Eric Freitas made major changes in his life to ensure he was a competitive non-pro in the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA). Those physical changes coupled with a passion for the sport helped him achieve the NRCHA Stallion Stakes Non-Pro Championship with his gelding CR Tuff Tornado.
“I’ve physically changed myself, so I’m able to ride better. I’ve been doing this since 1995,” Freitas said. “Over the last 15 years, I gained 60 pounds, and in the last year, I’ve lost 60 pounds and gotten physically fit. It’s helped my riding immensely.”
The 61-year-old rider piloted his 4-year-old horse to the Championship and his 5-year-old gelding Cat Snacks (Cats Full Moon x Chic Snacks x Snackbox) to third place in the finals.
Freitas, a vegetable farmer from Santa Maria, California, always admired cow horses growing up in Vaquero country.
“I rode as a kid and used to see the stock horses at the county fairs. Later in life, when I had more time and money, I decided to do it,” Freitas said. “I bought my own horse facility and five years ago, I brought Justin Wright on board, and he is the real deal. He has been successful with my horses and a lot of other people’s horses, too. I love the industry, the NRCHA and the sport.”
Wright trained CR Tuff Tornado (Woody Be Tuff x CR Shes Uh Secret x Peptoboonsmal), a horse purchased late in his 3-year-old season from Alan Chappell. Bred to cut, the gelding carried Freitas to the top score — a 216 — in the finals herd work. A solid 220 in the rein work helped the duo stay ahead.
“I was able to mark a 220.5 in the rein work, and that is a big run for me and for him. He let me ride him hard in the circles, and I could feel he was going to let me use him, and it worked. He got turned around really good, too,” Freitas said. “Sometimes, these really cowy horses, like him, are hard to get down the fence. Last time I showed him, he locked on and I couldn’t get him by [on the fence]. This time, we had a plan and Justin told me to line up wide so I would have a chance to get by, and I did. The whole plan worked.”
The composite 649.5 earned Freitas the win and an accompanying $7,593 paycheck. Though he captured the 2018 National Stock Horse Association Futurity Non-Pro Championship in August and the 2018 Hackamore Classic Non-Pro win in October aboard Cat Snacks, Freitas hadn’t picked up an NRCHA premier event win in several years before that.
“In the last five or six years, I hadn’t been winning a lot, so it is real gratifying,” he explained. “I expected him to be good in the finals, but I can honestly say I didn’t expect him to win it.
“There are some seriously tough non-pros now. Ten years ago, a few non-pros were marking big, but now, there are so many non-pros marking 219 or 220 and higher. The styles change and the horses change, but it is always challenging and rewarding.”
“It is really neat to have Eric pull through,” he said. “He has done so much for me. I can say I had nothing, absolutely nothing, when I moved down there five years ago. I had four horses in training and the day I moved down there, he put eight horses in training with me. I’m very grateful for him.”
The Reserve Championship went to Jesse Spence, of Yamhill, Oregon, on his gelding Hes Got The Luck (Smart Luck x Peppys Little Orphan x A Little Shady Jac). Spence also won the Intermediate and Novice Non-Pro titles with a composite score of 648 (207 herd/218.5 rein/222.5 cow).
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