which paid another $1,270.
Her prizes included two CR Morrison Trophies sponsored by the Will Rogers Memorial Center; a set of romal reins from Dennis Moreland Tack; a hat from Shorty’s Caboy Hattery; therapeutic equine products from Back On Track; and product from San Juan Ranch/Santa Cruz Animal Health.