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Phillip and Ron Ralls will compete against each other in the $200,000 Cow Horse Challenge at The Run For A Million. * Photo Curtsey of Theresa Ralls

Father-Son Ralls Duo Prepare For The Run For A Million

On a Thursday night just a few weeks ago, Ron Ralls felt a severe pain in his abdomen.

He tried to brush it off. Maybe it was a torn muscle from going down the fence. Besides, the reined cow horse trainer based in Gainesville, Texas, had horses to ride and the $200,000 Cow Horse Challenge at the 2023 The Run For A Million to get ready for.

Trouble is, the pain didn’t go away.

It was still there Friday. A day after that, Ron’s wife, Patty Ralls, got really worried when she heard that her husband didn’t bring his horse with him early Saturday morning when he went to work with trainer Gusti Buerger. Finally, three days after the pain started, a friend took him to lunch on Sunday and helped convince him to go to the doctor.

“He had the hospital convinced it was a pulled muscle, because they said he wasn’t in enough pain,” Patty explained. “And, we kept telling them he’s not normal. You have to keep digging.”

Fortunately the doctors did. They soon figured out the problem — and Ron was on his way to an operating room to get his appendix removed.

On the other side of the country, his son and fellow trainer Phillip Ralls wasn’t surprised.

“That’s exactly what I would expect. He’s tough as nails and he’s not one to complain. He’s just like, ‘Oh, it’ll just get better.’ He’s not one to go to the doctor for any reason,” the younger Ralls said from his home in Paso Robles, California. “I mean, had they not basically forced him to do it, then he wouldn’t have gone.”

As you might expect, the elder Ralls wasn’t one to let surgery get in the way of his start in the upcoming The Run For A Million. He was back on his horse eight days later. Besides, his appendix is now gone and Ron is looking on the bright side.

“I can never have that same problem again,” he cracked.

It’s a good thing, because Ron and Phillip both are qualified to compete Friday, Aug. 18, in the $200,000 Cow Horse Challenge at The Run For A Million. They’re one of three family duos among the 15 riders who earned a spot in the event at the South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. They’ll be joined by two husband-and-wife pairs who qualified — Kelby and Abbie Phillips and Chris and Sarah Dawson.

“I’m always always happy when my when my son does well,” Ron said. “He’s he’s a very tough competitor and does a very good job training his horses, so it’ll be fun to go and show not only with him, but I guess against him. It’ll be fun.”

Multi-Trainer Family

Father and son each plan to ride sons of Metallic Cat at The Run For A Million. Ron’s first choice is Tabasque O, a 2015 gelding he’s ridden for the horse’s entire career for owner Richard Bell. So far, the gelding’s earned more than $64,830.

“We’ve had him since he was a yearling. He’s a good horse,” Ron said. “He’s been a little challenging to train, because he has a big motor. But he just seems like he keeps getting better and he’s a real nice horse.”

Though he knows that anything can happen when you go down the fence, Ron feels good about his chances in Las Vegas.

“I’m going there with a very competitive attitude and I’m figuring on doing very well,” he said.

Phillip’s first choice is Call Me Mitch, the 2011 bay roan stallion who won this year’s World’s Greatest Horseman competition and, at $437,693 in lifetime earnings, is one of the richest reined cow horses in history.

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Phillip Ralls and his planned mount in The Run For A Million, Call Me Mitch, pictured after their win in the 2019 World’s Richest Stock Horse. • QHN File Photo.

“Mitch” reigned as the top money-earning reined cow horse of all time in the EquiStat database for a short time earlier this year, before being overtaken by fellow expected The Run For A Million starter Scooter Kat after The American Performance Horseman.

The trainer said the popular roan stallion who also stands at stud — sons and daughters of Call Me Mitch have so far won more than $318,000, according to EquiStat — is still showing because he loves to compete.

“He’s been special horse all along and we’ve all known it. I mean, he’s obviously proven time and time again,” Phillip said. “He’s been incredible and he absolutely doesn’t owe us anything. He’s been such a great horse.”

Successful Duo

Ron, who became an NRCHA Million Dollar Rider in 2021, brings a strong resume to the South Point. He’s a two-time winner of the World’s Greatest Horseman — taking top honors aboard Cowgirls Are Smart (2003) and A Chic In Time (2004). He’s won numerous other titles, including in 2010 when he swept the top two spots in the NRCHA Stallion Stakes Open with Champion CD Dee Vee Dee and Reserve Champion Solano Cat.

With his dad training in the original cow horse country in California, Phillip grew up riding reined cow horses before focusing on high school rodeo. He steer wrestled, rode some broncs and even showed in cutting — the National High School Rodeo Association didn’t have a reined cow horse event at the time — before eventually refocusing on reined cow horse. He began his own professional training career around 2003.

Before Call Me Mitch, one of Phillip’s top trainees was venerable bridle horse Dom Dualuise. The son of Dual Rey won more than $223,858 while winning and making the finals of limited-age events and, later on, bridle classes across the country.

In all, Phillip Ralls has won more than $1.7 million.

“I’m very proud of him,” his father said. “You always want to see your kids do good, you know, and he’s doing good and it’s really fun to watch him.”

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Ron Ralls * Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

Phillip looks forward to the $200,000 Cow Horse Challenge. The atmosphere around the event — riders have to earn their way into the starting lineup through a top finish at a qualifying event — adds to the prestige. And those qualifying events get bigger each year, attracting more entrants and the top bridle horses in training.

“I just think that these kinds of events are just a testament to the perseverance of everybody and the horses and everything else. These horses and riders just truly have that grit and determination to keep showing up and keep showing. They’re warriors. There’s nobody there in that top 15 that didn’t absolutely 1,000% earn it and deserve it. So it’s going to be great for everybody.”

In addition to Ron and Phillip, the other qualified riders for the 2023 $200,000 Cow Horse Challenge at The Run For A Million are Chris Dawson, Sarah Dawson, Lee Deacon, Clayton Edsall, Shawn Hays, Lance Johnston, Tyler Merrill, Randy Paul, Abbie Phillips, Kelby Phillips, Boyd Rice, Justin Wright and Shane Steffen.

“It’s super exciting. I was was there in Scottsdale [when Ron qualified at the NRCHA Western Derby], and was super excited for my dad. He had a great show there and you know, definitely earned his spot, for sure,” Phillip said. “I think it’s awesome. I love having the opportunity to show at these big events like this and It makes it even that much more special to be able to do it with my dad.”