Behind the Slide
Behind the Slide - Marinne Benais, France
“When I was young my parents had horses, so I learned how to ride with them. Then they sold them, and I started riding at a club. I started out riding classic [English], but a part of the club was western so I started to learn a little bit and then I began learning about reining. I started to go to some shows and I really liked it, so I bought my first horse. I still needed to learn some more so I decided it was time to go to a professional.”
Since then, Malinne has become a professional herself. This is not only Malinne’s first time at NRHA Futurity, it is also her inaugural trip to Oklahoma. She’s here showing in the limited open.
“Ruben [Pacheco] proposed that I come and ride his horse here at the Futurity. I said yes because it is good experience. I had never ridden her before I came here but Ruben has helped me a lot.”
Malinne lives just outside of Paris, France, and works as an assistant reining trainer.
Behind the Slide - Phillip Chamberlain, Oklahoma
Originally from Ohio, Phillip has made his home in Lexington, Oklahoma, after finding his calling in life as a farrier. He frequented Pennsylvania to shoe horses for a reiner. That got his foot in the door.
“I started shoeing reining horses in 1991. I have been coming to the NRHA Futurity and NRHA Derby for the last 26 years. I’ve never missed one. The main reason I have always wanted to be here is because all my customers are here, they count on me.”
The 52-year-old moved south specifically to be closer to his reining clients. “To me every horse you sit on should have the reining horse base, it’s simple as that. I grew up breaking my ranch horses in the same fashion as reiners. I actually specialized in drafts prior to getting into reiners. I realized they [reiners] were my kind of horse. I gave all my draft horse customers a six-month notice and quit them all so I could ride strictly reiners.”
Ironically, any of Phillips bodily injuries can’t be attributed to his day job. He was a bull rider in the 80s and is looking to try something a little different in the bovine sector.
“I want to raise a few longhorns, the real wide ones not the short curled up ones. I would like to break them to ride and train at least one to rein and enter the freestyle at the Futurity. I think it would be really cool. It’ll be a few years down the road since I have to raise them first.”
Behind the Slide - Ariana DeJong, Canada
“I spend 90 percent of my time out in the barn. They have to come make me leave the barn or I’ll stay out there all night,” said 15-year-old Ariana Dejong.
This Canadian started out riding jumpers but switched to reining horses six years ago, and she’s never looked back.
“My mom rode, so I was pretty much born in the saddle. I’ve been riding since day one, and I’ve stuck with it. It’s my happy place.”
Ariana’s mom rode dressage horses and jumpers until she bought a cutting horse. “I ended up taking him and making him into a reiner,” Ariana shared. “My cutter was 20 years old when I started on him. He did not think too highly of reining, but he did it for me.” A dark chocolate palomino gelding called “Chip” is the first true reiner Ariana has ever owned. He’s 14 years old and hovers around 14 hands.
Registered as White Chocolate Chunk, Chip gets laughed at for his barn name, according to Ariana. That doesn’t dampen the spirits of this duo even a little bit.
“He’s super fun to ride, he’s a really big stopper, and he can turn really fancy. He always has a lot of heart and tries really hard for me. He’s the kind of horse that isn’t for sale; he’s a lifer.”
Behind the Slide - Bud Roebuck, Barbara Zappia + Bane, Florida
A piece of horsehair attached to a medallion sits behind the seat of a saddle cinched to a loud-colored Appaloosa named Bane. It bounces along to Bane’s gait, almost unnoticeable to those who haven’t heard the story behind it.
In November 2017 hurricane Irma ripped across the state of Florida. In her path was NRHA Professional Bud Roebuck’s training barn. Of the 23 horses at Bud’s place, all but one survived the horror.
That one horse was named Flag and belonged to Barbara Zappia. After 35 years removed from riding, Flag was Barbara’s first steps back into the industry. “Flag was a two-year-old when I got him and he was not reining bred. The more we worked with him, the more I felt like he had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things,” Barbara said. “I was referred to Bud and the first day Flag was down here his wife asked me what I wanted to do with him. I said, ‘let’s find out.’”
