The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Non-Pro finals began Friday morning, Nov. 30, with section one. In section two, held later in the afternoon, 33 of the top competitors rode into the arena aboard the hottest futurity prospects in the industry.
When Tish Fappani and Icecube came sliding into the Jim Norick Arena as the second-to-last draw, Fappani’s show vest glittered beneath the bright lights, and their maneuvers dazzled the crowd and judges alike.
As the stallion son of freshman sire SG Frozen Enterprise and Fappani finished their pattern, the scoreboard overhead announced they had matched the previous tie between Samantha Smith, riding Neverthoughtiwould, and Madison Steed, aboard Into the Nite, with their own 222.5.
The roar of the crowd nearly drowned the announcer’s voice informing the top three competitors to prepare their mounts for a run-off. The crowd was privy to another thrilling display of horsemanship, after which Fappani and Icecube marked a 223.5 to claim the Level 4 Non-Pro Championship and a check for $45,117.
“It was so good! I was nervous,” said a breathless Fappani about her thrilling run-off for the title. “It was just tight because we were so late in the draw, so I didn’t really have time for him to air up. I felt bad for him because he didn’t really have the time to catch his air.”
The 3-year-old stallion must have had ice in his veins to return to the finals arena for the second time in about thirty minutes and mark an even higher score.
“He’s just a special horse; he’s a big, strong horse,” said Fappani, who had $543,893 in lifetime earnings prior to the finals.
“He’s really good-minded. He hung with me both times. I never felt like he got away from me,” she added of the stallion, who is out of the Mr Boomerjac mare Taris Designer Genes. “In the first run I had some rider errors myself, so he was great. I just needed to come back in and be clean.”
Icecube, who took Reserve at the High Roller Reining Classic Futurity and the Best of the West Futurity earlier this year, came into the finals with $8,105 to his name. Bred by Rancho Oso Rio LLC, the Fappani-owned horse is a “big turner and is getting stronger in his stops,” according to Fappani, who was the 2015 NRHA Futurity Level 4 Non-Pro Champion as well.
“He’s a blast to run circles on, too, because he just kinds of hunkers down. It’s fun. He’s a neat horse!” she added.
When Icecube is at home, he bears little resemblance to the fierce competitor the crowd witnessed in the finals. “He’s always half-asleep and he walks really slow,” Fappani said with a laugh. “He’s just a really chill horse.”
Icecube has a well-deserved rest to look forward to after the Futurity. Fappani anticipates returning to the ring with her stallion in his 4-year-old season.
Futurity Level 3 Non-Pro
A 222.5 secured Samantha Smith and her 3-year-old Neverthoughtiwould a three-way tie with Fappani and Madison Steed riding Into The Night. After marking a 218 during the run-off, Smith and her gelding secured the Futurity Level 3 Non-Pro Championship, as well as the Level 4 Non-Pro Reserve title
“I feel really good. If someone would have told me two weeks ago that I would be where I’m at right now, I would have said no way!” said Smith, of Edmond, Oklahoma. “I had to take about a five-year break where I wasn’t able to ride because of injuries and stuff, and I’m back and feeling better than ever. And to be back here is absolutely priceless. I’m very fortunate!”
Smith’s favorite quality of the Pale Face Dunnit gelding, who is out of the Shining Spark mare Shine Tini, is his mind.
“He’s a cute little white horse! The crowd was on his side tonight, but his mind is what makes him so ready. He’s always messing around on the ground, but you know when you get on him, it’s business,” Smith said. “He’ll go as easy or as hard as you want. He’s just the same horse every day.”
While Neverthoughtiwould, who was bred by Hickory Creek Ranch, has a good mind, Smith believed the skills he displayed in Pattern 12 – especially his circles – set him apart from the rest.
“He loves to come back and he’s so good at changing leads,” Smith added. “I can trust him, and to be able to trust a 3-year-old like I trust him is pretty rare.”
The Martin Larcombe-trained horse, who is owned by Lance Griffin, of Edmond, Oklahoma, came into the finals with $4,967 under his belt.
“I was just ecstatic to make the finals! It’s been so many years since I’ve made the finals. I knew there was a big mark already on the board when I showed tonight, and I just wanted to go out and be good – to have fun on my horse – and it worked!” said a thrilled Smith after the rose garland was draped over her mount.
Neverthoughtiwould is getting his shoes taken off and heading home with Smith, where he will be turned out with another gelding for some R&R after his successful futurity season.
“Its going to be like Silly 1 and Silly 2 at home with them, but he’ll get a couple months off and then he’ll go back [to training] in the spring,” said Smith, who mentioned she and Neverthoughtiwould will be at the National Reining Breeder’s Classic and the NRHA Derby for Neverthoughtiwould’s 4-year-old year.
