horse-rider
Austin Shepard is now an $8 million rider thanks to performances like the 2017 NCHA Futurity, where he rode Dual Reyish to the Open Championship. • Photo by Kristin Pitzer

Austin Shepard Climbs to $8 Million Rider Status

Thanks especially to his success over the last two years, including the 2017 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Summer Spectacular Open Championship, 2017 NCHA Futurity Open Championship, 2017 NCHA Open World Championship and 2018 Breeder’s Invitational Derby Open Championship, Austin Shepard has risen to Equi-Stat Elite $8 Million Rider status merely a year-and-a-half after reaching the $7 million threshold. He is only the fourth to reach that milestone, behind Phil Rapp and Lloyd Cox, both $9 million riders, and Matt Gaines, a fellow $8 million rider.

“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to numbers,” Shepard said. “I think it’s a great accomplishment. It’s crazy to think that 20 years ago when I started showing horses in the open, that I’d win that much money. I never would have thought that could have happened. It’s mainly about being in the company that I’m in with the other guys.”

Shepard posted his first paycheck to Equi-Stat in 1985 — $50 earned in a youth class at a Heart of Dixie Cutting Horse Association event. Since then, he has amassed $8,038,060, as of March 19.

The Summerdale, Alabama, trainer has ridden 17 horses to more than $100,000 in earnings. His top five are 2007 NCHA Futurity Open Champion High Brow CD (High Brow Cat x Sweet Little CD x CD Olena), an earner of $543,161; 2007 Millionheir Classic Open Champion San Tule Uno (San Tule Freckles x Smart Little Thunder x Smart Little Uno), who collected $410,266; 2017 NCHA Futurity Open Champion Dual Reyish (Hottish x A Little Reylena x Dual Rey), who currently has a bankroll worth $383,548; Bamacat (High Brow Cat x MH San Tules Dually x San Tule Freckles), an earner of $351,522; and 2016 NCHA Futurity Open Reserve Champion Sir Long Legs (High Brow Cat x Lil Lena Long Legs x Smart Little Lena), who garnered $337,104.

Shepard comes by his cutting skills honestly. His father, Sam, is an Equi-Stat Elite $2 Million Rider. Shepard’s wife, Stacy, and children — Cade and Caylee — are each money-earners in the sport, as well. Cade boasts $796,380 in earnings, Stacy has won $648,594 and Caylee is nearing the $4,000 marker.

“It’s the best. It’s all that really matters, honestly,” Shepard said of his family’s involvement. “My wife helped me get going and was there. She doesn’t ride much anymore, but she helped me get started and has supported me the whole time and runs the work part of the business. She still has a really good eye for a horse, so that helps.

“My kids, being able to be a part of it every day with me — Cade’s very involved, but both of them are involved with it — that makes it very worthwhile,” he added. “If my kids couldn’t be with me every day doing it or showing, I  don’t know that I would have won as much as I did because I probably wouldn’t have been going to the shows as much.”