Flag’s stops hovered around the 20-foot mark, his spins were tight and crisp, and his lead changes were “like a hot knife through butter.” The bay Appaloosa carried a full white blanket. He was the picture-perfect model for the breed. “For a horse that wasn’t bred to rein, Flag was really steppin’ up,” Bud said. Flag’s injuries from the hurricane were severe enough that he was humanely euthanized. This left Barbara both devastated and once again on the outside of the equine industry. This is where Lesley Temple steps into the saga.
“Lesley reached out to Barbara and shot her a pretty good deal on Bane so she could stay in the horse business,” Bud said of the Appaloosa stallion. “We’ve been training him since he was two.”
Regardless of their score, Barbara was just thankful to continue her journey as a horsewoman. Bane’s demeanor tells the story of this young talent and alludes to the road ahead.
“Nothing phases him, he’s just even keeled as can be,” Barbara said. “He’s the type of guy who walks into a party and shakes everyone’s hands and then sits down for the night.”
To further illustrate the point, Bud explained that he wouldn’t be afraid to put a five-year-old kid on Bane’s back.
“He’s quiet enough that he’ll come back to his rider no matter what,” Bud said. “Nothing spooks him, he never gets excited or loses his mind.”
Lesley is blazing a trail for Appaloosa’s in the reining industry. Bane is just one of many horses she’s added to the lineup.
“Lesley has a fantastic program that she’s diligently working to bring Appaloosas back to what they were in the 70s and 80s in the performance cow horse world,” Barbara said. “I praise her for it, she’s done an exceptional job and will continue to do so.”
Looking forward, Bud anticipates introducing Bane to cattle and tapping into some of his other natural skills. He anticipates bringing Bane back to OKC for the NRHA Derby. Barbara hopes to be showing Bane herself in the next couple of years. Regardless of the path the trio take, whenever Bane is ridden, Flag rides with him in the form of that horsehair medallion.
Behind the Slide - Traci Nelson, Adequan®
The NRHA Futurity opened up with a big win by Mirjam Stillo on Steppin Little Lena. She was the North American Affiliate Championship Open winner on Thursday. The presentation took place on Friday but came with a special twist.
“I’ve known Mirjam since she was a younger youth. Back in Italy, I had trained all-around horses for about three years,” said Traci Nelson who represented Adequan® during the presentation. “Mirjam was showing all-around horses at the time. I have seen her go from youth to where she has come now, and she’s an amazing rider.”
Mirjam started out riding hunters/jumpers before adding the all-around events—Western pleasure, horsemanship, trail, etc. After graduating high school, Mirjam transitioned to the reining world. And Traci had a front-row seat for the whole thing. “It was pretty cool to have seen her here—she was always an amazing horsewoman, it’s just in her blood. To see her come from her youth to now being a top professional in the United States is pretty special,” Traci added.
Behind the Slide - Dieter Buerger, Germany
When the NRHA Futurity ended in 2018, all Dieter Buerger was thinking about was November 28, 2019. Hailing from Germany, Dieter looks forward to getting behind the wheel of a tractor to prep the ground in Oklahoma City all year long.
“I’ve been working for NRHA Germany since 1998. I’ve worked the dirt in Germany for the last three years. They asked me if I wanted to come over here and learn how to work the dirt from Jim [Kiser]. I did that, and ever since he’s hollered at me to come back.” Working the arena at for a reining event is a science. It all starts with the dirt’s composition, but pulling a drag isn’t just about driving around in circles.
“It’s difficult to do the dirt, especially if the ground is really heavy. That’s especially true at our facility in Germany. It’s not easy to work the dirt—you need a good drag and the experience to use it.”
A Kiser drag hooked to a bright-green John Deere tractor and serves as Dieter’s wheels for the event. He’s hard to find because he’s responsible for working several of the warm-up pens.
“What’s really important is how much water you put in the dirt. It can’t be too wet or dry; it has to be balanced. The humidity plays into that. The humidity here is different than in Germany.”
Dieter’s been involved with the sport of reining for the last 20 years. He’s a NRHA Professional who runs a training and boarding facility.
“I show customers’ horses, but I don’t show very often. When I’m at the shows, I do the dirt.”
Dieter was introduced to riding by a friend when he was 22 years old. What started out as trail riding quickly turned into something more. And the rest is quite simply, history.
