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Reining, Outside the Pen

The NRHA Bronze

Written by Pat Feuerstein on .

Original NRHA bronze trophy
Ordinary people dream of extraordinary wealth, beautiful mansions, personal jets, fancy cars, summer homes on the Riviera and unlimited discretionary funds. Reiners dream of winning a bronze. They just aren’t ordinary people.
Reiners are involved in a sport considered by many to be the ultimate partnership between horse and rider, a sport that is extremely difficult – and at times (more often than not) extremely frustrating.

Every time they enter an arena, reiners are striving to do their own personal best. Their goal is to show their horses to the best of their ability. If they accomplish anything close to that, get a good score and a paycheck, they’re happy. If they win the class, that’s the icing on the cake. If they win a big-money NRHA reining, the sweetest icing comes in the form of an NRHA bronze trophy. In 1969, the NRHA presented the very first bronze trophy to the winner of the Futurity, Dean Smith riding Miss Sue Skip, owned by Gloria Oursler, Coffeyville, Kan. And so the dream of winning a bronze began.

Today, there are the Lawson and the Morrison. If you’re heading to the NRHA Futurity, you’ll have the opportunity to win the Lawson Futurity bronze, The Score, created by Doug Israelsen, the C.R. Morrison Sire & Dam and/or Freestyle Trophy, and if you’ve just become a Million Dollar Rider, you’ll be given the Million Dollar Rider bronze created in the likeness of Paul Horn by John Favicchia. They all evolved from the original bronze.

Ed Cridge
The original

The bronze trophy awarded to Miss Sue Skip didn’t look anything like the Lawson or Morrison bronzes reiners win nowadays, but it was the “original” bronze and, to the old-timer reiners who were lucky enough to win one in the 1960s and ’70s, it is a cherished reminder of good friends, good horses and good times.

In the late ’60s, Ed Cridge, Whitesboro, Texas, lived and worked in Illinois.

“I trained everything just like everyone else at the time,” Cridge said. He rode reining horses for Miles Cooperman, a businessman from Chicago.

“I knew him through my friend Lou Ritter. Cooperman had no facility, he just liked horses,” Cridge said.

In particular, he liked a mare called Miss Coco Wimp. “He bought this horse and left her with me to train for the reining and cutting futurities,” Cridge explained. “Back then, we did both events. I got her in February of her 3-year-old year for the reining futurity in October. She was a good mare, now. She could slide and she was a real good cow horse.”

Cooperman decided he wanted to always remember this mare. He wanted to have her likeness in bronze.

“He liked the cowboy deal,” Cridge said. “He liked Western art, the Western culture. That’s why he had the bronze made.”

Pictures were taken – lots of pictures. They were sent to an artist named Ken Bunn, who made the mold and cast a bronze statue of Miss Coco Wimp doing a sliding stop with Cridge in the saddle. The end result caused quite a stir in the reining community. Reiners just loved this work of art and thought it would make a wonderful trophy to give annually to the NRHA Futurity Champion. Fortunately, so did Miles Cooperman. He generously gave the mold and reproduction rights to the NRHA.

“Cooperman was a patron of the arts,” Cridge said. “He really enjoyed doing things like that.”

Cridge did take Miss Coco Wimp to the show pen.

“I took her to the NRHA Futurity,” he said. “I bet that was in 1968 or 1969. Then we went right to the cutting futurity – and lost a cow.”
However, Miss Coco Wimp proved her ability and had a very successful AQHA career. She was purchased by the Ritter family, and Ken Ritter showed Miss Coco Wimp in AQHA Youth events and in 1970 was the AQHA High-Point Youth Reiner.

Dean Smith won the very first original bronze in 1969. When NRHA decided to expand and award the trophy to Open reining champions, Smith came back to Congress in 1970 and won the NRHA Open reining on his previous year’s Futurity Champion, Miss Sue Skip. The bronze also was awarded to the 1970 AQHA Honor Roll Reining Horse, Jay Sugar Bars, shown by NRHA Hall of Famer Bob Anthony for Carol Harris, Reddick, Fla.

