Horse&Rider’s Best of 2015

What were the best moments, movements, and milestones of 2015? Read on to find our picks.

What’s good in the horse world? We hear so much about the negative, but there are many positive things happening for horse owners and the horses themselves. It’s time to celebrate the industry-shaping, can’t-stop-laughing (or crying), unforgettable moments, movements, and milestones. Here we present our top picks, five categories that you voted on via Facebook, and sponsor picks—all to recognize what’s going right and anticipate what’s to come for our horse lives.

Best Viral Video: ‘Showmanship Lesson’
“Walk with a purpose!” chided youth exhibitor Avery Mortman of Spring, Texas. Her no-nonsense showmanship lesson given to RODEOHOUSTON Unplugged personality (and non-horseman) Mark O’Shea had everyone in our office in hysterics. The video, posted to the event’s Facebook page, was viewed almost 100,000 times and shared more than 1,000 times—and that’s just on the RODEOHOUSTON page.

O’Shea gamely went along with Mortman’s advice while leading the young rider’s mare, named Grace. Mortman coached O’Shea through walking and trotting on the lead, as well as pivots. Her well-trained mare took good care of O’Shea, as he practiced “walking on eggshells” to quiet his footfalls and “carrying a tray” on his arms to keep them square and steady.

We think we need to find Mortman for an upcoming installment of Private Lesson; we’re sure she has some super drills to keep herself and her horse tuned up and winning. Find the video at this month.

Sponsor Pick: Blue Ox Towing Systems
Best Way to Continue a Winning Tradition: Cade McCutcheon Wins the NHRA Non-Pro Derby
There’s no end in sight to the winning ways of the reining dynasty consisting of the McQuay and McCutcheon families. Following in the footsteps of his father, NRHA $1 Million Rider trainer Tom McCutcheon; his mother, $2 Million Rider non-pro Mandy McCutcheon; and his maternal grandfather, $3 Million Rider trainer Tim McQuay, 15-year-old Cade McCutcheon became the youngest rider to win the NRHA Derby in June.

With more than $100,000 in lifetime earnings in his relatively short career, Cade gives top non-pros a run for their money—including his mother. For his Derby win, Cade rode Custom Made Gun, owned by his grandfather, to a score of 219. Be on the lookout for Cade at the NRHA Futurity in December and on into the future. He aspires to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and become a successful trainer.

Best Act of Kindness by H&R Readers: Cheering Mary Homicz
’s July-issue Your Stories department featured Mary Homicz, the plucky youngster who, at age 12, is already a veteran of Northern California endurance rides and state horsemanship and royalty contests. A note at the end of her story revealed Mary had just been diagnosed with bone cancer; her mother said letters from fellow equestrians would cheer her during treatment.

Well—did you ever respond! Mary received a flood of cards, letters, and gifts. “I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to her,” reported her mother at press time. Mary’s treatments are ongoing, and though she’s been “an incredible trouper” so far, boredom—because she can’t yet ride—continues to be a problem.

So feel free to keep the encouragement flowing her way: Mary Homicz, P.O. Box 581, Weaverville, CA 96093. (Find Mary’s story online at

Sponsor Pick: Purina
Best Fresh Start for OTTBs
For racehorses that “retire” at a young age, finding new homes isn’t easy. But 12 Off the Track Thoroughbreds adopted by Purina Animal Nutrition are enjoying new careers as “study horses” for testing how nutrition affects exercise performance. The horses’ natural speed and athleticism are important for this work, which lets them do what they do best: run. Only this time, it’s not on a track; it’s on a specialized treadmill.

The horses came from rescue groups and private owners at the racetrack. Some had been previously acquired from auctions, where their fate was unclear. Once the exercise study is completed in 2016, they’ll stay on the Purina farm and graze to their hearts’ content until the next study begins. These horses are getting a second chance at life and careers—and helping others in the process.

Reader Pick:
Best Horse-Event Snack
Something from my own cooler: Fewer calories and less expensive! –100%

Sweets from a specialty concession stand: Cinnamon roll, please! – 0%

Hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill: Mmmm, protein. – 0%

Best Tribute to Tradition: ‘Down the Fence’ Documentary
There’s little that’s more “Western” than the iconic reined cow horse. The treasured process of taking a horse from a snaffle to a hackamore to a two-rein setup and finally into the bridle requires a skilled horseman who truly understands the art that goes into making one of these “iron horses.”

All of that tradition, history, and horsemanship is being documented in the film “Down the Fence” ( Produced by MJ Isakson, the documentary is a labor of love that’s close to her heart after she spent six years immersing herself in the cow horse community. The movie chronicles a year in the life of horsemen preparing their mounts for the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity, as well as documenting the sport’s history and community.

“I don’t stay up at night worrying what movie critics will say about the movie,” Isakson shares. “I’m awake worrying about what the trainers are going to think.”
Given that kind of dedication to telling the story, this sounds like a can’t-miss movie. It’s set to be released in 2016 and is the directorial debut for Isakson and Lori Adamski-Peek. We’ll keep you in the loop about where and when you can enjoy it.

