It’s hard enough preparing one horse for the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity Open finals, held Oct. 20 in the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. Corey Cushing, therefore, had his work cut out for him with four finalists to ride.
Though at the end of the day his legs were “about to give out,” that hard work paid off when he rode SJR Diamond Mist to the Championship and banked $125,000, plus a $25,000 bonus incentive for riding the highest-placing CD Diamond offspring.
“It’s amazing,” Cushing said. “September 30, just before I went to leave, [my wife] Kristen goes, ‘I know this is going to be a good year for us – you always have good luck on even years.’ She was right. I just couldn’t be more proud of my horses and how this week turned out.”
SJR Diamond Mist’s owners and breeders, John and Brenda Stephenson of San Juan Ranch, were equally ecstatic about the victory.
“We’re just in shock! I’m pretty excited!” Brenda said. “This is our third Futurity champion. The first one was Stylish Little Oak with Tucker Robinson, and Corey has won the last two, first on CD Diamond, and now CD Diamond’s son. So we’re very excited! We love the sport, we love being in Fort Worth. We had a great show.”
SJR Diamond Mist, or “Punk,” started out the finals in the herd work, where he and Cushing marked a 213. Though the score wasn’t what Cushing wanted it to be, it gave them a solid cushion moving into the next phase of competition.
“He didn’t do anything bad, I just cut him too soft of cows,” Cushing said. “I didn’t think they were going to be as soft as they were, but I would rather cut a softer, slower cow than some crazy, tail-over-his-back, wild thing.
“I can’t thank my guys that helped me enough – Phillip Ralls, Kelby Phillips, Brad Barkemeyer and Shadd Parkinson. Those guys are fantastic. They’re always on my team and it’s only their best intentions to help me get through the run the best that I can.”
They may have started off on a low note, but their total performance was only building to a crescendo. The duo’s 223 won the rein work and launched them up the standings. Though they’ve had their share of difficulties in the reining throughout futurity season, everything came together in Fort Worth.
“When I took him to Vegas for the pre-futurity, he slid a little bit behind when I went to sit and ask him to slow down [in my left circles]. That cost us a big penalty there. And then in the go-round here during my right circles, I came around there and went to slow down, and he kind of slipped out of lead. It wasn’t so much that he was thinking poorly, he just maybe got off balance.
“Today going into it, I just wanted to get through it as clean as I can. I didn’t want anything bad to happen and just let them [the judges] mark it what they want to mark it,” Cushing added. “He kind of got to looking around a little bit with the crowd and all the energy in the air out here but felt great as a whole.”
That energy from the crowd amped up to a new level during the fence work. The scores were held, but as riders turned in beautiful run after beautiful run, the anticipation was thick in the air.
When the judges called for a new cow during the pair’s fence work, Cushing elected to stick with it, bringing those not already standing racing to their feet.
“We had seen what was happening. The cattle were extremely tough, and it was a drawing contest for the most part. Luke Jones, for instance – four new cows, and needed to be new cows, but his horse has still got to go over there and work. I had seen it with a couple other horses, and I felt it with a couple of mine. Even though I didn’t get new cows, I could just feel that they [the horses] were tired,” Cushing said. “This horse felt right on target. It may have been challenging, but I knew that he could hang with it.
“When they blew the new cow whistle, I felt like I was in good control. I felt like I could hang with it, and so I went on with it. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before, and I’m glad tonight was the night, I guess. We went on with it and knock on wood, it worked.”
Their 222.5 raised their composite score to a 658.5, giving them the title by 2 points. It was the third time for Cushing, a recently crowned $2 million rider, to win the Futurity. The horseman also placed third with Hott Rod, owned by Lynne Wurzer; 13th with Jeremy Barwick’s One Shiney Metallic; and 17th with Metallic River, owned by Sheri Jamieson.
By CD Diamond, who won the Snaffle Bit Futurity in 2012, Punk is out of Cat Mist (by High Brow Cat), who won more than $70,000 during her own career in the cutting pen. Punk is a half-brother to 15 money-earners, most of which are cutters, including $100,000-plus earners ARC Catty Dual (by Dual Pep), One Red Mist (by One Time Pepto) and ARC Purr D Boons Mal (by Peptoboonsmal).
Cushing wasn’t sure what the future held for Punk after the Futurity, but some downtime was in order for the stallion when he returned home. As for Cushing, who was surrounded by his family after his win, the moment couldn’t last long enough.
“I can’t thank my awesome wife enough. She’s my rock, and we feed off each other. She’s fantastic,” Cushing said. “Also all my sponsors, my customers that let me do exactly what I’ve dreamed of doing ever since I was a little kid – there’s so many people to thank. The people at home cheering for me, and the texts I’ve been getting all day…it’s the greatest feeling in the world. And for all four horses to show extremely well not only the past two days but past two weeks, I’m proud of all of them, and I’m proud of all the other horses that I brought with me.”
