For a brief moment, Lance Johnston lost himself staring up at the arched trusses of the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. From there, banners with the names of the most successful riders and horses in the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) hang in well-deserved honor.
There are only 15 riders to achieve the Equi-Stat earnings distinction in the NRCHA since 1970. Ted Robinson – “my idol” – Bob Avila, Todd Crawford, Anne Reynolds, Jake Telford, to name a few.
As the newest member of the elite club of the NRCHA’s One Million Dollar Riders, he will soon join that small collection of banners, his double triumph in the 50thrunning of the $1.2 million the NRCHA’s Snaffle Bit Futurity® presented by Metallic Cat, putting him over the threshold.
Certainly not lost on him was the significance of the most consequential minute or so of his career, two dreams colliding on one Saturday night to make for one beautiful, watershed moment.
Johnston and Here Comes The Boon posted a 226 on a dynamic fence run that had the approving spectators roaring and, once completed, had Johnston thrusting his hat in the air, his emotions getting the better of him with the knowledge of what he had just done with cow that wanted to go.
That run broke the composite 664.5 composite tie with Kelby Phillips and Nineteen Ten. To the victor was $180,000 as Open and Intermediate Open winner, repeating their triumphant combo at the National Stock Horse Association Futurity in Las Vegas in August.
For the Futurity Open championship alone, a check of $125,000 was handed to the winning team.
“I’ve been dreaming about winning this since I think I was 8 years old,” said Johnston, now 48 and married with a son at Montana State University. “My parents went to the Snaffle Bit Futurity [in Reno] – my dad, he’s a cow man, he was running cows for a guy who was a Snaffle bitter. I couldn’t go, I was left at home because I had school, but they brought me back a bunch of Snaffle Bit paraphernalia and told me all about it. And I said, ‘Someday, Dad, I’m going to win that.’
“I was always interested in training horses. Most kids were reading comic books. I was reading Ed Connell and the Hackamore Reinsman. That’s all I cared about, riding and the Spanish vaquero way. That’s what I wanted to do.”
So, as Johnston, with a reputation as one of the best fence runners in the NRCHA, and Here Comes The Boon (Once In A Blu Boon x Stay Outta My Shorts x Shorty Lena) entered the arena, the rider thought, “Why not me?”
With Johnston’s requested Quiet Riot playing, the cow came out from behind the chute area, raised its head and snorted a little bit.
“I knew I had the right cow,” Johnston said. “He wanted to go. I said, ‘let’s go.’”
When it was done and the Will Rogers crowd cheering wildly, Johnston took off his hat, held if firmly in his left hand and thrust it in the air several times. He blew a kiss to the uber-partisan admirers.
“I’d been waiting a lifetime thinking of all the celebrations I’d do with if I made a run like that in the Snaffle Bit,” with the added possibility that it might lead to victory, he said. “I was so excited.”
Johnston, a graduate of Cal Poly, began showing with the encouragement of his wife, Tammy, whom he married while a junior in college. She had seen what he had done training mules and a mustang he had made handy. Together, they operate Lance Johnston Performance Horses in Lindsay, a town in the central valley of California.
Johnston, who made his Snaffle Bit debut in 1995 – he advanced to his first Open finals four years later — made note that the finals appearance was his first in seven years.
A degenerative and painful back condition, spinal scoliosis, has limited him. It causes a pinching of the nerves in the back and will require a major surgical procedure that he is putting off because it will in all probability, he said, it end his career competing at this level. Doctors have told him recovery will take a year.
Recently, he had a minor procedure to cauterize the nerves that has successfully enabled him to manage the pain, which is still there, but manageable.
“If you’re not at 100 percent, you can’t beat these great guys and ladies. So talentd and so good. It’s tough enough when you’re 100 percent. When you’re not … .
“I love this deal so much. As long as I can handle it, I’m going to keep doing it. It’s in my blood, NRCHA cow horses.”