The original bronze could only be won in classes held in conjunction with the NRHA Futurity until 1971, when the NRHA decided to make its special trophy available to show committees who put up at least $1,000 for an Open reining. Show management at the Orange County Fair, held annually in Middletown, N.Y., took them up on the offer.
That very first open bronze was won by NRHA Hall of Fame member and NRHA’s first Million Dollar Rider, Bill Horn, aboard Quicksill Command, owned by Chelsea Rodeffer. A few years back, Rodeffer donated that particular trophy to the NRHA for its Hall of Fame collection of memorabilia.
Dr. John Mehaffey was the first non-pro to win a bronze. He did that on Hickory Bomber in the NRHA Non-Pro reining held in conjunction with the 1972 NRHA Futurity, Sedalia, Mo. The NRHA Futurity was held in conjunction with Congress annually until 1986, when the event moved to its current home in Oklahoma City; 1972 was the only year the NRHA Futurity wasn’t held at Congress.

“It created a lot of excitement – more than we’ll ever know,” Cridge said. “When Jimmy Brown worked for Sycamore Farms in Nebraska, he trained everything and he had some reining horses. He won a bronze trophy – when I don’t know – but he called me up and said, ‘You know what? I’ve got you sitting on my TV. We call our trophy Eddie.’ Everybody wanted one.”

Cridge is still training reining horses and judging NRHA major events. And he did win an original bronze.

“I won a trophy in an Open reining in Library, Pa. I marked a 152 on my Ripper’s Casey,” he said.

People do tend to remember every detail of winning their first bronze.

Mehl Lawson bronze
Evolution of the bronze

Early in 1979, the NRHA decided it wanted a special bronze made specifically for the Futurity. The association commissioned artist Mehl Lawson, Bonita, Calif., for the task. Lawson is a horseman who had a hand in training such notables as Hobby Horse, Corona Cody and Expensive Hobby. He is also an accomplished artist, an elected member of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America. The sculpture he created for NRHA Futurity Champions reflects both his knowledge of the sport and his talent as a sculptor.

The first Lawson Futurity bronze was presented to the 1979 NRHA Futurity Champion Cassandra Cody, ridden by Bob Loomis for C.T. Fuller of Willow Brook Farms, Catasauqua, Pa. Cassandra Cody and Loomis also have the distinction of being on the cover of the very first NRHA Reiner magazine published in March 1980.

When NRHA wanted to update the original bronze trophy, then exclusively awarded to Open and Non-Pro class winners with the required added money, they again contacted Lawson. He created a totally new bronze trophy that more accurately reflected the reining horse’s signature maneuver, the sliding stop. The Lawson, as it is called, was first awarded in 1983. It is presented to winners of Open and Non-Pro classes with $2,000 or more in added money, among other qualifications.

“People asked me what I thought about [NRHA] making a new trophy,” Cridge said. “I told them we’re not going anywhere if we stay in one place.”

In 2004, when NRHA wanted to update its trophy, Lawson and C. R. Morrison were contacted. Morrison, who is also a renowned artist who just happens to ride and appreciate reining horses, created what reiners know today simply as the Morrison, first awarded in 1990. It is awarded in classes with $1,000 or more in added money, but not qualifying for the Lawson.

The updated Lawson has tremendous detail. The horse is supple and relaxed, yet the dirt is flying – a product of artists who obviously know the subject. A gold-tone version of this trophy is mounted and awarded to new Hall of Fame inductees.

The original bronze awarded to reiners from 1969 to 1982 evolved to what is known today simply as “The Lawson.” It doesn’t look anything like the original, but the magic is still there. Everybody wants one.

**Sources for this article include issues of the NRHA Reiner  going back to September/October 1980.