NRCHA Derby Champions

Chris Dawson and Reys A Shine lead the pack of winners from the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby in Paso Robles, California.

From the National Reined Cow Horse Association

Chris Dawson rides Reys A Shine to the 2015 NRCHA Derby open championship for owner Carol Rose. (Credit: Stephanie Duquette)

National Reined Cow Horse Association professional Chris Dawson, Burneyville, Oklahoma, never expected Reys A Shine (Dual Rey-Lil Miss Shiney Chex by Shining Spark) to win a premier event championship at this stage of his career. 

"I'm a little bit awestruck! The first time I showed this horse was at the Sun Circuit in Arizona in January. If you'd have told me then that we would be standing here, doing this interview now, I'd have called you a bald-faced liar," Dawson said, shaking his head and laughing.

The NRCHA Jack and Phoebe Cooke Memorial Derby in Paso Robles, California, was only the third time the 2011 stallion had been shown, according to his breeder/owner, NRCHA Hall of Fame horsewoman and industry icon, Carol Rose. While "Razor" has talent and pedigree power to spare, circumstances put him far behind his peers in training. 

"For 15 months, this horse was tied up in litigation. If it wasn't for Don Murphy, and a boy I have at home named Guillermo Perez, this championship wouldn't have happened. Don coached Gio to get him broke. He rode him at least five or six days a week. I chose Chris to continue his training, and thank him so much for the outstanding job," Rose said. 

Although she has raised, ridden and owned countless champions, the victory in Paso Robles thrilled Rose almost beyond words. 

Intermediate Open | Limited Open | Non-Pro/Intermediate Non-Pro/Novice Non-Pro | Level 1 Limited Open | Amateur | Non-Pro Limited

"I'm breathless, I'm speechless, and that's impossible for me! This is amazing. I'm so proud of Chris, and (his wife) Sarah, and all the help Chris has at home," she said, adding that another very special person, Gabriel Gonzales, also contributed to her horse's success. Gonzales, who had worked for Rose for nearly three decades, took some time off from his current job to accompany her to Paso Robles and be part of her support team.

"I asked him to put his 'special touch' on this horse, and he said, 'Yes, ma'am!'," Rose said.

Reys A Shine's dam, Lil Miss Shiney Chex, was the horse who carried Dawson to his first NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity open finals in 2005. Dawson sees many similarities in mother and son. 

"He's just gotten better every time I showed him. He's just like his momma like that. It doesn't matter what he does outside, or how he feels, he's all business in the show pen," Dawson said.

He thanked his herd help – Boyd Rice, Kelby Phillips, Phillip Ralls and Ron Ralls – and particularly appreciated his wife, Sarah. 

Their 666.5 composite score (219.5 herd/223.5 rein/223.5 cow) earned a $31,408 check, a Bob's Custom Saddle and Gist buckle from the NRCHA; a pair of boots from Rios of Mercedes; and gift certificates from Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch.

Chris Dawson also rode Reys A Shine to the open novice horse championship June 18 at the NRCHA Derby.

Intermediate Open Champion/Open Reserve Champion
National Reined Cow Horse Association $1 million sire Dual Rey was well represented in the Derby Open divisions, as another one of his offspring, Sonita Lena Rey (Dual Rey-Sonita Lena Chick by Smart Chic Olena) captured the intermediate open championship and open reserve championship with Ramona, California, horseman Nicolas Barthelemy in the saddle. The 2011 stallion scored a 644.5 composite, including the high score of the finals herd work, a 223, and the high score of the finals cow work, a 225. His dual paychecks for owner Sheri Jamieson totaled $29,685. 

"It's awesome! Are you kidding me? My horses were awesome. I had a blast today," the exuberant Barthelemy said, flashing his trademark thousand-watt grin. He rode another Jamieson-owned entry, All That Boon (Peptoboonsmal-All That N Cat by High Brow Cat), to a top 15 finish in the Derby open and top 10 in the intermediate.

Sonita Lena Rey excels in all phases of NRCHA competition, and particularly shines when a cow is involved, Barthelemy said. 

"He has always been a natural in the herd. He has that look and presence in front of a cow. In the herd, it's just a matter of getting a good cut and making him look even better. In the reining, I wish I could have shown him better, because I know there is more horse there," he said. "In the fence work, he got hooked up right away. I was feeling pretty confident we could get something done. It was just a home run. He never let the cow get away from him. I'm really proud of him." 

Barthelemy became smitten with Sonita Lena Rey at first sight when the stallion was a yearling. He spotted him when he and Jamieson were shopping the Cottonwood Springs Ranch dispersal sale in 2012. 

