October 19, 2009
There’s more to Reno than casinos and nearby Lake Tahoe.
There’s also the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity every fall. But this premiere horse event wasn’t always in “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
And there are few horse shows that capture the attention and respect among devotees as does this premiere event.
In its history, the futurity has grown from a stock horse show organized, managed and staged by a handful of volunteers to a world class event that has become one of the horse industry’s ultimate spectator shows.
The first futurity in 1970 featured just 27 entries that arrived at the California State Fairgrounds in Sacramento to vie for top honors. The performance lasted two days and produced a tie for first place between Bobby Ingersoll on Leocita Chex, owned by Fritz Strain, and Les Vogt on Wrong Key, owned by Fred Mungia.
Again in Sacramento, the 1971 Futurity drew 45 entries for three days of competition. It was an encouraging increase in numbers, dampened only by the rainy weather. Ken Sutton, owner and rider of Royal Cutter, emerged victorious and distinguished himself as the only non-pro rider ever to win the futurity. Les Vogt, riding Bob Chex for owners Marabito and Mungia, was reserve.
In 1972, the futurity moved to the Lyttle Cow Palace in Santa Rosa, California, where a covered arena gave some protection from the elements. Despite the rain, more spectators than ever huddled in the grandstand to watch 72 entries vie for a piece of the cash awards and silver buckles. Sugarnic, owned and ridden by Greg Ward, was the champion, and non-pro Tyke Minetti picked up the reserve honors on Doc’s Cowboy.
The 1973 futurity showed a small increase in entries to 87, but the most dramatic change was in spectator attendance. It was standing room only in the Lyttle Cow Palace on the day of the finals and the crowds hollered, hooted and stamped their feet for their favorites. A new three-judge system replaced the former two-judge system, and only 1.5 points separated the top four horses. Wrangler Chex, owned by Nina Rose and ridden by Les Vogt, earned a narrow .25 win over Don Thompson’s Horseshoe Man, ridden by Dick Knight.
The fifth Snaffle Bit Futurity, still in Santa Rosa, stayed even in entries, but the competition was tougher. Owners were starting to breed and train horses specifically for the event. The point spread among the top horses was getting smaller every year and it was hard to make the cut to the finals. So it was decided to take the top 15 horses, rather than the top 10, to the finals. Big M Nu King, with Duane Pettibone aboard, went on to win the 1974 championship for owner Pat Risely by 1.25 points over reserve champions Maxi Chex and Les Vogt.
However, the Snaffle Bit crowd had become so large, it was clear a larger facility was needed. It was decided, then, to move the event to Reno Park Sports Arena in Nevada, a fully enclosed facility with more spectator seating. Some said moving the futurity out of California was a mistake, but a record-breaking 128 horses were paid up for the 1975 event, and the crowd followed in bigger numbers than ever. More that $400,000 in cash plus trophies and other awards, was up for grabs, and the event was expanded to five days. Bobby Ingersoll put together an incredible display of equine talent and became the first “Triple Crown: winner, taking the championship in the futurity with Hankey Pankey, then winning the hackamore maturity and the bridle horse sweepstakes. Greg Ward rode Sugar Fred to the reserve championship.
In recognition of the large number of non-pros and ladies competing in the futurity, two additional classes were introduced in 1975 when the ladies and non-pros paid additional entry fees and competed among themselves within the open division for their own high point awards and additional purse money. Tyke Minetti on Doc’s Know How, was the first-ever non-pro champion, and Dema Clark, riding Bar Fly, took top honors in the inaugural performance of the ladies division.
In its first year at Reno Park, the crowds had filled the stands to overflowing, and the show management was again faced with the problem of having to move the futurity.
The 1976 Snaffle Bit Futurity was at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, a plush, enclosed arena with paved parking, indoor exhibit space and theater-style seating. Entries made their biggest jump, to 195, and a tie for 15th place sent 16 horses to the finals. The top contenders hovered within a few points of each other until the last of the fence work when Benny Guitron, riding Kit’s Smoke for owners Mr. and Mrs. Bert Crane, turned in a cow work to shoot four points ahead of his nearest competitor and become the champion. Pat Bello, riding San Juan Chex, was the non-pro and ladies champion.
