horse and rider and cows
Crey Zee & Tatum Rice • Photo by Kristin Pitzer

Crey Zee Carries Rice to Winning NCHA Futurity Open Ride

Last year, Austin Shepard piloted Deluxe Checks to the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Open World title shortly before riding Dual Reyish to the Futurity Open Championship – a feat that had rarely been accomplished before. But Tatum Rice stepped up to the challenge, navigating Hashtags to the Open World title before arriving in the Futurity Open finals on Dec. 9.

In a mirror to Dec. 7th’s Non-Pro finals, Rice and Crey Zee had drawn up first and set the bar high with their score — a 222. Also like the Non-Pro finals, that first score held throughout the remainder of the class – all 21 entries. At the end of the night, Crey Zee and Rice were named the NCHA Futurity Open Champions, banking a check worth $183,074.

“I thought I had a shot at it, but I also thought there were four or five other really good horses that had a shot at it, too,” Rice said. “I wasn’t real impressed last night when I saw that I was first because it’s just not the best spot to be necessarily. You tend to prefer to be deeper in this pen, especially in the finals. After I went, a [2]22 doesn’t typically win the Futurity. It can, obviously it has before, but after I went I was thinking I might be second, third, fourth, something like that. But the cows dictate a lot.

“It’s pretty crazy — not something that happens very often, although it did happen last year, too,” Rice added of winning the two titles. “If you’re on the road as much as we have been and as much as Austin was last year, you’re dang sure pretty practiced up, so if you have a good horse, you’re pretty comfortable when you go down there with your cow picking and your composure and that sort of thing.”

The Weatherford, Texas-based trainer, who is a $2 million rider, had a plan for his ride with Crey Zee in the finals. After watching the cattle settle, he realized he was going to need patience and finesse to make his cuts.

“The cows have been pretty tough the last few days and were again tonight,” he said. “We were just trying to be as clean as we could and not disturb the cattle too much on the cuts because being first, you can sure get them a little too worked up. That mare’s just very fast and tried real hard. She was trying through the whole deal just like she does.

“It’s her speed and her cow,” he added of what made the mare so competitive. “She’s named appropriately. She is crazy. She’s wild. But she wants to be good, and she’s just incredibly fast and cowy and tries.”

By Dual Rey, “Reyn” is out of Eazee E, a High Brow Cat mare Rice trained and showed earlier in his career. His wife, Kylie, and trainer R.L. Chartier also put some rides in on the mare, who ended up with lifetime earnings of more than $212,000.

“She’s just like her mom, and I think her [Eazee E’s] mom was the same way from what I’ve understood,” Rice said. “She’s just quirky and scared of things. I can hardly get her back here behind these judges’ stands; she does not like seeing stuff up above her. She’s just wild and nervous, but sweet and nice to be around. Just looking all around, she sees everything, she hears everything, she’s just very aware of what all’s going on.”

Reyn and her dam are both owned by Rice’s in-laws, Kevin and Sydney Knight. The Knights were in attendance to cheer on their mare and slightly shocked when Reyn ended up the winner of the Futurity.

“I just felt really good about this horse and Tatum and Kylie, felt like we were going to have a good run,” Kevin said. “And we had a good run, and I’ll be danged if it didn’t hold up! We’re so thankful.”

On top of their Futurity win, the Knights and Rice were all pleased to see Eazee E kick off her dam record with such huge honors. The mare is out of Zee Dualy, a $1 million dam who also produced phenomenal gelding Smooth Asa Zee ($608,712).

“This horse [Reyn] is like ditto [to Eazee E], except has been a little easier to train,” Kevin added. “That might be that Tatum is just a little more used to this kind of horse too because he dealt with her mom. This horse came together a little quicker that ‘Zee,’ but they’re both lightning, lightning fast. Very athletic. Don’t let that little frail body of hers fool ya!”

As he drank champagne out of the champion’s cup, sat in his new recliner from Brumbaugh’s Fine Home Furnishings and surveyed his other prizes, the gravity of Rice’s newest title seemed to sink in. Surrounded by his family, including daughter Kennedy, the horseman was overcome with emotion.

“It’s a dream come true,” Rice said. “That’s what everybody works at and tries to do every year. It’s good to join that group that has won it. I’m probably most happy for my mare because her mom was such a good horse. Her mom should have won more than she did because I was not experienced enough at the time to do as well on her as she should have. That mare’s aged event career was not what it really should have been, so I’m happy for her to kind of get some redemption from that.”

“We’re just so happy for them, really,” Kevin added. “It’s more about them than us. We’re just grateful we could be here with them.”

“Tatum and Kylie work hard, and they work really well together as a team,” Sydney said with a smile.

Badboonarising and Adan Banuelos missed the Open Championship by one point. Their 221 settled for the Reserve Championship instead, which came with a $161,539 paycheck. Badboonarising (Once In A Blu Boon x Show Biz Kitty x High Brow Cat) is owned by Plantation Farms LLC.