Al Dunning is a great friend to Horse&Rider. He's always willing to chat with us about what's going on in his horse life. He just arrived home from Reno, Nevada, after judging the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity, which, I have to admit, is my favorite horse event of all time. The horses in all the classes are incredible athletes, from the futurity classes to the hackamore, two-rein, and bridle classes.
So I called up Al earlier today to get his impressions after judging the premiere cow horse event. Here's what he had to say.
H&R: Have you judged the Snaffle Bit Futurity before? If so, how do your past experiences compare with this one?
Al: I judged this show in 2009, and then I judged the NRCHA Derby after that. The first time I judged the Snaffle Bit, I thought I knew everything. I'm a world champ! But I had to learn how to better use my scribe and my scorecard. Bill Enk, the director of judges, did a great job of helping us stay focused. Before we even got to the show, he had us watching tape and using practice scorecards to ensure that we were on top of our game.
In terms of the competition, I think the non-pro futurity was considerably weaker than in years past. Sure, there were a handful of what we call "pro non-pros," like Annie Reynolds (who won the 2011 non-pro futurity). I think the non-pros might be opting to let the pros ride their horses in the futurity, and then they ride the horse in the other aged events once he's more experienced.
I'd say the open was considerably tougher. The cutters who've come to compete and help with the herd work have made that portion much tougher. And then you have the tough reiners bringing their skills. The bar has definitely been set high for the open futurity.
H&R: How do you survive long days in the judge's chair?
Al: I like to exercise anyway, so I went to the gym every night, in addition to exercising in the morning and going for walks in the evening. It helped keep me from feeling blah from being sedentary all day at the show.
H&R: What's your favorite part about judging this event?
Al: The versatility of it. It's hard to get bored, because these horses cut, rein, and go down the fence. We also get to judge the hackamore, two-rein, and open bridle classes. It's awesome to see the best cow horses.
H&R: What are the most memorable moments from this year's show?
Al: In the open bridle finals, I marked Jake Telford and Once A Von A Time 77 points down the fence. His run was incredible. Then there was Zane Davis and Reymanator. They won the open futurity last year and the open hackamore this year. I marked them 75 down the fence. Sandy Collier and Stressolena were great to win the two-rein. And then Todd Bergen had a great futurity, even after getting pretty beat up in an accident just a few days before the finals. His reined work made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up?it was that good!
H&R: What do you see for the future of reined cow horses?
Al: The judging is on target. And the horses and riders get better all the time. It's such a spectator event that I can't see it doing anything but flourishing. When I first started showing in the working cow horse at the AQHA World Show, the competition wasn't too tough. The caliber of horse at the Snaffle Bit Futurity has now made the junior working cow horse one of the most watched classes at the World Show.
We hope to bring you judges' perspectives from some of the top events, as we enter this busy time of year with great shows and futurities. Which event would you like an inside look at?