Futurity Level 2 Non-Pro
The crowd was lively as Madison Steed and Turnabout Farm-bred Into The Nite hit maneuver after maneuver from draw 27 in section two, and the judges seemed to agree with their enthusiasm. The duo were scored a 222.5 and had a little time to catch their breath before returning to the arena to participate in the three-person runoff.
At that point, Steed, the only Level 2 person in the runoff, had already secured that level’s title. As they entered the arena for the second time that evening, she decided she had to give it all she had.
“There was literally no prep because it was mainly walk and give him water and let him cool down a little bit,” Steed explained. “In my first go, I was a little bit nervous and kind of ahead of him a little bit. I hit a little bit of bad ground on the run-in, so I just wanted to get a little better ground for him and just work on a few little things on my showmanship aspect of it, but nothing really big to change. It’s the finals; you only have kind of one option, and that’s to go for it!”
The duo was performing a strong pattern, but as Into The Nite came around the corner to run down to his second stop, he kicked out. After the judges reviewed the video, the run was scored a 187.5, but Steed was still grinning ear to ear.
“You can’t be mad at that point,” she said. “He’s tired, it’s been a long week, it’s hard. They’re babies, they’re learning – I’m learning. It is what it is, and I’m thankful I have him and I was able to even be in the finals run-off. So I’m really happy with him, I couldn’t be happier.”
For winning Level 2, taking Reserve in Level 3 and tying for Reserve in Level 4, Steed and her stallion secured a $63,776 check. Into The Nite (Gunners Special Nite x Chexy Dun It x Hollywood Dun It), who had $9,444 on his record from winning the Tulsa Reining Classic Futurity Levels 4, 3 and 2 Non-Pro and competing at the Southwest Reining Horse Association Futurity, now boasts more than $73,000. Steed doubled her own lifetime earnings and now stands at $124,319.
The student at SMU in Dallas thanked trainer Yonathan Baruch and all of his assistants for all of their training and help with Into The Nite. Since Steed is on the SMU equestrian team, she has to depend on them to help ride the stallion, although she goes to visit as often as she can.
“Kudos to John. He’s been my biggest fan and my biggest supporter throughout this whole entire process and the futurity season,” she said. “He does a great job of getting one broke to its ability and knowing the capabilities of that horse and not pushing it beyond that. Kudos to him and all of his assistants, and everyone in the barn.
“I’m just so thankful for him [Into The Nite] and for the journey that we’ve had,” she added of the horse that was purchased from the 2016 Legacy Reining Breeders Sale. “I’ve had him since he’s been a yearling, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of the process and learning as much as I can from him. He goes out and tries his heart out every time, stops big. He’s going to have a long show career with me, so I’m very happy for him and with him.”
Futurity Level 1 & Youth Non-Pro
When Samuel Flarida flew into the arena and slid to a stop with a fanfare of dirt following the hooves of Hollywooddirtysecret, the judges and the crowd sat up to take notice.
The young professional piloted the Hollywoodstinseltown gelding to a 220 from the 15th draw amidst a stiff field of competition from his elders and peers – a score which would secure him the NRHA Futurity Level 1 and Youth Non-Pro titles.
The duo, who also placed fifth in Level 4, third in Level 3 and Reserve in Level 2, went home with combined earnings of $58,710 to add to the lifetime earnings of $35,959 Flarida had prior to the Futurity.
“I don’t know what to think, I’m just really happy. I made everyone really proud. This horse is just awesome. He’s been the best for me all year!” said Flarida as the gelding, who is out of Maximum RPM (by Einsteins Revolution), craned his neck to pull the rose garland from around his shoulders, yet again.
“I didn’t really have a plan, just try to have fun and lay it out,” added Flarida, who was a member of the Platinum Performance U.S. Junior Team for the 2017 SVAG Fédération Equestre Internationale World Reining Championships in Switzerland at 14 years of age. “Try to not have penalties and see what he had. He was really good!”
The gelding, who was bred by Patricia Duque, of Lafayette, California, has an impressive stop according to Flarida. Even though he’s ridden the 3-year-old for the last two years, his mount surprised him during the finals.
“He can really stop good, but tonight his best thing was his turn. He plus-oned on his turnaround! Last night I didn’t think I could have a zero turn on him, and he came in and turned a plus-one. It was really cool!” Flarida said, beaming with quiet enthusiasm.
The gelding, who is owned by Flarida’s father, $6 Million Rider Shawn Flarida, is affectionately known as “Big Mac” thanks to his appetite. Big Mac came into the finals with $21,749 in prior earnings, part of which was acquired by his Levels 3 and 2 Reserve titles in the All American Quarter Horse Congress Futurity earlier this year.
“He’s kind of really goofy, he loves to eat and he does goofy stuff,” Flarida explained of the horse his family raised. “He’ll get worked hard and then when we walk back up to the barn, he’ll be jumping around everywhere.”
The duo plans to get some rest before entering Big Mac’s 4-year-old season.
“Hopefully we will be at the NRBC unless my dad takes him,” said Flarida with a smile.
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