A sold-out, standing room-only crowd packed the John Justin Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 20, for the finals of the World’s Greatest Horseman, presented by DT Horses. In the end, it was Skeets Oak Peppy and Clayton Edsall who claimed the Championship.
The World’s Greatest Horseman title, with its $25,000 paycheck, is a showcase for the elite all-around equine athlete and multi-tasking rider. Competitors are judged in four events – herd work, rein work, steer-stopping and fence work. The caliber of competition among the 10 finalists is often described as unmatched anywhere in the Western performance horse industry.
Edsall, of Oakdale, California, and his gelding Skeets Oak Peppy (Skeets Peppy x Oak Ill Be x Ill Be Smart) won the overall event with a combined score of 883 (221 herd/219 rein/218 steer/225 fence).
Going into the fence work, Edsall and “Sly” were in third place, trailing leaders Todd Bergen and Smart Luck by 8 points. Working second in the draw, Edsall scored a big 225 down the fence – the second-highest score of the round – but then he had to anxiously wait to find out whether his composite would endure to win the Championship.
“I knew I was going to have to go with as much cow as I could handle down the fence, or else those guys were going to catch me, and you saw them. They almost did. They gave me a new cow, and the second cow worked out real well. Everybody here does such a good job. I tried to do the best I could, and let it fall where it may,” Edsall said, adding that it was “pretty neat” to win on a gelding with whom he’s had such a long history.
“He was one of my earlier horses to train and he’s such a great athlete. I’ve won a lot of money on him, but I haven’t won any big titles on him. I always felt like he deserved it.”
Edsall edged out his nearest competitors by merely 1 point, finishing over Phillip Ralls and riding Dom Dualuise (Dual Rey x Smart Little Xx x Smart Little Lena) for owner Chris Larson. It was the second consecutive year for Ralls and the gelding to be Reserve in the World’s Greatest Horseman.
Bergen and Smart Luck, the overall leaders going into the cow work, mounted a serious challenge and appeared on track to win the championship, but ran into misfortune down the fence. The 2006 stallion slipped coming out of a turn, nearly falling down. By the time he regained his feet, he had lost control of the cow for a disappointing 197 score. The pair finished in sixth place.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow, but you know what, it happened because he’s trying so hard. I can’t take anything away from him. You hate for it to happen, but he’s a great horse. I don’t think I’ll ever have another one like him,” said Bergen, an NRCHA Two Million Dollar Rider. “There’s nothing like this event. It’s the elite, it’s physical, it’s tough, it’s hard. You name it – it’s got all the ingredients. To get a horse you feel like you can be competitive with here, is a special horse.”
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