WestWorld of Scottsdale was a busy place last weekend, with a huge increase in entries at the 2021 Cactus Reining Classic. • Photo by Madison Steed.

Entries Surge at Cactus Reining Classic

The Cactus Reining Classic was one of the many shows shuttered in 2020 due to the global pandemic, but you can’t keep a good thing down. According to show producer Mandy Brumley, there was not an empty stall to be seen, with stalls purchased jumping 68% from 500 in 2019 to 840 in 2021. The show, held at Scottsdale, Arizona’s WestWorld facility, ran from March 17-21.

The 2021 Cactus Reining Classic featured an Open, Non-Pro and Amateur Derby as well as an Open and Non-Pro Stakes. The Open Derby saw 172 entries while the Non-Pro had 136 and the Amateur had 70. The Cactus Reining Classic also held the last qualifier for this year’s Million Dollar Invitational at the The Run For A Million.

“I think [the growth] is a combination of multiple things,” Brumley said.” I feel that The Run For A Million qualifier has had a huge impact and the industry in general right now is growing so much in participation.”

Derby Open Co-Champion and The Run For A Million qualifier Casey Deary said the combined Derby and Open qualifier, which were run together on Saturday, was one of the “saltiest” reinings he had been to. 

“It’s one of those deals where [The Run For A Million creator] Taylor Sheridan and Mandy Brumley have done such a great job creating an event for us that everyone wants to be a part of it. I don’t think anybody anticipated it turning out as big as it did,” Deary said. 

Growing Pains

The WestWorld facility was simultaneously hosting a hunter-jumper show and the Barrett Jackson Car Show and Auction, making for interesting logistics. Brumley said between the two horse shows, all stalls were sold out and there was a wait-list for RV hookups. Non-Pro Co-Champion and first non-pro to qualify for the Million Dollar Invitational at The Run For A Million, Gina Schumacher, was one of the RV waitlisters, and said she ended up staying at a friends’ place. 

“It was a challenge, to say the least,” Brumley said. “Overall, it was a massive show like we’ve never seen before. Initially it was a little terrifying. Our team’s biggest thing is avoiding overtaxing our exhibitors, scribes and staff by running [the show] until two or three in the morning. It’s been a goal for us to not have that happen.”

Brumley’s team watched the entries roll in and signaled the need for a schedule change. Before the show began, the Limited Non-Pro was moved to an outdoor arena instead of running with the other Non-Pro competitors in the main EquiDome arena. Because of the switch, nearly 90 runs were eliminated in the EquiDome, which still ran past 11 p.m. Thursday.

“We had a tremendous volume of horses from around the country. I saw so many new faces I had never seen, new barns I had never seen,” Brumley said.

Kole Price and Sam Flarida were two of those new faces. The two competitors spoke positively of the show and venue, both saying they looked forward to coming back. 

Flarida, who was a Co-Champion in the Derby Level 4 Non-Pro, praised the layout of the grounds and number of places to ride. Derby Level 4 Open Co-Champion Price said he enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere of the show. 

“It was a huge show, ton of entries. We were pretty worn out because they’d get done showing at 11 p.m. or so and the arena would be open afterwards, so we’d have to school at night – which we usually do anyways – but with so many entries it was a lot, trying to time your sleep,” Price said. 

Amateur Advances

In 2020, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) authorized a trial-run of an Amateur division. Brumley is an outspoken supporter of the division, and although it was not an NRHA-approved class in 2021, the Amateur Derby at the Cactus Classic saw nearly 70 entries and some $10,000 in added money. 

“The Amateur Derby division, we feel, is vital to the reining industry. Everything has its evolution and reining has evolved so much. We feel there is an advantage to being a sibling or a wife to a professional trainer,” Brumley said.

Cimarron Trailers supported the concept by sponsoring a two-horse bumper-pull trailer to the leading Amateur Derby earner at Brumley’s three shows: The Cactus Reining Classic, The High Roller Derby and The Reining By The Bay. 

“I’m very adamant about keeping this division going and hopefully other events will as well,” Brumley said. “With that being said, I want them to stick to the outline we’ve created with the NRHA. We can’t go off and create our own eligibility requirements.”

According to Brumley, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is supportive of the amateur division, and she believes there is a future for the division in the sport.