“I’m very proud to be part of the drag team. I’ve learned a lot and gotten a lot of experience here. I enjoy every minute I am here because you see such different people, see a lot of good horses, and learn a lot about the dirt. It’s fun to be here; I’ve really enjoyed it. I want to thank Bob and Jim Kiser for allowing me to be a part of their team.”
Behind the Slide - Dr. James Morgan, Maryland
Forty years. Forty horses. Forty finals. Dr. Jim Morgan reached a milestone in his reining career during the 2019 NRHA Futurity. At 74 years old, he’s still riding colts at the biggest reining event of the year.
“I never really kept track of those things. I was never worried about the last one, I was worried about the next one.”
A vet by trade, Dr. Morgan is a reiner purely by choice. But his medical degree certainly comes in handy for breeding and raising his own futurity horses over the years.
“Most of the horses I’ve ridden I rode their mothers, fathers and relatives before them. I had a pretty good idea of what they were going to be. Some of them were not great horses, they were just horses. I just went out there and made it work somehow.”
Making the finals at an aged event, like the Futurity, should be the goal of every rider. The results of the finals don’t exactly matter because getting there is an honor in itself.
Back in the old days, open and non pro riders competed in the same classes. There were several years when Dr. Morgan made both the open and non pro finals. This year, he’s riding in the prime time non pro finals.
“Everybody goes in there and starts at 70, and then goes from there. I’ve just tried to make the most out of every horse that comes along.”
There were years when Dr. Morgan didn’t anticipate making the finals. He surprised even himself on several occasions. Last year Dr. Morgan didn’t have much confidence in his mare, but she went ahead and won her go-round of the futurity to take the pair to the finals.
“Sometimes I would be the last one in the finals, just kind of snuck into it. A couple times I made it out of the consolation class.”
With his sights set on making 40 finals in a row, the pressure was on in 2019. Dr. Morgan’s mare, Guns R For Girls, isn’t exactly a dream to ride. In their first three shows together, things didn’t go quite as planned.
“This horse is pretty complicated to ride. She has a list of rules that are kind of hard to uncover and abide by. But once I started doing that, things got better rapidly. I was very pleased with the way she showed because it was a lot less complicated than it had been in the past.”
The palomino marked a 215.5 during their run. Since she’s the only horse Dr. Morgan brought to Oklahoma City, he said all he needs to do is keep her legged up and ready for the finals. This gives him plenty of time to scoot around State Fair Park for the week.
“Without Brian [Bell], this wouldn’t have been possible. He kind of takes care of me. He’s been a big part of it. I can call on him any time, and he is glad to help.”
Since Dr. Morgan is the oldest NRHA million-dollar rider in history, he’s still competing against people who are at least 50 years younger than him. The fresh perspective Brian brings to the table gives Dr. Morgan his competitive edge.
“Brian has extended himself to me in a way that is so special. I’ve done most of the riding on her myself, but when I run into trouble, Brian stops by the house and he rides her and helps me get through it. He’s really made it so I could compete.”
Behind the Slide - Lon + Sharon Kraft, Colorado
What goes around, comes around. For Lon and Sharon Kraft, that came in the form of recognition for their role in promoting the reining industry and the NRHA as the affiliate ambassadors for the Mountain Region.
“We volunteer because we want to and because we feel so strongly about the sport. To be perfectly honest, being recognized through this program was a surprise for us,” Sharon said. “We were so honored and humbled to be recognized for it.”
Last year Lon and Sharon were the nominators of the affiliate ambassadors for their region. And now the tables have turned as they don’t know who nominated them.
“To be one of fifteen regions recognized we understand that’s a very prestigious recognition,” she said. “We are going to continue to be involved however the program wants us to be.”
It was just ten short years ago when Lon and Sharon were exposed to reining for the first time. It was in Denver during the National Western Stock Show that Lon got the idea in his head that the couple needed to take up the sport.
“My wife made the mistake of taking me to watch reining in Denver,” Lon said. “I thought ‘you know, I am very competitive and so is she, I can do that. It looks so simple.’ They made it look so easy.”
Lon quickly found out horse ownership isn’t exactly easy, but it most certainly is worth the effort.