Sponsor Pick: Cinch Jeans
Best Worldwide Boom: Reining Events
“The reining is gigantic,” shares Bob Avila. “Every show we go to is big. The NRHA has done things that work, and other associations are trying their tactics, but they’re not necessarily finding success.”

So is the secret in the sliding stop?

“We attended an NRHA show in Vegas that had green-rider classes with 100 entries, and it wasn’t just one class like that,” Avila explains. “They were every day, all day long. It’s exciting, and it’s worldwide. There are a lot of countries where you can’t rope cattle, you can’t get cows for the cow horse or cutting, and halter and Western pleasure don’t interest them. Reining doesn’t require cattle or even extra help from other riders, and there’s a level for everyone.”

Reader Pick:
Best Event for Shopping
Equine Affaire: All breeds, all disciplines; I want to browse all of it! – 50%

All American Quarter Horse Congress: The best place to stock up on dewormer for the year and order custom chaps. – 33%

National Finals Rodeo: Bring on aisles and aisles of tack, clothing, décor, and everything else imaginable. – 17%

Best Emerging Event: Red-Shirt Futurity
In a move to give slower-maturing reining horses a high-stakes event to showcase their talents, the concept of “red-shirt futurities” for 4-year-olds is gaining steam. One high-profile example is the Wild Card Reining Challenge, which is being produced by Brumley Management Group and will take place May 25–29, 2016, in Las Vegas at the South Point Event and Equestrian center.

Horses shown at this event can’t have competed at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity in December (for 3-year-olds). “The purpose is to establish longevity,” says Brumley Management Group president Amanda Brumley. “We can level the playing field for these horses and allow them to progress in their training rather than pushing them to be ready in December for the big futurity. We see it as a benefit to all facets of the industry, from the breeders to the exhibitors to the trainers and, especially, the horses.”

Best Quote
If our industry is to survive and prosper, [drugging of horses] cannot and will not be tolerated—whether that’s on the
racetrack, in the show pen, or any other arena where our horses perform.

—AQHA Past President Johnny Trotter when he addressed the AQHA Convention in March.

Sponsor Pick: Nutrena
Best Way to Earn $4 Million Before You’re 40: Andrea Fappani Hits a Milestone
Intense focus. Competitive spirit. Exceptional horses. All three elements came together earlier this year to allow Andrea Fappani to become a National Reining Horse Association $4 Million Rider. His training program relies on consistency and a solid foundation from the time he starts a horse and on through the animal’s competitive show career.

“My goal isn’t to win more money, but to always get better at what I do,” Fappani states. “I think the secret is to get out of bed every morning and try to do a better job than you did the day before.”

Reader Pick:
Best Venue to Attend an Event/Compete At
South Point Arena and Equestrian Center, Las Vegas, Nevada: Climate-
controlled from my room to my stall to the arena. – 60%

Will Rogers Memorial Center, Fort Worth, Texas: The history at this venue makes it an experience. – 40%

Best Second-Career Success Story:Smokey, the Racetrack Pony Horse
Smokey the Pony, aka the Buckskin Bodyguard, almost eclipsed his racetrack charge, American Pharoah, in terms of media coverage during the 2015 Triple Crown season. In person and via TV and computer screens across the country, horse enthusiasts old and new couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the good-looking gelding.

Registered with AQHA as This Whiz Shines, the former reiner now serves as a favorite pony horse for Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert. During the spring’s racetrack media blitz, Baffert commented that the 6-year-old gelding is a favorite of his, and he even rubs the horse’s forelock for good luck. Smokey’s own Facebook page documented his public appearances, trips from one race to the next aboard Air Horse One, and antics around the barn. He even had his own T-shirt line that said, “Smokey for President.”

Sponsor Pick: Tough-1
Best Way to Show Your True Colors: Wild-to-Mild Fabrics
Whether you’re in love with purple, paisley, and sparkle or a conservative hunter green is more your style, today’s horse-apparel options are limitless. Blankets, coolers, sheets, fly masks, leg wraps, tail bags—even grooming totes, hay bags, and tack carriers—represent you and make a statement that no one will forget.

The best part: Going with a trendy color or pattern doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality or features in your horse clothing. (Unlike some fashion trends for people!) With the rise in demand for edgy fabrics, blanket makers have upped their offerings in their most popular, best rated styles. If you’re in the market for a new blanket, be sure to visit this month, where we’ll help you find the perfect blanket for your horse’s living conditions that still lives up to your style requirements.

Best ‘Make It Work’ Moment: John Ward’s Equipment Malfunction
When he walked into the herd at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Stallion Stakes this spring, longtime pro John Ward had no intention of cutting bridleless. But that’s exactly what he did when his headstall broke while working his first cow in the open preliminary round. The California trainer realized what happened as he headed back to the herd for his second cow, so at least he was prepared when he dropped his hand to work the cow with the bridle hanging below his horse’s neck.

Ward and Smashingly Smart worked all three cows and marked a 213.5 to boot. After his run, Ward deadpanned, “I don’t like it when something new happens in the show pen.” But he sure made the best of this situation. See the video at this month.