"I saw him and I went and tapped her on the shoulder and said, "That's the one. That's the one we want.' And we were right. The way he moved, and could stop and get through himself, and with such presence," Barthelemy said.
Barthelemy is a native of New Caledonia, a French island territory in the South Pacific, approximately 750 miles from Australia. He came to the U.S. after meeting the late reining horse professional, Yvon Mathieu, at a clinic. Mathieu was training for Jamieson at the time, and became Barthelemy's mentor. He passed away in 2011, a few months after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. At that time, Jamieson asked Barthelemy to take the helm as her trainer.

 "Sheri is such a wonderful client. She's been supportive from the time I was just an assistant to Yvon. When Yvon passed away, she could have gone a million directions, but she chose to stick with me. She had my back. Today, I give some of that back. Doing this for her, today, is just a drop in the bucket. She is phenomenal and she deserves so much more," Barthelemy said. 

He credited his wife, Stacy Hanson, also a champion reined cow horse trainer, for his success.

 "She worked so hard all week, just like she does all the time at home. She deserves a lot of credit for how good the horses look and how well they work. I am so grateful to have her in my life," he said. 

 The Intermediate Open Reserve Champion was Smokin Little Ringo (Smart Little Pepinic-Smoking Sabrina by Mister Dual Pep), a 2011 gelding shown by Monica Caetano for owner John Pascoe.

Sonita Lena Rey and Nicolas Barthelemy

Limited Open Champion
Reined cow horse competitors often refer to the connections they develop within the sport as being as close as family.

That was literally true in Paso Robles, as open champion Chris Dawson's father-in-law, Richard Winters, won the Derby limited open title on his gelding, Bugs Boony (Peptoboonsmal-Shiney Tari by Shining Spark). Winters's daughter, Sarah, married Chris last November, and Richard bought Bugs Boony from his now son-in-law.

Dawson was arena-side for all of Winters's runs on Bugs Boony, and admitted the coach's role was tougher than the competitor's role.

"I get more nervous for him than I do for me!" he said.

Winters rode the 2010 gelding to a composite 647.5 score, earning $5,510. The Reno, Nevada, horseman, an established trainer and clinician, has been successful in the NRCHA arena in recent years. 

"To come here and get a piece of it in the limited open is very exciting. I want to thank Chris and Sarah for everything they do for me with that horse. They've been coaching me with that horse since I've had him. The tables have been turned!" Winters said.  

The dynamic sorrel gelding has motor to spare, and Winters said the biggest challenge has been keeping him mentally focused. Bugs Boony was on his game in Paso Robles, scoring a 210 in the herd work, a 218 in the rein work and a 219.5 down the fence.

"He is a pistol. He's a pocket rocket, wired into 220 all the time. It's taken me a year to get to know him and learn how to manage him. There's no cow that will beat him down the fence. He's got plenty of speed, but to keep him quiet and calm during the rein work can be a little tricky. Today, he just went out there and did it," Winters said.

The limited open reserve champion was Over A Barrell (Nic It In The Bud-Katie Gun by John Gun), shown by Darrel Norcutt for owner Joyce Diegel.

Bugs Boony and Richard Winters

Non-Pro, Intermediate Non-Pro and Novice Non-Pro Champion
Hillsboro, Oregon, competitor Elizabeth Kania piloted Uno What Time It Flo (Uno What Time It Is-Dew It Flo by Mr Peponita Flo) to a trio of championships in the non-pro, intermediate non-pro and novice non-pro divisions.

They scored a 645.5 (214.5 herd/217 rein/214 cow), for combined checks totaling $12,451. Kania also took home a Bob's Custom Saddle and multiple prizes from Rios of Mercedes, Platinum Performance and San Juan Ranch.

Kania had doubts about even making it into the finals, much less winning multiple championships.

"I was a 187 out of the herd in the prelims. My second cow was on everyone's cards. They thought it was going to be a really good cow. I got it cut out fine, and then went to go work it, and it just kept trying to come around me and trying to come around me. It took me to the back fence once, and I went back with it, and tried to get off it, but it wouldn't let me off it, so it took me to the back fence again. When It couldn't get around me, it tried coming through me. It was a little exciting," she said.

Kania battled back with a 220.5 in the preliminary fence work.

"I just eeked in, in the last spot. I'm lucky to have even made the finals, considering that horrific herd work!" 

In the finals, the picture was much brighter, leaving Kania satisfied with her last reined cow horse event for a few years. She is returning to college at Pacific University in Oregon, for a three-year physical therapy doctorate program.

"This is a good way to finish. It's fun, too, because last year I didn't make the finals here because I lost a cow in the herd. When I had that tragedy in the herd this week, it was like, 'Oh, no, a repeat of last year!' But it turned out well," Kania said, smiling.

The non-pro reserve champion was Tammy Jo Hays, Nocona, Texas, who rode CR Wood Be N Caicos (Woody Be Tuff-Dees Cat Meow by High Brow Cat) to a 632.5 composite, earning $5,839. Hays also rode SDP Got Fancy Genes (RC Fancy Step-SDP I Got Good Genes by Dual Rey) to fifth place in the non-oro. That placing paid $2,919. 

