After the Open rein work preliminaries wrapped up at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nev., the horse show classes began. Competition was fierce in the Non Pro Two Rein, where a pair of lifelong horse show pals, Tish Wilhite and Shelly Franklin, once again found themselves running at the same title.
The two California non pros are accustomed to seeing each other in the warm up pen - they have been competing together since they measured their age in single digits."We showed Appaloosa, Pleasure, English, Western, Trail, Hunter Hack - all that - when we were 12 and under," Wilhite said. Added Franklin, "We were chatting out in the warm-up ring, that this is just like the old Appy days."
In the Non Pro Two Rein, both were riding to win. Wilhite, Clovis, Calif., was mounted on her stalwart gelding, The Fresno Fox (Heart Of A Fox x Oaks Jewel Doll x Docs Jewel Bars), that has carried her to numerous titles including the 2011 NRCHA Stakes Non Pro and Intermediate Non Pro Championships. True to form, "Shorty" and Wilhite, working fifth in the draw, set the bar high when they took the lead with a 145 in the rein work and a 148.5 in the cow work - a 293.5 total.
Three riders later, Franklin and A Dazzlin Prize (Smokums Prize x Two Be Dazzled) entered the arena. "I knew what Tish had scored, so I knew I had to come a-riding," the Los Angeles, Calif., horsewoman said. She piloted "Mitzie" to a 142.5 in the rein work, and then brought the crowd to its feet with a blistering cow work run that earned a 151 from the judges!
Franklin heeded the advice from her trainer, Justin Wright, who told her to let the mare do her job. "When you get going with her down the fence, you just get it lined out, drop your hand and hang on, and that's what I did!" Franklin said. "It was textbook. It really was textbook for me." Her 293.5 composite score matched Wilhite's, but the tiebreaking fence work tipped the Championship in Franklin's favor, giving Wilhite the Reserve Championship. Franklin's win came with a check for $830, a Gist buckle and C.R. Morrison Trophy from the NRCHA, a gift card from Platinum Performance and a Cinch jacket from Bob's Custom Saddles and the New West Country Store.
The win evoked some strong emotions for Franklin, whose mother, also an avid horsewoman, passed away last year. "She was my biggest supporter. It's just kind of a special deal. No matter what happens, you've got to live every minute for now."
Wilhite admitted she was moved to happy tears to see her old friend in the winner's circle, but she didn't have much time to spare before saddling up her 5-year-old gelding, Smokin My Cash (Smokums Prize x Cash My Lean x Nu Cash) for the Non Pro Hackamore class, which immediately followed the Non Pro Two Rein. "I had The Fresno Fox that I was toward the end of the bunch, and then I had Smokin My Cash who drew second in a field of 29," she said.
Her trainer, Lance Johnston, warmed "Marley" up for her, and had encouraging words as he handed the reins to Wilhite. "He said, 'Tish, I've never had him feel so good.' He was right. He was ready," she said.
After a rein work that earned a 144.5 score, Smokin My Cash rose to the challenge of a difficult cow. "It came off the wall, I had to rate it and push it back to the wall, and it was an open field turn. Then it didn't run real true coming back. It didn't want to turn, and then we just went and circled it, and he couldn't have been any better for me," she said. The judges awarded her fence work a 145.5 for a winning 290 composite score.
Wilhite jokingly calls Smokin My Cash her "hard-luck horse" because of his injury-plagued early years and the tough breaks that dogged him when he finally did reach the show pen. "My hard-luck horse is getting better luck all the time!" she said. "He has never given me anything but 110 percent. That's what I liked about him from the first time I rode him. He tries so hard."
Wilhite regularly rides with top professional Lance Johnston, and she also spent a week riding with Eagle Point, Ore., Million-Dollar Rider Todd Bergen shortly before coming to Reno. She credited both trainers for helping her horses reach the next level.
The Championship came with a $4,043 check, a Bob's custom saddle sponsored by Cathy Corrigan Frank, a Gist Buckle sponsored by Salt Creek Performance Horses - Hillary Zimmerman and Mozaun McKibben, a 10-pound bucket of UltraCruz Sand Clear, plus a $50 gift certificate from Santa Cruz Animal Health and San Juan Ranch, a C.R. Morrison Trophy from NRCHA, a gift card from Platinum Performance and a Cinch jacket from Bob's Custom Saddles and the New West Country Store.
The Reserve Champion was Anne Reynolds, King Hill, Idaho, who rode Very Shiney to a 146.5 in the rein work and a 143 in the cow work for a 289.5 composite. The placing paid $3,177.
The National Reined Cow Horse Association, now in its 62nd year, is the governing body of cow horse competition. It is responsible for promoting the sport, ensuring high standards of competition and educating members and the public about the history and tradition of reined cow horses. With the support of a Corporate Partner family that includes Bob's Custom Saddles, Cinch, Classic Equine, Gist Silversmiths, John Deere, Markel Insurance Company, Platinum Performance, Quarter Horse News, Rios of Mercedes, Santa Cruz Biotechnologies, Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino, Bloomer Trailers and Schwalbe Trucks presented by Great West Trailers, and Merial products UlcerGard and Equioxx, the association works to keep the vaquero tradition alive in today's equine industry. For information on the National Reined Cow Horse Association, call 580-759-4949 or visit the official NRCHA web site at www.NRCHA.com.
Photos: Shelly Franklin rode A Dazzlin Prize to the Non Pro Two Rein Championship; Tish Wilhite rode Smokin My Cash to the Non Pro Hackamore Championship.