Victories such as this win with Deluxe Checks in the $25,000-added Open weekend class at the West Texas Futurity pushed Austin Shepard over the $7 million mark. • Photo by Suzanne Sylvester

Shepard Passes $7 Million Milestone

Austin Shepard, of Summerdale, Alabama, passed a major earnings milestone at the West Texas Futurity, held Aug. 12-20 in Amarillo, Texas. He joined Equi-Stat Elite $9 Million Rider Phil Rapp and two $8 million riders – Matt Gaines and Lloyd Cox – as the only riders to earn more than $7 million in the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA).

“I never would have thought that would’ve ever happened, but probably the neatest thing about it – [$7 million is] just a number – but the company you’re in, the other three guys that are at that point,” Shepard said. “That’s really neat.”

Shepard entered the West Texas Futurity with $6,972,520.21 in earnings – less than $30,000 short of the mark. He finished well over the milestone thanks to performances such as Deluxe Checks’ win in the $25,000-added Open weekend class and Bet Hesa Babe’s third-place finish in the West Texas Futurity Open. Shepard’s lifetime earnings record after the West Texas Futurity was around $7,020,154 (unofficially).

That’s not bad for someone whose initial goal as an open rider was to win $10,000 in one year. That’s the mark Shepard said he set for himself when he began riding in Open competition 20 years ago.

“That’s what I wanted to win,” Shepard said this week during a break at a weekend show in Batesville, Mississippi. “I mean, [I was] a guy that was just getting to show in jackpot Novice classes at the weekend shows, and I wanted to win $10,000.”

He surpassed that goal as the wins – and career earnings – began to pile up.

Shepard, who recorded his first paycheck of $50 in 1985 aboard John Gun in Youth competition, cracked $100,000 in a season in 2001. He passed $300,000 in 2004 and racked up more than $500,000 in 2005. His most lucrative season to date was 2007, when he won more than $1 million and topped the NCHA Futurity Open with eventual NCHA Horse of the Year High Brow CD. Like Shepard, the horse is a member of the NCHA Hall of Fame.

Shepard has already won more than $200,000 so far this year, highlighted by the NCHA Summer Spectacular Derby Open Championship with Lew Hall’s Sir Long Legs (High Brow Cat x Lil Lena Long Legs x Smart Little Lena). He’s currently leading the NCHA Open World standings aboard Amanda Standish’s mare Deluxe Checks (Im Countin Checks x Catrina Starlight x High Brow Cat).

Shepard credited his success to his support system, including his family and the team behind his cutting horse operation.

“It takes a lot of good horses and a lot of great owners,” he said. “It takes persistence.”