horse and rider and cow
Hope Miller & Seven S Prettysmart • Photo by Katie Marchetti

Ladies Lead NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Non-Pro

The second time was the charm for Hope Miller, of Brush Prairie, Washington, who came into the Will Rogers Coliseum on Oct. 19 for her second National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity ever to take home the Non-Pro Championship aboard the Dual Smart Rey mare Seven S Prettysmart.

“She’s a super good mare,” said Miller after the duo marked a composite 641.5 (214 herd/213.5 rein/214 cow), adding $21,856 to their lifetime earnings.

“My mare is super good at the herd, and that is probably my least strong event. I just try to stay out of her way and let her work,” said Miller of the mare, who is out of Lena Pretty Playboy (by Freckles Playboy). “She was really good. We really didn’t have much power from our cows – it was nothing like what I was hoping. I was hoping we would be able to show off what she likes to do, but she didn’t get to. But it got us to where we needed to be!”

While the fact that “Bird” seemed to notice the crowd during the reining competition made Miller “a little nervous,” the mare came into the arena ready to work.

“All in all, it ended well. Then in our fence run, we had a little issue on our second turn – I caught some air, but she kept working and was completely good about it,” Miller said. “She didn’t know if I was up there or not, but she was going to finish it, so that is good.”

The little issue may have had something to do with the fact that Miller was competing on a broken tailbone, a mishap from her last show. Although she was encouraged to scratch her entry, Miller couldn’t bear to see her hard work go to waste. Since she could bear the pain, she climbed in the saddle anyway.

“I was like, you know what, I don’t care – I’ve worked so hard to get here this year, I’m going for it!” Miller said, acknowledging her condition was part of the reason she was unseated during her fence run. “The reining stops, the fence turns, I was like, really…ow! I told my dad I’m happy we didn’t scratch, but it’s a good thing I’m having some time off because I won’t be able to sit down for a while!”

While arriving in the winner’s circle didn’t come without its challenges this year, Miller did what the best competitors in the industry do – she applied what she learned from the year before, and her adjustments paid off.

“Last year I lost a cow in the herd work and I went out there and I tried to over show my horse in the reining, and it didn’t work out,” Miller admitted. “So this year I just kind of went out there and I let her work, just let it be what it was going to be, and never really forced anything. It was good enough for me!”

Bird, who was named the Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association Pre-Futurity Non-Pro Reserve Champion in August, was purchased from the Stuart Ranch in Waurika, Oklahoma, and according to Miller she is “just a great ranch horse.”

“My favorite quality about her is that she just works and she loves to work. She gives 112 percent every time, even when she’s tired,” Miller said. “She’s tired and has a little cold, and it did not stop her today. She was going to go for it no matter what!”

The no-matter-what mentality Miller and Bird share has earned the pair a break to rest and recuperate as Miller undergoes surgery. They plan to be back in action in time to compete at the NRCHA Derby.

The Non-Pro Reserve Championship went to J.J. Fisher and his 2015 gelding Hes A Little Smart (Sophisticated Catt x Shes A Little Smart x Somebody Smart), who was bred by Donald Shepherd, of Paicines, California. They earned a 633 composite score (207 herd/210.5 rein/215.5 cow) and a $16,392 paycheck.

Intermediate Non-Pro

horse and rider and cow
Carmen Buckingham & Cat At Heart • Photo by Kristin Pitzer

Carmen Buckingham entered the arena as the last to work in the Non-Pro finals cow work. With a 195 in the herd work weighing her score down, she knew she would have to put in a big effort to be in the top placings in the Intermediate division.

After a long stream of riders were pushed around by some tough cattle, Buckingham and Cat At Heart duked it out with their cow and turned in a 222.5 fence run. That score, along with a 211 in the reining, boosted their composite up to a 628.5, giving them the title by a 1.5 point berth. The collected $8,014.