The intermediate non-pro reserve champion was Kathy Wilson, riding Sanalea Chex (Tomcat Chex-Smart Little Sanalea). They scored a 637 for a $2,744 payday.

The novice non-pro reserve champion was Michelle Strickland, aboard Spooky Little Cat (Cats Merada-Spooks Lena), with a 624.5. The placing paid $1,247. 

Uno What Time It Flo and Elizabeth Kania

Level 1 Limited Open Champion
The Level 1 limited open champion was Justa Doin It (Smart Little Pepinic-Justa Hot Chic bt Just Plain Colonel), shown by Russell Probert for owners JJ and Teresa Fisher, Nipomo, California. They scored a total 633.5 (207 herd/212.5 rein/214 cow) which also qualified them for the Limited Open finals on Saturday. The Level 1 title came with a $3,444 check, a Gist buckle from the NRCHA, and a gift certificate from Platinum Performance.

It is the second premier even championship for Probert and the 2011 gelding this year. In April, they won the limited open championship at the NRCHA Stakes in Las Vegas.

Justa Doin It does double duty in the show pen; JJ Fisher also showed him in the Derby non-pro, and the pair made Saturday's finals. Probert said he takes that into consideration when preparing Justa Doin It to show.

"He's got a big motor, but you can't over-work him. Mostly I try to get him prepared even better at home, so when we get to the show, we can just kind of cruise through and not overdo it on him. It's not a problem for him [to show in two divisions], but it could be if I hound him all the time," he said. "He's so easygoing, he doesn't try to do anything wrong, and he does the best that he can do at whatever he is asked."

Probert, who previously was an assistant trainer to Justin Wright, took a full-time job with the Fishers at the beginning of the year. The Nipomo, California, couple are serious non pro cow horse competitors with an expanding program, Probert said. 

"They have probably 12 horses that we're riding right now, and they have a bunch more coming. They're wanting to support me and get some open horses. I'm very lucky. I haven't been doing this very long. There are a lot of people who have been doing it longer than me who haven't had an opportunity like this, and I'm very thankful," he said.

Justa Doin It and Russell Probert at the 2015 NRCHA Stallion Stakes

Amateur Champion
The Derby amateur champion was Gregg Lafitte, who rode his 2010 mare, Shes Playin Rey (TR Dual Rey-Playin Acre by Playin Stylish), to a composite 633.5 (207 herd/212.5 rein/214 cow). They also earned a spot in Saturday's non-pro, intermediate non-pro and novice non-pro finals. The amateur championship paid $1,364 and came with a Gist buckle from the NRCHA, a gift certificate from Platinum Performance, and a gift certificate and cooler tote bag from San Juan Ranch.

It is Lafitte's second consecutive NRCHA premier event amateur title. He also won that division at the Hackamore Classic in Pueblo, Colorado, in May. That success prompted him to enter the Derby. 

"I wasn't sure I could handle this showing two-handed stuff. I had only shown bridle horses before, and I didn't start showing cow horses until I was 50," Lafitte said, smiling. "It's been a challenge competing against the 'kids,' but we started getting along better this year. She's an amazing little horse."

Lafitte thanked his wife, Jan, his trainer, CJ Shopbell, NRCHA Hall of Fame horseman Don Murphy, and Don's daughter, Nelle, who all had a role in his relationship with Shes Playin Rey and his development as a rider.

Gregg Lafitte and Shes Playin Rey

Non-Pro Limited champion
The Derby non-pro limited champion was Claire Armstrong, who rode Hal O Matic (Halreycious-Miss Hickory Hill byDoc's Hickory) to a total 643 (213 herd/209.5 rein/220.5 cow), earning $1,876. The title also came with a Gist buckle from the NRCHA, a gift certificate from Platinum Performance, and a gift certificate and cooler tote bag from San Juan Ranch.

"That boxing run was pretty exciting. I had heard a couple of the scores of the riders before me, and I knew I had to be aggressive. The cool thing about this horse is, she was trained as a cutter when we got her, and she definitely takes care of me on the cow. I was really, really excited today," Armstrong said. 

She bought Hal O Matic a year and a half ago after she found the mare on Facebook. Armstrong has been working with Millsap, Texas, horseman Tom Neel to learn how to show a limited-age event cow horse. It's Armstrong's second consecutive Premier Event title this year. She also won the Hackamore Classic non-pro limited championship with Hal O Matic in May.

"This is a dream come true. I've never done anything like this. I've only had her a year and a half. I've learned all the way. I've never done herd work until I got this horse. It's been awesome, the learning experience. I've never shown two handed, either. Tom has taught  me everything I know, so it's been great."

Armstrong thanked the whole Neel family – Tom, Lorna, Jennifer and James – and thanked her husband, who doesn't ride, but "supports me all the way," she said.

Claire Armstrong and Hal O Matic