The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) strives to recognize excellence amongst its members. The NRHA Professionals of the Year awards are just one avenue for showcasing the accomplishments of reining trainers in the industry.
The five awards include NRHA Professional Horseman of the Year, Becky Hanson Horsewoman of the Year, NRHA Non-Pro Coach of the Year, NRHA Youth Coach of the Year, and NRHA Up-and-Coming Trainer of the Year.
“The Professionals of the Year awards are very important because we have a lot of people in our industry from around the world who deserve to be honored on a national level and recognized by their peers,” said Patrick Flaherty, NRHA Professionals Committee chairman. “These awards aren’t just given to anyone; these recipients have worked hard their entire careers, and it’s evident to their clients and their peers that they’re more than deserving of this recognition.”
Each NRHA affiliate is asked to nominate NRHA Professionals for the awards based on their unrelenting work both inside the arena and out. NRHA Professionals then choose the recipients by voting in each category. Winners will receive their awards during the 2020 NRHA Derby at the awards banquet. The 2020 NRHA Derby is slated to begin June 13 in Oklahoma City. Here are the 2019 NRHA Professionals of the Year.
Horseman of the Year—Craig Schmersal
A staple in the industry since competing as a youth member, Craig Schmersal hasn’t missed the NRHA Futurity finals since 1997. His most recent major win came when he was crowned the 2019 Run for a Million co-champion.
The NRHA Four Million Dollar rider not only specializes in training, showing, and selling futurity and derby horses, but also breeds prospects that regularly become champions in the arena. He’s trained and shown multiple NRHA Futurity and Derby winners, including winning the 2017 NRHA Futurity on his homegrown mare Face The Attitude. He’s earned multiple FEI team and individual medals, and multiple AQHA World Championships. He trains every horse as an individual and finds ways to maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.
Not only is Schmersal known for his contributions within the arena, but outside of it as well. As an active member of the Judge’s Committee, Schmersal is committed to the industry and continually trying to better it for horses and riders alike. He is often seen teaching Secrets of Judging courses to increase education for riders, as well. Along with educating in this way, he’s also created training videos to help demonstrate techniques for finished horses and futurity prospects and even covers proper tack tips.
Schmersal also promotes NRHA Million Dollar Sire Pale Face Dunnit (Colonels Smoking Gun [Gunner] x Lena Dun It x Hollywood Dun It), who he also showed for most of his career in the show pen.
Becky Hanson Horsewoman of the Year—Abby Mixon
Abby Mixon, who’s based at Winfield Farms in Marietta, Oklahoma, trains reining horses of all ages and coaches riders of all skill levels.
As the daughter of NRHA Professional Don Boyd, Mixon grew up in the reining industry, riding alongside her father. She began showing at age 8, earning more than 330 points, multiple paychecks, and several NRHA top 10 titles as a youth. In 2005, Mixon took her NRHA Professional card, launching her training career under the tutelage of NRHA Four Million Dollar Rider Craig Schmersal. She also worked for NRHA Professional Duane Hicks before moving to Winfield Farms with her husband, Jeff, in 2008.
To date, she’s earned more than $391,480 in NRHA Lifetime Earnings and has competed and been a finalist at major events including the NRHA Futurity and NRHA Derby. In 2019, she brought three horses to the NRHA Futurity, making the NRHA Level 4 Open Semifinals on all three and advancing two of them to the NRHA Level 3 Open Futurity Finals.
As a top-level female professional, Mixon strives to create more opportunities for women with a desire to compete in the reining industry and promote the sport in any way she can.
Non Pro Coach of the Year—Jared Leclair
Jared Leclair began working for Steve Simon at Quarter Mount Farm, home of NRHA Million Dollar Sire Custom Crome, in Paxton, Massachusetts, in 2003. After a year of gaining valuable experience, Leclair was offered an assistant trainer position with NRHA Three Million Dollar Rider, Million Dollar Owner, and Hall of Famer Tim McQuay in Tioga, Texas.
Leclair went out on his own and established Leclair Performance Horses in 2007. Lecair currently has an NRHA LTE over $798,000. He also owns and showed stallion Electric Code (Jacs Electric Spark x Hot Coded Candy x The Hot Express), which he piloted to earnings over $215,000.
Leclair’s non pros are commonly seen at the top of the NRHA Top 10 standings, AQHA World Show standings, and North American Affiliate Championships. Patience, consistency, practice, and perseverance are the main components of his successful training program. Leclair realizes that every horse is unique, and he strives to create a training program to fit their abilities.
Youth Coach of the Year—Mark Guynn
Mark Guynn was born and raised in Manitou Springs, Colorado and graduated from Lamar Community College with an associate’s degree in Horse Management and Training. He went on to complete an internship with AQHA breeder and judge Joe Taylor in Moab, Utah. Following his brief sojourn in Utah, Guynn returned to Colorado and started Guynn Training Center.
Guynn actively participates in the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association and is deeply involved in their youth program. Guynn is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association and remains an active member in his local affiliate. He holds AQHA, NRHA, and NRCHA judge’s cards.
Of all his accomplishments, Guynn is most proud of his youth and non pro clients, many of whom have qualified for elite competition themselves. He’s coached several AQHYA Honor Roll Champions in both reining and ranch riding, as well as AHQYA World and Reserve World Champions.
Perhaps one of Guynn’s biggest contributions to the sport of reining lies in his commitment to the Interscholastic Equestrian Association and the development of two successful teams in Colorado, beginning in 2012 with six riders. Guynn currently coaches two teams with a total of 30 riders, alongside professional horse trainers Jimmy Daurio, Nancy Nemmers, and Caylee Parrish.
Up-and-Coming Professional of the Year—Cade McCutcheon
At just 19 years old, Cade McCutcheon is the third generation of his family to become an NRHA Million Dollar Rider. Hailing from Aubrey, Texas, McCutcheon was virtually born on a reiner and learned how to stick with a horse when things got tough at just 6 years old. He debuted in the show pen at 7 years old and competed in the NRHA Non Pro Futurity by age ten.
He’s the son of NRHA Million Dollar Riders Tom and Mandy McCutcheon and the grandson of multi-million dollar rider Tim McQuay and NRHA Hall-of-Famer Collen McQuay.
McCutcheon became the youngest U.S. athlete to represent reining at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) on the 2018 U.S. Reining team. McCutcheon helped Team USA clinch the gold during WEG by marking a 229 on Custom Made Gun. The score remained untouched by fellow NRHA Professionals, solidifying McCutcheon’s plan to join his teammates as an NRHA Professional the following year.
He entered 2019 as a wild card on many fronts—one of those being as a literal wild-card entry in the inaugural Run for a Million and on The Last Cowboy, a reality-based television series featuring eight NRHA Professionals. McCutcheon named co-champion with Craig Schmersal at the inaugural Run for a Million He then went on to win three open levels of the NRHA Futurity, including the prestigious MS Diamonds Level 4 Open Finals, with Super Marioo, owned by Story Book Ranch.