With his first of three horses slated to compete in the Open finals at the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Eastern Nationals in Jackson, Mississippi, Austin Shepard drew second amidst a field of 17 horse-and-rider teams. Riding to the herd aboard the Center Ranch-owned Woody Be Tuff stallion CR Dualin Tuff, Shepard marked a 219, which secured the duo a tie for third place with Ichi Sangria and Guy Woods.
“We had a really good first cow. My second cow wasn’t great, but it was good enough, and we had a good third cow,” Shepard said. “Just had a good run to start off. It would have won a lot of cuttings, but…”
With two horses waiting in the wings for their turn, Shepard still had a lot of horse left in the run for a title. The $8 million rider returned to the arena in the eighth draw with Sir Long Legs, who he rode to the $25,000 Novice title on March. 5. In the Open finals, they marked a 223 to eventually clinch the Open Reserve title.
“Sir Long Legs was real good, had a good run on him. He did excellent,” Shepard said of the 2013 High Brow Cat stallion, who is out of the Smart Little Lena mare Lil Lena Long Legs. The duo brought home a check of $3,386 for owner Lew Hall, of Lakeland, Florida, adding to the stallion’s lifetime earnings of $337,104.
Shepard had one horse left to compete in the finals, and while he wondered if there would be much left to cut with such a deep draw, he rode to the herd from the 14th draw full of confidence in Dual Reyish. Two and a half minutes later, the crowd roared in approval as the judges gave the duo a 229, a score which would remain unchallenged throughout the remainder of the finals.
“Well, it was pretty dang good! That run on Dual Reyish was probably the best run I’ve had in quite a while,” said Shepard, who had quite a few to choose from in recent years with “Dre.” The duo claimed the 2017 NCHA Futurity Open Championship, the 2018 Breeder’s Invitational Derby Open and the 2018 All American Quarter Horse Congress Cutting Derby Open.
“I didn’t have very much left as far as cows. Actually my first and third cow had already been worked, but they were good the second time. My second cow I just kind of found the horse before, and it acted good on my first cut, so I went back and cut it,” Shepard explained. “I think as good as he was being I could have cut most anything, and he would have handled it. He made those cows good!”
Dre, who was bred by Greg Smith, of Mineral Wells, Texas, came into the Eastern Nationals with $383,548 in lifetime earnings. After his rousing success in the Open finals, he brought home another check of $4,104 for owner Billy Wolf, of Whitesboro, Texas.
According to Shepard, what sets the son of Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Sire Hottish apart in the show pen is his “explosiveness.”
“That’s probably the best way to explain him. He doesn’t have any regard at all for his body. For no reason at all, he just throws himself in the ground,” Shepard said of the stallion, who is out of the Dual Rey mare A Little Reylena. “That’s probably my favorite thing about him. He’s just really dynamic in everything he does.”
With Shepard at the reins, Dre’s explosive, physical nature launched them to the top yet again. The Open finals weren’t without outside competition for Shepard and his three mounts, who secured the championship, reserve championship and a tie for third.
“You’re always competing with yourself, but there were plenty of horses that could have won the cutting,” Shepard said. “It was a good set of horses, a pretty good finals, really. That horse [Dual Reyish] can just be on his own level when he’s like that for me, in my opinion.”
Sir Long Legs & Austin Shepard
13S (High Brow Cat x Little Lena Long Legs x Smart Little Lena)
Owner: Lew Hall, Lakeland, FL
Breeder: Michelle Cannon, Waxahachie, TX
Dual Smart Dee Jay & Bill Pierce
12G (Dual Smart Rey x Meradas Dee Jay x Freckles Merada)
Owner: Lyndi Polk, Edwards, MS
Breeder: EE Ranches of Texas Inc., Whitesboro, TX