“I didn’t know this at the time, but you can’t just buy one horse. They need to have a partner,” Lon said. “So I got educated and it just grows from there. It’s a never-ending situation.”
After their first colt didn’t pan out as a reiner, Lon and Sharon started taking their trainer, Jared Amen, out on shopping trips for their horses.
“It’s a great sport, it’s fun, good people, we are all very competitive but will give each other the shirts off our back,” Lon added. “It’s a great atmosphere to be involved in.”
Last year their futurity horse made both the L2 and L3 open finals. Although they didn’t bring any horses to the 2019 Futurity, Lon and Sharon made the trek specifically to watch their gelding show in the youth with Abigail Dooley.
Behind the Slide - Lanie + Ellie, Texas
The daughters of NRHA Professionals Sebastian + Melanie Petroll, Lanie and Ellie both attended their first NRHA Futurity in a swaddle. The spunky girls find the week in Oklahoma City exciting simply because they aren’t at home.
“We are here with my daddy because he’s showing and our customers are showing too,” 8-year-old Lanie said. Six-year-old Ellie nods in agreement.
Both girls are avid riders at home, but also spend their time on their favorite activities. For Ellie, that means painting and anything else she deems as art.
Lanie, on the other hand, enjoys writing stories. She makes a point to write the adventurous variety.
Collectively, both girls have been begging their parents for a chicken. There is no particular reason for the request, other than they just like chickens. Plain and simple.
Their favorite part of school is spending time outside for recess with their friends. If they had to pick their favorite part, the duo agrees on the slide.
“The slide shocks me, it’s a rude slide,” Lanie explained.
Behind the Slide - Rondell Stevenson, Texas
“When you’re havin’ fun it’s not really work. I’ve been doin’ this for 31 years, so it’s not really work—it’s just fun.”
That’s what well known shoe-shiner, tack maintainer and all-around good guy, Rondell Stevenson said about his job. He learned the tricks of the trade back in 1988 when a friend of his needed some extra hands. That day-job never ended, and Rondell is thankful for that fact every day.
“I like meeting people and traveling and just doing a good job. That’s the main thing: you have to do a good job at whatever you do.”
Even just breezing past Rondell in the concourse of the Jim Norick Coliseum at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City, he’ll notice the state of your shoes—good or bad.
“You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their boots if they aren’t properly maintained.”
Although most people know they should be conditioning and polishing their leather, very few actually do it. Rondell compared it to changing the oil on a car. Not only does Rondell work at NRHA events, he can be found at conventions, shows for other species, and even weddings.
“Wherever they need me, whoever needs service, I am there. And I know just about everybody. It’s important to have a personal relationship with your customers.”
Behind the Slide - Melissa Mower, Iowa
At the 2018 NRHA Futurity, Melissa Mower was simply focused on helping the event run smoothly. It was her first year working as staff for the show. Back home, she is a full-time police officer.
“I grew up in Iowa, so I am definitely western born. When I rode for the mounted patrol for the Des Moines Police Department, I learned English. So, I got into English by accident.”
Melissa’s daughter, who is now 14, stumbled upon one of those mounted patrol photos. This spurred the pair into finding a place to take some lessons at. “We took English and jumping lessons together and I got completely addicted to it [jumping].”
Reining hasn’t taken off in the Hawkeye state yet. Melissa is getting a front-row seat as the impact of Yellowstone’s reining feature starts to unfold. “The Yellowstone feature was huge for the sport. People who didn’t necessarily understand reining started to take notice. It’s been really good to watch people respond to that.”
Melissa remembers recounting how interesting she found reining to be during her time in Oklahoma City last year. Her daughter heard it from her mom, but finally saw it firsthand on Yellowstone.
“I like how interesting and intricate reining can be as far as lead changes, balance, spins and everything goes. Watching these young horses perform at this level and knowing how much time has gone into them is cool to me.”
Melissa’s daughter will join in on the fun later this week and get to see firsthand what the hype is all about when it comes to reining.
Behind the Slide - Greg + Lizelle Garland, South Africa
“Reining here is tiny in comparison to the US and Europe. Our biggest hurdle is that we have a lack of trained reining horses,” said Greg Garland from South Africa. He’s one of the founders of the NRHA Affiliate in his country. His wife, Lizelle, is the other founder, along with a handful of reining enthusiasts. Finding older horses trained for reining in South Africa is almost impossible. This makes it difficult to get new riders into the sport.
