Twenty horses. Two sets. The National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Non-Pro finals, held Dec. 7 late in the evening, boasted some of the best talent in the industry, and in the end, it came down to Cade Shepard competing against himself for the Championship.
Cade had qualified two horses to the finals and had drawn the very first and very last positions in the draw. His first horse to the herd was Chexy Louella, a mare he tied for fifth with in the semifinals. His last to work was semifinals co-champion Barney Ross.
Cade and Chexy Louella (Im Countin Checks x Louellas Cat x High Brow Cat) marked a 222 to kick off the competition on a high note. The horseman from Summerdale, Alabama, said his game plan was to just have a clean run and do as well as he could.
“If the cows gave me an opportunity to show my horse, I was going to,” he said.
The mare performed well, demonstrating how hard she can stop and her cow sense.
“I’ve never made the Futurity [Non-Pro] finals here,” Cade said. “She’s probably the best mare I’ve ever had, definitely at the Futurity. She’s been a lot of fun this year watching Dad work her and letting me work her a little bit.”
After seeing his score, Cade had to wait for 18 more horses to go before his turn on Barney Ross. But, he was feeling optimistic.
“I felt pretty good, but I knew anything could happen,” he said. “I knew if somebody were to go ahead, I’d have my other horse. But I had a lot of fun in the first draw!”
Cade’s dad, Equi-Stat Elite $7 Million Rider Austin, was feeling the pressure, too. With several customers in the finals in addition to his son’s two horses, he stayed busy throughout the night.
“The cows were a little tough, but he did all he could do when he went, and that’s all you can really control,” Austin said. “I was super proud of all my other customers, too. I never thought I’d have five horses in the non-pro finals. That’s a great reward for a long year.”
By the time Cade walked back into the pen with Barney Ross (Bamacat x Haidandsmoke x Smart Smokin Pep), he knew that one way or the other, he would win the Futurity. He didn’t want to think about that too much, though; he still wanted to show his second horse.
Barney Ross didn’t have a great pick of the cattle, and the duo ended up tied for 12th with a 210. Still, as the Futurity Non-Pro Champion with Chexy Louella, Cade left the arena with a smile on his face.
“We just kind of ran out of cows,” Austin said. “If he had cut three cows like his second cow, he might have marked another 22 or 19 or whatever, but that’s just luck of the draw. We cut the cows we thought were good, and you just kind of do what you think is right. Sometimes you’re smart, and sometimes you’re not!”
Cade thanked his help — including Brett Davis and Sean Flynn — dad, mom, Lindy Burch, and his grandfather, Sam. Austin and Sam originally purchased Chexy Louella from Burch’s Oxbow Ranch during Session II of the 2016 NCHA Futurity Preferred Breeders Sale for $30,000, and Sam took over her training in 2017.
Sam got sick in the fall of 2017, and right before that year’s Futurity, Austin took the mare into his training program. When Sam came down to visit in the spring, he offered to trade his half of the mare for a High Brow Cat embryo out of Twistful Thinking — the mare Cade rode to Non-Pro championships at the 2015 NCHA Super Stakes and Summer Spectacular.
“He [Sam] said, ‘You can have her, but I’m going to get better and I’m going to show her at the Futurity,’” Austin related. “So he showed her at the Futurity and he had some tough luck, but for him to be able to come back and help Cade, it’s crazy. I can’t think of a better ending.
“We want to do so good for ourselves and our horses and our owners, but for your kid to go in there and do that, that’s better than doing good yourself,” Austin added. “I’m just proud of him. He gets up and works with me every day, and for him to do this, it’s a reward for hard work. That’s the only thing we can teach our kids.”
Lindy Ashlock and Very Reytro took home the Reserve Championship with their score of 218. The horse is by Dual Rey and out of Cat Mom Do (by High Brow Cat).