Sponsor Pick: The Mustang Heritage Foundation
Best Rescue Effort: Homes for Mustangs
Since 2007, the Mustang Heritage Foundation has placed more than 6,000 American Mustangs into private care through training and gentling programs, such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the Trainer Incentive Program (TIP). These events showcase the recognized value and trainability of wild horses.

This year, MHF also announced its America’s Mustang Campaign in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management. The mission: To celebrate the wild mustang and educate Americans about them through a series of community events and partnerships.

“We want to provide the opportunity for the public to become educated on what the mustangs need, and how we can all help to support, adopt, or even purchase one of our own,” says Kali Sublett, executive director of the Mustang Heritage Foundation,

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Paulson

Best Horsekeeping Trend: Nutrition & Turnout
Two horse-care trends earn top marks: feeding a low-sugar/high-fiber diet and providing more turnout time. You’ve seen both touted in past issues of H&R in our Health, Horsekeeping, and Whole Horse departments. Visit this month for a selection of our best tips.

Sponsor Pick: Circle Y
Best International Ambassador for an Emerging Sport:Kenda Lenseigne Shoots in France
You might not think of France and then immediately think, “cowboy mounted shooting.” But thanks to the efforts of superstar competitor Kenda Lenseigne, the French—as well as other Europeans—have become infatuated with the sport.

The four-time Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Champion conducts clinics abroad to plant the seed of interest. It’s not a hard sell to Europeans, who relish all things Western and cowboy. After traveling to France the past four years for exhibitions and clinics, Lenseigne has helped drive interest to the point that the CMSA is in the works to approve the first-ever French mounted shooting club. “It’s a way to grow the sport and provide a positive, responsible experience with using firearms,” Lenseigne shares.

Reader Pick:
Best Barnyard Buddy
A mini donkey: Resilient and entertaining; I love looking out in the pasture to see my long-ear grazing with my horse. – 77%

A goat: Less expensive and easier to keep than another horse companion, but with all
the perks of having a buddy. – 33%

Best News for Collegiate Riders: NCAA Retains Equestrian
One year ago, riders competing on NCAA collegiate equestrian teams didn’t know if they’d lose their programs, not to mention scholarships. After tireless work on behalf of the talented riders, the NCAA agreed to abandon their motion to remove women’s equestrian programs and will continue to research the sport’s viability as an emerging sport within the NCAA.

Sponsor Pick: ADM Nutrition
Best Event to Look Forward to in 2016: Anderson Returns to Road to the Horse
Two-time champion Clinton Anderson, Stephenville, Texas, will return to the Road to the Horse competitors’ list in 2016, taking on first-timer Nick Dowers and past champ and event commentator Richard Winters, both from Nevada.

Anderson’s first win, in 2003, came under the event moniker of El Camino Del Caballo in Fort Worth, where Anderson competed against noted clinicians John Lyons and Curt Pate. The second victory for Anderson, in 2005, occurred in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he competed against Van Hargis and Craig Cameron in a closely contested competition.

“Road to the Horse is an event that I always look forward to participating in,” Anderson shares. “I enjoy working with the horse, educating the crowd, and stepping up to the event’s challenges. I’m excited to work alongside two great horsemen in the 2016 event. I have the utmost respect for Nick Dowers and Richard Winters.”

Best Movement to Build the Industry: ‘Time to Ride’ Initiative
What’s the best way to raise interest and participation in horse events? Get newcomers in the saddle. How do we do that? Encourage stable owners and managers to open their barn doors and arena gates to anyone who’d like to try riding a horse.

In its second year, the Time to Ride ( initiative connects American families to local horse opportunities. A challenge element measuring attendance at each participating barn’s sanctioned event allows stables of different sizes to compete for funds to improve their barns, lesson programs, and community outreach. The organization reports that 2015 numbers are up a whopping 35 to 40 percent.

“As of September 24, over 29,000 newcomers have been introduced to horses through challenge-hosted horse experiences, and we expect a 35- to 40-percent increase over 2014’s total once the final results are tallied,” reported Patti Colbert, Time to Ride spokesperson. “Time to Ride is also dedicated to helping these stables turn new horse enthusiasts into committed students, riders, and eventually horse owners and active participants in our industry.”

Sponsor Pick: Noble Outfitters
Best Mother/Daughter Win: Lisa & Alyssa Lockhart’s Winning Weekend
Lisa Lockhart, Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer and perennial National Finals Rodeo competitor, achieves great success in her own career while supporting her kids’ rodeo ambitions. This summer, she and daughter Alyssa celebrated monumental wins back-to-back on one weekend.

While on her Cowboy Christmas summer run, Lisa drove all night to Pueblo, Colorado, to watch Alyssa compete in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals on Saturday, July 25. She arrived at the grounds in time to see Alyssa win the senior girls’ barrel racing world championship.

After posing for photos and grabbing Alyssa’s trophy saddle, Lisa loaded up her family to drive to Cheyenne, Wyoming, so she could compete in the short round of Cheyenne Frontier Days, where she won the barrel racing average title, making for quite the mother/daughter weekend.

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