“It’s really hard to come by a reining horse in our country that you can jump on and ride a pattern on,” Greg explained. “We are pushing ranch riding right now because those are the basic maneuvers of reining and hopefully that will grow and develop into reining.”
Always a western rider, Greg stumbled upon the sport when he wanted to step up his game from trail riding.
“I arranged a clinic with a trainer in Whitesboro, Texas, just before I met Lizelle and I basically dragged her to America with me,” Greg said.
Lizelle was born an English rider, and essentially knew nothing about the sport of reining when she got a week-long crash course with Greg. The verdict? She fell in love with it.
“Once I did that clinic I was hooked. We started getting clinicians in our country and had shows. I haven’t looked back because I just don’t want to do anything but ride reiners,” Lizelle said.
The English rider in Lizelle was visible in her first reining saddle Greg gifted her. The one-of-a-kind black reining saddle mimicked the traditional color of the English tack Lizelle was used to. She’s since switched to traditional saddle colors, but her English training lives on in her riding style.
For the last three years Greg and Lizelle have contemplated starting a NRHA Affiliate in their country. The task was daunting as they needed 25 NRHA members to get the paperwork started. Or so they thought.
“When some staff from NRHA came to visit us, we found out about a new rule that said we only need ten members since we are a developing country,” Greg said. This lit the fire and the couple ran with it.
Officially recognized by NRHA in early July, the new group hosted their first show in August. Two more ran back-to-back in October.
“Within three months of inception, we’ve had three shows. It’s been amazing,” Greg said. “We are still small and we have limited number of members, but it is definitely something that everyone is excited about and we are looking forward to growing.”
Behind the Slide - Sara Honegger, California
She’s not your typical California girl, regardless of taking her first breath of life in Los Angeles. Sara Honegger is kindness and humility personified, and she’s your NRHA youth and professional programs manager.
“I get to see both ends of the spectrum. I get to help our youth participate in our amazing programs while watching them grow into adulthood, essentially. I also get to see what the professionals in our industry are looking forward to.”
Sara’s parents weren’t horse people until they had to be. When this redhead decided she needed a horse, there was no looking back for her family of three.
“I was so lucky to have parents who supported me when it came to horses. They slowly got me into the industry.”
After getting her start in the western pleasure pen, Sara quickly found her way to rodeo, falling in love with barrel racing and breakaway roping.
“Whenever we didn’t know what we were doing, my mom would joke that I grew up with a turtle that didn’t know what to do. We all kind of learned together.”
Eventually finding her way to the red dirt state by way of Oklahoma State University, Sara always knew she’d stay connected to the equine industry.
“The moment I found reining I truly fell in love with the sport; there is just so much precision and athleticism. These horses are so well trained, and I think that goes back to their foundation which is equally advantageous in the rodeo arena as well.”
The sport is intriguing, the horses are impressive, but the people? Priceless.
Traversing the aisles of any reining event with Sara is comparable to sidling up to a celebrity.
“I’ve never felt more like I am where I am meant to be than right now, with the NRHA, a part of this community.”
Behind the Slide - Frank Cutolo, New York
“I did a lot of things in the Army; you name it, I probably did it,” said Frank Cutolo, who runs one of the parking booths for the State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.
Born in Jamaica, New York, in 1948, Frank was drafted into the Army right out of high school. He said, “it kept me pretty busy.” Immediately after being drafted, Frank headed to basic training in Georgia before learning to be a truck driver in South Carolina. Then he was off to Vietnam.
“When I got to Vietnam, I was a truck driver for about four months, then they handed me a rifle and sent me out into the woods. The Army was good to me, so I enjoyed it.”
At one point in his military career, Frank was a drill sergeant. Serving in influential positions remain in Frank’s memory the most. “Being in a leadership position, I had the chance to influence the lives of the younger soldiers and make them leaders as well. I really enjoyed training and molding people into soldiers.”
Sixteen of the 23 years Frank served in the Army were spent in Germany. He isn’t fluent in the native language, but Frank picked up a little bit.