In 1977, the Snaffle Bit expanded to six days with 208 entries. The judging system was changed to allow three experienced cutting horsemen to judge the herd work while three other judges scored the reined and fence works without having viewed the herd work. Seventeen horses went to the finals with Bill Wildes and Sugaree taking the championship with reserve going to Doc’s Moselle and Bobby Ingersoll. Gerry Westfall, riding Andy Green Springs, was the non-pro champion.
In 1978, the futurity expanded to 25 finalists and to seven days. For a record-breaking third time, a horse ridden by Bobby Ingersoll won the Snaffle Bit Futurity. Doc N Missy, owned by Oxbow Ranch of Prairie City, Oregon, scrambled down the fence after a difficult cow, clinching the championship with an incredible fence work score of 154. Gene Suiter rode Dry Sherry to the reserve championship for owner Jay Anderson of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Karen Kittleson and APHA mare Diamond Jewel Wood were the non-pro champions.
The 1979 futurity produced a new face in the winner’s circle when Billy Arthur, Ontario, California, rode Aledo Bay for Michael T. Stabbe, D.V.M., of Clovis, California, to a 1.5 point win over reserve champion Kenny Pugh on Cal Jo Jo Bar, owned by Joe Scoma of Moraga, California. For the third time, a lady captured both the non-pro and ladies divisions when Zera Varian won on her horse Sugar D’or.
In 1980, Tom Lyons, who had horses in the finals of the past four futurities, rode Docs Baroque to win the fence work and, ultimately, the championship. Gary Baumer rode Cal Reb Bar to the reserve title for owner Lisa Anderson. Pat Bello repeated her 1976 victories to again, this time on Gays Leo Bar.
In 1981, the futurity grew to nine days and the judging system expanded with three more judges added to the roster for a total of nine. That meant each segment — the herd, reined and fence works — had its own three expert judges to score the rides.
Greg Ward won the 1981 championship on Sugar Remedy, a filly out of Sugarnic, the mare he rode to the 1972 championship. One point behind was Me O’Lena, owned by Double R Ranch of Clements, California, and ridden by Ronnie Richards. Kathy Wilson rode Martha Rey to win the non-pro title.
It wasn’t until 1982 that a stallion won the championship. That year Kenny Pugh took Sanpeppy Smoke to the title. However, stallions also dominated the next six places and the reserve champion was Doctor Sujo, ridden by Barney Hinds. Entries that year had grown to 292. In the non-pro division, Frank Rue on Fernwood Tivio outworked 45 others to win top honors. Also that year, a five-judge system where the highest and lowest scores are eliminated was established.
In 1983, an unprecedented $75,000 went to Im Full Of Pep for the open title. Ridden by Stan Fonsen, the stallion capped nine days of work with an exciting performance in the finals when he and Ole Zan Tucker, ridden by Bobby Ingersoll, engaged in a seesaw battle for first place throughout the competition. It was not until the last third of the last event that the stallion garnered a 1.5-point victory over Ole Zan Tucker, who settled for reserve honors. In the non-pro division, Kathy Wilson of Wilton, California, rode Doc S George to victory.
The 1984 futurity saw one of the closest contests ever when just 1.5 points separated the top three places in the open division. Former champions Stan Fonsen and Bobby Ingersoll, riding Lei Aloha and Oak Be Great, respectively, seemed to have the contest sewed up following their scores in the preliminaries, but in the finals, comparative longshot Plumb Dry, ridden by Gary Baumer, bested them both in the herd work to earn the championship. Ingersoll was third. Kathy Wilson, riding Billy Clover, repeated her non-pro win in 1984.
There was a flurry of competition right down to the end in the 1985 Snaffle Bit Futurity finals as Bob Avila on Docs Missy Command and Greg Wright and Peppy Par Three went into the last phase tied for first place with 295. Avila’s fence work was an amazing 150 — the highest score on the fence up to that point — and it looked as if Avila had the championship all wrapped up. Wright was one of the last to work, however, and he and Peppy Par Three put in the best fence work of the day with an astounding 152, which put them in the lead by 2 points, clinching the championship. The non-pro title went to Bob Scott of Clements, California, on Shesa Lou Too.
