Della Ragland is going to have to find herself a new non-pro horse.
The 18-year-old college student came to that realization after the gelding who was supposed to be her next ride, Tornado Jonez, marked a 222 with trainer Lee Deacon in the first leg of the 2022 National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity Open finals.
“After herd work finals, they finally mentioned, ‘Alright, Della, this non-pro idea … we might have to find you another horse, because I think we’re keeping this one,” she recalled with a laugh.
Getting bumped from the ride did come with a very bright silver lining. A few days later, the son of Stevie Rey Von that Della’s mother, Brandy Ragland, had originally bought to be her daughter’s boxing horse for the non-pro derbies became the 2022 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion.
He and Deacon won a $200,000 check for the Open on Saturday, Oct. 22,, and added another $45,000 for earning the accompanying Intermediate Open Championship with a composite of 667 (222 herd/221 rein/224 cow).
A day later, the Raglands, of Brock, Texas, were still trying to wrap their heads around the unexpected journey that brought them to the Snaffle Bit Futurity finals in Fort Worth. But, there’s one thing they did know: they aren’t taking any of the credit.
They say the credit goes to God and their trainer, Deacon. And, as far as they are concerned, this win is for him.
“I didn’t see that we had won as the owners,” Brandy Ragland explained “I thought that Lee had won.”
“We were just happy to be included,” Della added.
“I think God just used us as a pass through. We’ve been blessed in ways that have only come from God, in our story in our life, and just to pass that through and say this is about Lee,” said Brandy, whose daughter, Della, has ridden with the Deacons for about two years. “This isn’t about us as owners are wanting that recognition.
“We just have been really blessed that God used us to get Lee to where he is.”
Tornado Jonez entered the picture through an acquaintance, Roy Rich. Della had ridden at the Rich family’s property when the Raglands lived out in California, first as an English rider and later in reined cow horse. Brandy Ragland had reached out to Rich about a few different horses during her hunt for a horse for her daughter, but said Rich told her those horses weren’t the right fit.
Then the video of “Jonez” caught her eye.
“I asked Roy and he said, ‘Yeah, I think it’d be a great horse Della. He’s a non-pro. I don’t think he’s quite an open horse.’ And so we flew out there within a couple of days and she rode him,” Brandy recalled. “I talked to Lee and Ashley [Deacon, Lee’s wife] and Ashley was like, ‘You know, I’ve not seen him in person, but he sounds great.’ I sent her a video, and so we bought him that weekend as a non-pro horse for Della.”
When the horse got to Deacon Equine in Marietta, Oklahoma, they agreed with Rich’s assessment.
“When we first started riding him, we didn’t necessarily think he was an open horse either. He was a decent horse that had a little bit of ability, but he just kept slowly progressing,” Lee Deacon said. “From the first time I ever took him down the fence, I could just tell that he is a fence horse. And he just tries every day. I’ve never had a day on that horse where he didn’t try to be good on a cow.”
When the Deacons suggested Tornado Jonez might be good enough to try open competition at age 3 and then to the Snaffle Bit Futurity, Brandy supported their decision to try it. After all, she fully admits that she isn’t a horse person — Della is the only person in their family who rides horses — and she had faith in the assessments made by the Deacons.
“I also trusted Lee and Ashley in their decision to take him there, because it’s quite a commitment to getting him there,” she said. “And I trust them. They’re just such good people with a heart not just for the sport, but for everyone around them. They’re always looking at what others need and caring for their customers and clients.”
It was when Tornado Jonez competed at the Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association Pre-Futurity where the Deacons learned what would be key to a good showing at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity.
“That horse lets you take a hold of him and he lets you manufacture some stuff, but he’s way better if you turn him loose and let him be expressive,” Lee Deacon said. “And, so, [at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity] show we had a little different mindset that [we’ve] got to turn him loose and let him be him. And, I think that’s really what made him stand out — every time he stepped in the pen, he looked happy to be there. So that was the coolest thing; it was listening to the horse and letting him tell us what was the best way to present him.”
Their 222 in the Open finals herd work and 221 in the rein work had them within striking distance for the championship going into the final leg of the competition, the cow work finals at Will Rogers Coliseum.
When the gates opened and they walked into the pen for their cow work, Deacon said his biggest focus was on slowing things down so Tornado Jonez could breathe and think instead of just reacting.
“We started boxing the cow and the cow was honoring us and he had some feel. And when he ran over to the left, I really would have liked to have stopped him one more time but that cow wasn’t going to take it and he pretty much took us down the fence,” Deacon said. “But, my horses was breathing and I was breathing so we were able to just kind of make a decision to go with it. And that was the best thing that happened because it allowed some degree of difficulty to be left in that cow, and it allowed for some exciting things to happen.
“So pretty much after we left the corner, it was just keep this little white cow on our sights and stay with him.”