“It was kind of a come-from-behind victory,” Buckingham said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Making the moment even more magical is the fact that it was Buckingham’s first time to show in Fort Worth. Though she had been to the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity several times when the show was held in Reno, Nevada, and made the finals, this was her first time to be in the spotlight.

“It was always really exciting, just drove me to keep wanting to come and do it,” she added.

The horsewoman, who is from Bruneau, Idaho, has ridden all her life and owns a ranch, where she enjoys roping. She plans to eventually make “Fox” an all-around using horse, something she said will be easy thanks to his reined cow horse training.

“It just makes the horses so broke,” she said. “When you’re finished with one of these 3-year-olds after the show, you have a really nice, broke horse. Even if you don’t win anything, you just come out of here with a really well-broke horse to do anything on.”

She described her gelding (by Heart Of A Fox), who was bred by Sprig Haven Farms, as friendly and easy to catch in the pasture. Out of Pearlescent Cat (by Cats Merada), a cutting money-earner, Fox is a half-brother to Im Countin Pearls (by Im Countin Checks).

Though he was tired heading into the finals, Fox still put his heart into his performance.

“It’s hard to measure how much to prepare him because you don’t want him to be too tired, but you want him to be all business,” Buckingham said with a laugh. “We got it right this time!”

A 627 composite score gave Robert Miller, of Big Piney, Wyoming, and Saturdaynightfever67 the Intermediate Non-Pro Reserve Championship. The duo scored a 209 in the herd work, a 213.5 in the rein work and a 204.5 down the fence and banked $6,411. Saturdaynightfever67 is a homebred stallion by Playboys Buck Fever and out of the A Streak Of Fling mare Streak Of Flick.

Novice Non-Pro

horse and rider and cow
Debbie Crafton & Shiney Lil Belles • Photo by Kristin PItzer

It was a 625.5 composite score that would secure Debbie Crafton the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Novice Non-Pro title aboard her Shining Lil Nic stallion Shiney Lil Belles.

“Oh, I’m excited! I’m a little overwhelmed and just really excited!” Crafton, of Ordway, Colorado, said after earning a 207 in the herd work, a 216 in the rein work and a 202.5 down the fence. “Luke Jones trained him and did a phenomenal job. I love this horse.”

The 2015 stallion out of the Dual Rey mare Dual Reys Belle had $2,233 in earnings prior to the Snaffle Bit Futurity. The Novice Non-Pro title earned the duo $3,086. A third place in the Intermediate Non-Pro added another $5,209, and Shiney Lil Belles also brought home an additional $10,928 for a fourth-place finish in the Non-Pro.

“The reining is probably his best event, but he’s real strong down the fence, too. He maybe needs a different rider on him down the fence; he’s a lot to ride,” Crafton said with a laugh. 

Crafton, who purchased the striking buckskin roughly five months ago from Jones, described the stallion as “very simple and just a good team player.”

“As far as the performance, he can really stop and turn around. I love that about him, and he’s absolutely gorgeous to look at! He’s fun to have standing in the barn,” she said of Shiney Lil Belles, who was bred by David Pratt, of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

Shiney Lil Belles was also awarded for being the high-scoring Non-Pro horse in the prelims.

“He is a happy-go-lucky kind of a character. He kind of likes to screw off a little bit,” Crafton said as the stallion reached around to nibble her boot. “He’s just always happy, very, very pleasant all the time. I’m really, really thankful to own him.”

The duo has plans to attend the NRCHA Derby next year, but in the meantime, the buckskin has a vacation to look forward to before getting ready for next year’s show season.

The Reserve title went to Kasen York and Dual Smart Samurai (Dual Smart Rey x This Cats Smilen x WR This Cats Smart), who was bred by John Bishop, of Paicines, California, and is owned by Thad and Kristen York, of Saratoga, Wyoming. The pair marked a 624.5 composite (190.0 herd/217.0 rein /217.5 cow) to win a check for $2,468 in the Novice Non-Pro, as well as $4,408 for a fourth-place finish in the Intermediate Non-Pro.