The National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Open finals are guaranteed to be a good show, but this year, the Reno, Nevada-based event brought even more to the table. With strong runs in the herd work and reining, it was truly anyone’s game going into the cow work, and Jake Telford and Starlight Kisses made their way to the winner’s circle.
Starlight Kisses and Telford marked a 216 in the herd work from the ninth draw out of the 25 Open finalists. The pressure was on in the rein work for Telford, who said that he feels that event requires him to really do his job well for his horse to succeed. But Telford and the mare drew first in the second set of the rein work, so fresh ground allowed the duo to showcase their talents, earning a 218.5.
When it came time for the fence work, Telford knew he needed to leave it all on the arena floor. Coming into the event with a 434.5 composite score, Starlight Kisses was 9 points behind leaders Stopacat (Dual Rey x RW Sallycat x High Brow Cat) and Todd Bergen, of Eagle Point, Oregon.
“The fence work is probably the easiest for me. I kind of pride myself on having good fence horses. I want to have that confidence that, if I need to mark up, then I can step up and call on my horse and do it,” Telford said. “From the time I started going down the fence [on Starlight Kisses], I knew she was a fence horse. Every time I’ve chased one down the fence, she’s given it 110 percent and she has a really cool style about it.”
Starlight Kisses carried Telford down the fence with ease, proving that her trainer’s confidence was not misplaced. The announcer called out a 221 for the score, which brought his total on three events to a 655.5. As Erin Taormino, the next rider to compete, trotted out on Plain Wright, she high-fived her fellow finalist as he exited the arena.
Taormino and Plain Wright called for their cow and laid down a smoking run, earning a 228 from the judges and bringing their composite to a 655.5, as well. While it looked like the Ashland, Kansas-based rider and her Gardiner Quarter Horses-bred and -owned gelding would edge out the competition (ties are broken on fence work scores), an adjustment during the drag took Starlight Kisses’ score up by a half-point.