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The NRHA's all-time leading money-earning rider, Andrea Fappani, practicing going down the fence. He has two horses entered in the NRCHA Western Derby. • Photo courtesy of Andrea Fappani.

Andrea Fappani Tackles Cow Horse Challenge

For years, Andrea Fappani focused on becoming the leading rider in the sport of reining. With that now accomplished, he’s given himself a new challenge.

He’s trying reined cow horse.

Fappani, of Scottsdale, Arizona, is entered on two horses in this week’s National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Western Derby. His first horse, Yaketyyakdontalkbak, marked a 221.5 as draw 57 in Wednesday’s Open reining preliminaries. His second mount, Eight Karat Diamond, did even better, marking a 222 in her 2022 Western Derby debut with Fappani on Thursday in Set 15 of the Open reining prelims.

For Fappani, dabbling in a new discipline isn’t the start of a career switch — it’s about finding a new challenge.

“I’m not trying to do both,” he said of cow horse and reining. “I’m not trying to be a world champion in cow horse. I’m doing it for fun and I’m doing it more to have a different challenge and pushing myself to keep learning something new.”

The Italian native’s National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) lifetime earnings currently stand at $7,129,684, which is the most in the history of the association. He became the leading NRHA rider last December.

Though Fappani had thrown around the idea of trying cow horse for a while, it was in the past year during a conversation with three-time World’s Greatest Horseman winner Corey Cushing that the idea gained momentum.

“I was very, very focused on my goal to hopefully become number one rider in reining and I figured there was no time for anything else,” he said. “Then, toward the end of last year we started talking because I was like, ‘You know, Corey, I might be able to get to [the number one ranking in reining] in the next 12 months or so.’

It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to do reining, Fappani said, because he still loved reining, had a huge business and things were good.

“But I said, ‘That [all-time number one ranking] was my main goal for the next 20 years. I’ve got to do something that’s going to push me to do something better and just to always improve my horsemanship,” Fappani explained.

It became a reality, Fappani said, when Cushing offered him the ride on Yaketyyakdontalkbak and fellow cow horse rider Abby Mixon told him about Eight Karat Diamond, a mare she’d ridden in recent years.

Western Derby

The Western Derby is Fappani’s second time entering a cow horse event, with the first being earlier this year at an Arizona Sun Circuit show.

He anticipates the biggest challenge being the cow work. The unpredictability of that segment of the event, where a horse must run alongside the cow as it gallops along the fence and then must slide to a stop in front of it to make it turn and run the other way before circling in the center of the arena, is the reason Fappani wanted to gain more show experience in the Western Derby.

“There’s so many quick decisions that I can practice [the cow work] as much as I want at home, but I really need to get in the show pen,” he said.

Teton Ridge owns Yaketyyakdontalkback, who is by its stallion Smooth Talkin Style and out of Some Kinda Twister (by Freckles Fancy Twist) and entered in all the Open divisions. A daughter of CD Diamond and out of Whizs Guinevere (by Topsail Whiz), Eight Karat Diamond is entered in the Level 1 Limited Open for owner Dr. Harry Prince and Patricia Prince.

Yaketyyakdontalkbak didn’t have any earnings recorded in the EquiStat database prior to the Western Derby. Eight Karat Diamond had won $22,923 with Mixon in the saddle.

So far, things have gone well.

In the Western Derby rein work Open prelims, the 221.5 Fappani marked with Yaketyyakdontalkbak was good for second in the Limited Open standings and tied for fourth in the Intermediate Open. The 222 that he and Eight Karat Diamond scored topped the Level 1 Limited Open reining prelims, just ahead of Fappani and Yaketyyakdontalkbak.

In the Open herd work prelims, Fappani and Yaketyyakdontalkbak marked a 193. He and Eight Karat Diamond marked a 211.

In the Open cow work prelims, which started Tuesday, Fappani marked a 202.5 with Yaketyyakdontalkbak, for a preliminary composite of 617. He and Eight Karat Diamond are scheduled to compete in draw 153.

Futurity Horse

The Western Derby, though a prestigious event, is in part a way for Fappani to get some cow horse competition experience before he shows his futurity horse later this year.

He and his wife, Tish, bought Reysin Sum Hash, now 3, at last year’s Western Bloodstock NRCHA Futurity Sale. The roan stallion from the first crop of National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Open World Champion Hashtags and out of Reynanza (by Dual Rey) was bred by Kerry and Jenny Frazier, of Merkel, Texas.

Andrea Fappani & Reysin Sum Hash. • Courtesy photo.

Fappani rides the colt first thing in the morning, before anyone else gets to the arena.

“I figured I wanted to buy something that had a good foundation in the cutting, because that’s really what I needed to learn,” he said. “I can put some reining on him, and he’s actually caught up pretty fast in the reining part of it, but I wanted something that had a good foundation so he could teach me some of the body position I need to be in more than me trying to figure it out all on my own.”

Though Fappani didn’t have a lifetime of experience working cattle on horses, he is familiar with the species. His family owned a dairy in Italy with 1,300 head of cattle, and both his father and mother came from five generations of dairy farmers.

At a young age, he was taught to move cattle — on foot.

“They teach [family members] as young people you’ve got to learn where pressure points are for cows,” he said. “It’s not about yelling or chasing them around, it’s about finding yourself in the direction where you want them to go and all that.”

Trying out reined cow horse has enabled Fappani to talk to and learn from horse trainers in he normally doesn’t run into on the reining circuit. In addition to Cushing, whose facility he would visit prior to that trainer’s move from Arizona to Texas, he also received help from trainers Bob Avila, Mike Wood as well as others.

Venturing into cow horse and getting to know trainers in cow horse and cutting confirmed Fappani’s belief that a good horse is a good horse, regardless of discipline. And, while trainers in different disciplines might use different equipment, it all relates back to things like body position, knowing how a horse thinks and being a good horseman.

“We pretty much talk the same language,” Fappani said, of trainers in seemingly vastly different disciplines. “We apply it different, but it’s all about pressure, release, having the horse wanting to do it on its own, finding a good spot to quit – all the things that I always preach to people when I help them in the reining that applies for sure in all the other disciplines, too.