Eric Freitas’ Scooter Cat and Justin Wright took the Open Reserve Championship with a 656.6 composite score (218 herd/218.5 rein/220 cow). The horse is by Kit Kat Sugar and out of Scooters Daisy Dukes (by Dual Smart Rey) and banked $87,000.
Posting the second-highest cow work score of the evening helped boost SDP Hy Rey Bound and Clay Volmer to the Intermediate Open title with a 660 composite. They garnered $30,000 for the win.
“I’m super happy for the horse. I feel like this horse is probably one of the most all-around horses I’ve ever had,” Volmer said after his win. “I thought this horse was exceptional in the whole show. I was very happy with him.”
Owned and bred by Shane Plummer’s SDP Buffalo Ranch, “Brute” marked a 216 in the herd work, a disappointing score for Volmer, who started off his own career in the cutting pen.
“That’s what kept us out of being in the Open [finals], which is funny since I’m the cutter,” Volmer said with a chuckle.
The duo picked up speed in the reining, where they scored a 218. Volmer said the horse loves to run and stop, and never misses his stops.
Down the fence, Volmer said Brute goes “just as fast as any cow could possibly go.” The stallion demonstrated that trait, successfully battling a tough cow to the tune of a 226 from the judges.
“In the fence work you don’t really have a plan – you can’t have a plan – so I just try to make a left turn and a right turn and circle both ways as fast as you can do it,” Volmer said.
The crowd loved the pair’s fence run, and Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider Chris Dawson agreed.
“I’m super proud of him. That was badass! Runs don’t come any better than that; it was textbook,” Dawson said.
By TR Dual Rey, Brute is out of the Hydrive Cat mare SDP Hydriven Hicapoo, a cutting mare that won $137,783 in own career, including the 2014 Abilene Spectacular Non-Pro Championship and the 2015 National Cutting Horse Association Summer Spectacular Amateur Championship. Brute is his dam’s only money-earner so far.
Volmer, whose reined cow horse earnings surpassed his cutting earnings with this win, expected to show the stallion at the derbies next year.
“I have to give credit to Paul Hansma and the Buffalo Ranch,” Volmer added. “They called me last year after the Snaffle Bit [Futurity], and Paul told me, ‘Hey, I think I have one for you.’ I went and picked him up, and the rest is history!”
Dirt and hooves were flying, and the crowd roared with approval as Jordan Williams went down the fence aboard Angel In Blue Jeanz. Though the scores were held, the duo’s 217.5 would eventually bring them back into the Coliseum to receive a check for $15,745 and the title of Limited Open Champions.
With a 652 composite score, Williams and the Metallic Cat mare would also claim the Reserve title in the Intermediate Open, adding another $20,000 to their earnings. The pair finished second in the Intermediate Open herd work with a 216, and took third in the Intermediate Open rein work with a 218.5.
“I was super excited. To even make the finals was, honestly, the greatest feeling ever,” said Williams, of Rhome, Texas. “I thought, ‘If I can make the finals, then everything else will work out,’ and sure enough! I just prayed. I thought wherever I should be, I would end up, and it really worked out great!”
With the Coliseum humming with anticipation on Saturday night, Williams wasn’t immune to the pressure of competing in his first Snaffle Bit Futurity finals.
“I’ve never made the Open finals before. You try to ignore the other competition, but you can’t help but watch and then you get nervous. But I was very, very happy with my horse,” Willaims said of the 2015 mare, owned by Wes and Sarah Williams and out of the Smart Little Lena mare Heavens Little Angel. “She performed outstanding, thank goodness! I don’t even really remember the run all that much. It was a lot of fun though, it sure was!”
“Jean” was purchased from Kathleen Moore, of Madill, Oklahoma, as a yearling and has been “a great horse from the very beginning,” according to Williams. In an arena full of the best trainers and equine athletes in the industry, to rise to the top in a cloud of dust is no small feat.
“She’s great in all three [events]. She’s taught me a whole lot,” explained Williams, who has trained the mare from start to finish. “She just carries me through them all, I love this horse!
“She’s quirky as all get out; she’s goofy,” Williams added, saying he believes Jean’s personality is her best quality. “You can’t hardly get on her. You have to get on her on the run, cause she’s just craving something all the time. She runs pretty hot, but in a good way. She’s not ill-tempered, but she’s just kind of go-y. She’s always there for me. She’s really proved to be a good show horse.”
The Limited Open Reserve title went to Clayton Anderson and Rooster Cogboon, who put in a thrilling run down the fence to garner a 641.5 composite score (213 herd/ 213 rein/ 215.5 cow) and a check for $12,596. Rooster Cogboon is by Once In A Blu Boon and out of Roosters Lucy (by Gallo Del Cielo [Rooster]) and owned by Troop Quarter horses, of Marietta, Oklahoma.