The 1986 Snaffle Bit Futurity brought several “firsts.” Among them was that the open champion and reserve champion were ridden by the same person: Greg Ward, who rode Pat Hubbert’s filly, Smokinic, to the championship and Clear Lake Land & Cattle Co.’s stallion Nic A Chex to the reserve title. Adding to the novelty was that both horses were sired by Reminic, a stallion owned by Ward Ranch. Dema Paul was the highest placing woman ever in open futurity competition when she rode Docs Jesse, owned by her and her husband, Jim, to third place. Glenn Barlow and San Zorro were the non-pro champions.
In 1987, Ted Robinson and Nu Cash, owned by Ralph and Mickey Gragg of Oak View, California, won the open championship. Robinson came to the futurity with eight horses, five of which made it to the finals. Reserve went to, Champion Tuff A Lena ridden by Gary Baumer for owners Don and Charlotte Gibson of Wilton, California. Jody Gearhart took non-pro honors riding Peppy Smoke Bar Lady.
More than 160 contestants from 12 states, Canada, and West Germany competed for more than $300,000 in cash and awards at the 1988 Snaffle Bit Futurity. Bob Avila and Smart Little Calboy earned top honors, and a check for $35,000. Jody Gearhart retained her non-pro title from 1987, this time riding Cash Little Lena.
The move to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in 1989 marked the biggest change for the year, but that edition of the Snaffle Bit Futurity was again full of “firsts.” It was the first year that a non-Quarter Horse had earned the championship, and it was also the first time a husband-wife team had swept the futurity. Carl Gould rode the appaloosa Ima Jo’s Doll to win $50,000 in the open. His wife, Kathy, earned the non-pro crown on Quarter Horse Oakin Around.
Anne Reynolds Jones was six months pregnant with her first child at the 1989 Snaffle Bit Futurity. News of the “expectant cowgirl” caught the attention of a Las Vegas television station, which sent a crew to film her during competition and at a baby shower given later by her reined cow horse friends.
The Snaffle Bit Futurity returned to the Reno Livestock Events Center in 1990 — and ticket sales jumped to more than $8,000 from 1988 — the last year the show was at the “Biggest Little City.” Jon Roeser earned his first open championship on Otoe Master, while Tom Buckingham earned the non-pro title on Colonel De Boon.
In 1991, Ted Robinson won the Snaffle Bit Futurity on Master Checks. It was the second year in a row that a foal of Master Remedy had won the futurity. Jody Semper won the non-pro championship by a decisive 7.5 points on Cowtown Hickory.
The 1992 Snaffle Bit Futurity champion was Doug Williamson on Mr San Olen while the non-pro title went to Patti Davis and Spats O Lena
The futurity moved again in 1993, this time to the Selland Arena in Fresno, California. Sandy Collier made history as the first woman to win the Snaffle Bit Futurity, accomplishing it on Miss Rey Dry, earning $27,000. Matt Day and Hollywood Boulevard won the non-pro title.
In 1994, John Ward, son of “the Master” Greg Ward, earned his first Snaffle Bit Futurity championship on Masteroani. The title did not come easy. In a grueling effort to hold a rank cow in the cow work, Masteroani went down. After checking his horse for injury, Ward remounted and continued the run. To the delight of the spectators, the judges blew the whistle for a new cow. Jody Gearhart earned her third non-pro title, this time riding Master Rani Chex.
Ted Robinson took the 1995 open championship on The Nu Colonel, who was by Nu Cash. That marked Robinson’s third Futurity win. In the non-pro division, Korie Baker piloted Smokums Miss Doc Bar to the title.
In 1996, Robinson earned his fourth championship title, and for the second time it was on another offspring of Nu Cash. This time the title came aboard Shesa Lota Cash. Glen Barlow blew away the non-pro competition on Lenas Hill Billy.
In 1997, the Snaffle Bit Futurity paid out a whopping $430,000 – up from $279,000 in 1996. Ted Robinson walked away with an unprecedented fifth Snaffle Bit Futurity win – the third in a row, and once again on a Nu Cash foal – Smart Little Cash. Jo Anne Carollo took home her first non-pro championship on Nicilena.