As they circled the cow the final time in the center of the pen, Deacon punched his hand in the air and pointed toward the heavens while the crowd went crazy.
“It was pretty exciting. That’s awesome,” he said. “I wasn’t celebrating because I thought I’d won it. I was just celebrating because I got through it. and it was it was awesome. My horse was great. It was just a cool experience.”
Their 224 in the cow work gave them what would be the winning composite of 667 (222 herd/221 rein/224 cow). Their closest challengers, Vince Von and Sarah Dawson, drew a tough cow and were 4.5 points back in the Reserve Champion spot with a composite of 662.5 (222 herd/ 226.5 rein/214 cow).
While the Raglands said they were happiest that Deacon got the win, the trainer was appreciative to get to have the experience with the Ragland family.
“Probably the coolest part is they’re like-minded people [in that] their beliefs and values match ours,” Deacon said. “I know that she’s praying just as hard as I’m praying about the horse show and getting ready for it, and it’s just cool to do business with people that are like-minded and just have a different perspective on the whole deal. You know? It’s not about the money — it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about how can we glorify God and everything that we do? And it’s just really cool to have people that you can do business with like that.”
In order to meet the Raglands, Deacon had to travel halfway across the globe.
He grew up in Queensland, a state in Northeast Australia where his father, Andrew Deacon, was a bareback rider. His family also raised horses and early on Lee Deacon knew he wanted to be a horse trainer when he grew up.
Part of making that dream come true was to work at a cattle station, or ranch, in Australia. At 16, Deacon spent a year working for McIntyre Cattle Company, which operated several stations. Work there was done on horseback, and the company had a herd of Quarter Horses and Australian Stock Horses.
Deacon then worked for reining trainers in Australia before spending a few years training on his own in Australia. His life took a turn when a young American reined cow horse trainer named Chris Dawson visited Australia.
“[Dawson] came over and stayed at my house for two weeks, and my dad organized some clinics for him to run. And so, just meeting Chris and hanging out to him, he got to ride a bunch of the horses that I trained and he said, ‘Man, any time you want a job, just let me know.’ And I called him up four years later and said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I’d come over?’ And so that’s how I ended up here.”
That was 2012. Their plan was for Deacon to come to the United States, and then for Dawson to help the Aussie transplant get a job with a more established trainer whose name would have more clout on Deacon’s resume when he went back to Australia in a few years.
“He’s like, ‘Man, yeah, come over, you can crash on the couch and hang out for a month, and I’ll help you get a start in the cow horse.’ And I spent a month with Chris and I decided that was the style and he was the guy that I wanted to emulate no matter what he won or lost, you know,” said Deacon, who ended up staying with Dawson for three years. “So, that was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I was fortunate enough to be there during a period of time where he had a lot of success and I got to see that and experience that and learn a lot of lessons from him.”
He met his wife, Ashley, and they began training on their own in 2015.
Before the 2022 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, Deacon had lifetime earnings of more than $143,791. He’d previously won there before, earning the Snaffle Bit Futurity Futurity Level 1 Limited Open in 2015 with Roosters Pistolena.
But now, with the $245,000 in prize money he earned at the Snaffle Bit Futurity, his lifetime earnings are more than $388,000.
Bred by the Missi Jonez Partnership, Tornado Jonez was one of five Open finalists sired by 2015 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Open Champion Stevie Rey Von.
This is the second year in a row that Stevie Rey Von has sired a major Western performance horse industry futurity champion. Last year, he sired NCHA Futurity Open Champion Janie Wood in his first crop. NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion Tornado Jonez and this year’s Open Reserve Champion, Vince Von, are both from Steve Rey Von‘s second crop of foals.
“Jonez is playful and has a fun personality, but when it’s ‘go time’ he puts his head down and competes,” Brandy said. “He has a heart for it just as much as Lee. We feel honored and blessed to be part of the Stevie Rey Von family and look forward to see what the future holds for Jonez and all of the Stevie Reys that showed this year.”
Tornado Jonez is out of Missi Jonez, a mare by reined cow horse stallion Travelin Jonez. He is her only money-winning listed on her EquiStat produce record.
The Open Reserve Champion, Vince Von, is out of Hottness (by Spots Hot). Bred by Fults Ranch Ltd, Vince Von is owned by Wendy Buehler.
A day after the victory, Deacon reflected on the happenings from the night before.
“If what we did last night impacted anyone in any way, I would like to prove that anyone is capable of winning it. Know what I mean? I’m not better than anybody else. I don’t work harder than anybody else. Every single person that entered that Futurity works hard and busts their butt and grinds it out.
At the same time, he said the show isn’t something you can focus on at the expense of the things that really matter — your friends, relationships and your spouse.
“I’m very thankful and grateful to have some success, but I just hope that it inspires some people to not quit and keep toughing it out.”