In an atmosphere that can only be described as electric, the top horsemen and equine athletes in the sports of cutting, reining and reined cow horse took to the diamond of Globe Life Field for the first-ever The American Performance Horseman on March 10, 2023. Before a crowd of 18,000, the horse and rider teams pursued a prize pool of $1 million.
The top five horsemen from the NCHA, NRHA and NRCHA battled head to head, offering fans the chance to see the most elite of these unique disciplines compete. The team format sent one horse and rider pair into the ring per discipline, with five horses and horsemen facing off per event for a total of fifteen performances.
The teams were as follows:
Burnt Orange Team
1. Austin Shepherd – Cutting
2. Matt Mills – Reining
3. Lee Deacon – Reined Cow Horse
Racing Green Team
1. Lindy Thorn – Cutting
2. Casey Deary – Reining
3. Chris Dawson – Reined Cow Horse
Royal Blue Team
1. Adan Banuelos – Cutting
2. Fernando Salgado – Reining
3. Sarah Dawson – Reined Cow Horse
Imperial Purple Team
1. Wesley Galyean – Cutting
2. Andrea Fappani – Reining
3. Corey Cushing – Reined Cow Horse
Regal Red Team
1. Lloyd Cox – Cutting
2. Shawn Flarida – Reining
3. Justin Wright – Reined Cow Horse
Cutting was the first on deck and after the herd of cattle had been settled, the cutting team members were up to bat as ‘80s rock medleys set the tone. The crowd delighted in the athleticism of the cutting horses, erupting with cheers as the cutters dug deep in the dirt while working their selected cattle.
The Royal Blue Team’s Adan Banuelos, aboard Teton Ridge’s mare All Spice, lit up the scoreboard with a 229. This clenched a win in the cutting, and following the event, Banuelos admitted to the crowd that the only love letter he has ever written in life was for the talented red roan mare. He had won the 2020 National Cutting Horse Futurity Open with All Spice, but soon had to say goodbye to her when Teton Ridge made the decision to retire her. However, he had the chance to be reunited with her for this groundbreaking event and the two did not disappoint.
“Whenever I won the Futurity, I didn’t know what was next,” said Banuelos. “And Teton Ridge came out with something that created a bunch of energy and nerves, and it was fresh ground per se. I can’t tell you how blessed and lucky we are. This was an arena full of talent.”
Once the cutting was over, Sheryl Crow took to the stage as the arena crew worked to prepare the ring for reining. The crowd delighted in the Grammy Award-winning artist’s performance before turning their attention to the prowess of the reining athletes.
Whistling and howling as the reiners performed their exciting maneuvers of sliding stops, rapid spins, speedy circles and powerful rollbacks, the audience was enthralled by all five reining performances.
Ultimately, it was Casey Deary aboard Down Right Amazing, a stallion double-registered with the AQHA and APHA, that most impressed the judges. With a score of 231.5, Deary and the bald-faced sorrel stallion took the reining title for the Racing Green Team.
“The reason that I do what I do is because I love that horse,” said Deary after his big win. “Everything that we do daily is about preparing that horse to handle any situation that we put him in—down to the daily care that he gets. Those horses are treated better than I am.”
The last event of the night displayed the fence work of the reined cow horse, a nail-biting performance in which horse and rider prove their ability to control a cow at a fast pace. Having already completed the rein work stage of the reined cow horse discipline earlier in the day, the teams saved this exciting portion of the event for the crowd—and they certainly did not disappoint. From the edges of their seats, spectators watched as horse and rider teams boxed their cow before running it down the side of the arena and then circling it each way—all performed at a quick pace.
The final rider of the night was also the only female rider in the competition, Sarah Dawson aboard Shine Smarter. Dawson saved the best for last, guiding the sorrel mare through an eye-catching run. Together, Dawson and Shine Smarter marked a 226.5 for their fence work, with their 226-point rein work score from earlier in the day giving them a composite score of 452.5. With Sarah Dawson’s win in the reined cow horse discipline, her score pushed “Team Blue” to victory.
One by one, each individual discipline winner entered the arena to accept their awards, including a $100,000 check and a Rolex watch. Then, Team Blue—consisting of Adan Banuelos, Fernando Salgado and Sarah Dawson—gathered before the crowd to celebrate their victory as a team and accept their awards: Lesley Rand Bennett hand-crafted rings and individual $25,000 checks. Every rider was outwardly emotional about their achievements and expressed gratitude toward their equine athletes.
Following the awards ceremony, it was clear the energy of the night and the significance of their accomplishments still had not sunk in.
“Honestly, I haven’t even wrapped my mind around the money yet,” said Dawson. “I just can’t get over the feeling that I have that this mare has accomplished what she accomplished tonight.”
At the conclusion of the night, it was evident something special had been born. Each horseman seemed to feel the momentum that the atmosphere the first-ever The American Performance Horseman had produced and was eager to see where it could take these western performance disciplines.
“We’ve always kind of talked amongst ourselves, knowing that our sports are so cool but that the biggest problem that we’ve had is that they haven’t been spectator sports,” said Dawson. “We kind of get the same people seeing them again and again, and I think Teton Ridge has just come in and proved that we can turn this into a spectator sport. I’m just excited to see what it’s gonna turn into from here, because I think they’ve just opened a door that we didn’t know we could open.”