The 1998 Snaffle Bit Futurity had more than 250 entries and more than $600,000 in prize money. It was also an emotional event for those who watched it.
That year, cheering admirers, with knotted throats and tearing eyes, gave Greg Ward a standing ovation for his spectacular fence work which clinched his fourth Snaffle Bit Futurity championship. Although he had been battling cancer for two years, he fought back, and made it to the finals on Reminics Pep. Because of his declining health, he was rapidly losing weight. By the time he got to the futurity, he was about 50 pounds underweight. Regardless, when the results were in, Ward had captured the championship by 12 points, and took home the first $100,000 check. Sadly, the equine industry lost one of its greatest visionaries, trainers, and friends just two months later.
In the non-pro action, Anne Reynolds-Jones held three of the top four places, winning the title by 20.5 points on Magical Lena.
As the 20th century came to a close, the Snaffle Bit Futurity returned to Reno in 1999. Bob Avila and Smart Zanolena topped the open for his second championship, and Jo Anne Carollo earned her second non-pro title, this time on Roosters Chicaroo.
In 2001, up-and-coming trainer Todd Bergen won the futurity’s title on Boonlight Dancer. He was well-known in reining circles, but the win solidified his reputation as a solid cow horse trainer a well. Jo Anne Carollo earned another non-pro championship, this time on Plan To Win.
In 2002, Doug Williamson earned his second Snaffle Bit Futurity championship, this time on Doc At Night – a son of his first Snaffle Bit Futurity champion, Mr San Olen. Laurie Ward, wife of John Ward, captured her first non-pro title on Justa Hot Chic. Entries were up for the show, with 234 open riders, and the total payout was $835,900.
In 2003, the futurity expanded to 13 days, and 25 years after his first Snaffle Bit Futurity appearance, Bob Avila earned his third title, this time on Chics Magic Potion. Anne Reynolds earned her second Snaffle Bit Futurity title on Legendary Colonel, a half-sibling to her first champion.
The 2004 Snaffle Bit Futurity attracted more than 800 entries competing for a total payout of more than $902,000. It was one of the most emotional Snaffle Bit Futurities when Brandon Staebler – a first-time Snaffle Bit Futurity finals qualifier – earned the open championship on Starlight Captain. Brandon’s newborn son, Zane, had a heart condition requiring immediate surgery, and bills were piling up. When he was talking to the press after the win, he noted, “For so long, the futurity was all that mattered. Now we know what is really important.” Unfortunately, Zane died a few months.
Dema Paul took home the non-pro title with Shiners Dulena, and also won the reserve on Maggie Hickory.
Living up to its prestige and tradition, the 2005 Snaffle Bit Futurity broke records, and awarded a million-dollar payout. Ted Robinson added to his record of Snaffle Bit Futurity championships, earning his seventh title on Nu Circle Of Light, a grandson of Nu Cash, the first horse Ted won the futurity on.
Tying Jo Anne Carollo and Kathy Wilson for the highest number of non-pro Futurity titles was Anne Reynolds on More Magic Please. The 2005 title was Reynold’s third.
Todd Crawford finally earned his first futurity championship, and passed the million dollar mark in earnings, in 2006 on Smart Crackin Chic, while Anne Reynolds earned her record-breaking fourth non-pro title on QR Powderific. For the second year in a row, the show set records with its payout – to the tune of $1.2 million.
Two first time champions took top honors at the 2007 Snaffle Bit Futurity with Boyd Rice and Oh Cay N Short earning the open title, and Michelle Cowan and Wheres My Shine being crowned the non-pro champions.
In 2008, John Ward came back for his second futurity championship, riding homegrown mare Black Pearl. In the non-pro Dema Paul and Smart Shiney Lena won the title.
The 2009 show saw new faces and the return of old friends. Zane Davis won his first Snaffle Bit champions on Reymanator while Anne Reynolds returned to the non-pro winner’s circle, this time on Shiney And Verysmart, a product of Anne’s breeding program. Read more of the Journal’s coverage of the 2009 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity.
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Check out photos from the 2009 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity.
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