horse and rider and cow
Bittersweet & Chad Bushaw • Photo by Hart Photos

Sweet Deal: Bittersweet Named NCHA Non-Pro Horse of the Year

Following a banner 2017 show pen debut when they won the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Non-Pro, Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider Chad Bushaw, of Weatherford, Texas, and his mare Bittersweet (Metallic Cat x Miss Sea Rey x Dual Rey), bred by Marilyn Jo Franz, and owned by Bushaw’s Crown Ranch LP, continued to set the world afire during the mare’s sophomore year — culminating their season with Bittersweet receiving the NCHA Non-Pro Horse of the Year award.

A two-time NCHA Futurity Non-Pro champion rider and NCHA Non-Pro Hall Fame inductee, Bushaw began the 2018 season the same as other years, without any particular goals in mind — but very much looking forward to training a new set of colts for him and his sons to enjoy, he said.

“Last year was just a special blessing in that she [Bittersweet] ended up being such a wonderful mare. It just all kind of fell in place!” he said.

Bittersweet earned 360 Horse of the Year points during the season — 124 more than second-place finisher Carolena Reyn (Dual Smart Rey x Carolena Moon x Peptoboonsmal), a 2014 mare bred and owned by Matt and Megan Miller, of Poolville, Texas, and shown by the couple in both Open and Non-Pro competition.

Bittersweet’s show career got off to an undeniably great start, and she added to it in 2018 with major limited-age event wins in the NCHA Super Stakes Non-Pro in March and the Breeder’s Invitational Derby Non-Pro in May. As a testament to Bittersweet’s honesty and good disposition, the mare also carried Bushaw’s oldest son, Charles Russell, to a title in the West Texas Futurity’s Derby Amateur finals.

Bushaw, a successful financial consultant, said he felt “pretty stupid” for about six months after he purchased Bittersweet, then-named Metallic Sea Rey. He had sold a yearling filly he’d raised — Summer Shandy — at the 2015 NCHA Futurity Sales for $35,000, then used that money toward the purchase of Bittersweet. When Summer Shandy resold at age 2 for $375,000, Bushaw couldn’t help but wonder if he had made a mistake selling her.

“But,” Bushaw explained, “once Bittersweet started coming into her own, I began feeling fairly confident that I had a really special horse.”

The very first time he laid eyes on Bittersweet, Bushaw said the mare just had “that look,” a real presence about her. She was strong physically, well balanced and had a bright, intelligent eye on her.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, I need to try and buy this mare, if I can,’” he said.

Among Bittersweet’s best qualities, Bushaw said, are her big heart and her integrity.

“Those are two things you can’t train, you can’t force, you can’t beg, you can’t wish and you can’t pray for,”he said. “Special horses have those qualities and there is nothing I, or anyone else, can do to change or influence that.

“She’s very gifted — coupled with being a very powerful, athletic animal with a lot of gears and a lot of ability to draw [cows] and to stop hard.”

There are not a lot of horses that share that heart, integrity, desire, innate cow sense and physical ability, Bushaw noted.

“As cutters, every once in awhile, if we are lucky, we come across that special horse that has ‘all three legs on the stool.’ I’m very fortunate and blessed to have her, have her wear my brand and have her be part of my family’s life.”

A person might assume Bittersweet will be at Crown Ranch for life, but will she? Bushaw said he has sold every show horse he’s owned in his life except Jerryoes, a 1998 gelding who carried Bushaw to his first NCHA Futurity Non-Pro victory in 2001.

“Basically, out of all my show horses, he’s the only horse that I’ve ever kept,” Bushaw said. “Now, Bittersweet is probably going to be my second one — that’s my plan, anyway!”

Bittersweet is Miss Sea Rey’s leading performer with earnings of $168,989. Miss Sea Rey, whose Equi-Stat record totals $31,890, has produced eight money-earners who have won $336,632 for an average of $42,079.

Bushaw was anxiously awaiting Bittersweet’s four 2019 foals, with the first ones due in January. Two of the foals were sired by 2017 NCHA Futurity Open Champion Hottish, one is by Woody Be Tuff and the fourth is by 2006 NCHA Super Stakes Open Champion Dual Smart Rey.

“I’m looking forward to breeding her some this year, too, and also showing and sharing her with my boys. I’m a little undecided as to what I might breed her to. I’m a big believer in trying different crosses in those early years to try and figure out what works. So, I’ll probably experiment with a few different horses and see if we can’t get lucky again.”

Bushaw and his wife, Amie, have three sons, all of whom enjoy and share their father’s passion for cutting and cutting horses. The oldest, 14-year-old Charles Russell, won the 2018 NCHA Futurity Limited Non-Pro; the second, 12-year-old Will James, qualified for the 2018 NCHA Futurity Unlimited Amateur and Amateur finals; and the youngest, 7-year-old Wesley Jensen, is very interested in cutting and has competed more than a dozen times.

Quick to give credit where credit is due, Bushaw said Amie is also a very important part in everything they do. “Probably, the most important part,” he added.