“There’s a German family that I’m still friends with that comes to visit their relatives in Tennessee. They usually stop by for a visit here in Oklahoma.”
When Frank officially retired in 1994 from his job at Tinker Air Force Base, he got to spend more time with his “trophy wife,” Laverne. It didn’t take long for the couple to decide they needed something to keep them busy.
“These are laid-back, easy jobs. I was a ticket taker at the past state fair here. It was a lot of long hours, but it was a lot of fun and I met a lot of nice people.”
The NRHA Futurity and Adequan® NAAC is the second horse event Frank has worked and attended.
“It’s interesting to me because the last time I was on a horse it rubbed me off on a tree. To watch them work out and then perform on the big screen is pretty interesting to me.”
Behind the Slide - Fred Win, New Jersey
Hailing from a country in southeast Asia, Myanmar, Fred Win is the definition of a go-getter. Even from a young age he wasn’t afraid to chase his dreams.
“I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. I lived in the big city, so there weren’t any horses. I can remember when someone from the village came in with horses for pony rides. I ran out there like they were the ice cream truck.”
That’s how Fred fell in love with horses. After he finished high school, his dad bought him a horse to train. It proved to be a pivotal point in Fred’s life.
“He was three years old and I trained him for show jumping and trick riding. I became a professional in Bermu with a salary and everything.”
At just 23 years old, Fred decided to become a lawyer. He traveled to the United States and earned a bachelor’s degree and then fulfilled his goal of becoming a lawyer. In the process, he found a passion for reining.
“I always competed with able bodied people over there so when I came over here, I was shocked to see that there was para dressage, para reining, para jumping, very well developed. And that’s part of why I started doing it here.”
Fred was born without his right leg. It’s abundantly clear that’s never put a damper on his pursuit of excellence as an equestrian. Perhaps, it’s been a driving force behind Fred’s desire to be a horse trainer.
“I do a lot of dressage at home and that helps me prepare for reining. I train my horses to do the Spanish walk, to bow and lay down. And I also do a lot of dressage with my reining mare.”
Although Fred does a majority of his own training, he is coached by Dean Brown. Fred likes watching Dean work horses and seeing the parallels between reining and dressage.
“Generally, the concepts between the two events are the same, but the positions are different. In reining you lean back, but in dressage you sit up straighter.”
The amount of contact on the horse’s bit is also significantly different. A draped rein simply doesn’t work in dressage, while in reining it’s a measure of accomplishment.
At the 2016 AQHA Congress, Fred won the non pro freestyle reining. He’s also the four-time defending para reining champion. After the 2019 Congress, Fred left with a truckload of accolades.
“I won the non pro freestyle reining and the para reining. I had one of the best scores at Congress, so they invited me here to do my freestyle reining.”
Dan Dobbs + Alex Quinte, NRHA IT
They’re the dynamic duo you don’t actually see, but you love their work. Dan Dobbs and Alex Quinte are the coolest IT guys you’ve never met, but should. Wireless scoring systems, instantaneous draw updates, and high-definition live video streaming only scratch the surface when it comes to Dan and Alex’s work. Hailing from Germany, Alex is comparable to Einstein himself according to Dan.
“Alex trained me how to work a show,” Dan said. “It was my first event with NRHA when I was told we had a guy coming from Europe. We had heard about his software running there and thought it was cool. I was asked to find out what it would take to get our shows running on the software.”
Luckily, Dan and Alex became fast friends, and Showmanager became the software of choice for major NRHA events.
“I was in an academic research setting for grid computing when I got asked to start developing management software for horse shows. That was 10 years ago,” Alex explained. “I started out with smaller reining shows, helping my sister from the software side.”
It didn’t take long for Alex’s brilliant software to take off in Europe. Soon enough he was managing the electronics of major reining events such as the Italian Futurity and Italian Derby.
“When Alex first started working shows, the handhelds weren’t wireless,” Dan said. “We had a cable to each one, and they looked like old calculators. It was just numbers and an enter button. Every year the software progresses; every year Alex rolls out new functionality or features.”
Everything from the jumbotron to the information in the draw sheets is handled through Alex’s program. There is no detail too small for these two; they take care of it all here in Oklahoma City.
Although there are other software programs available to handle the details of a show, Alex said the strength of his system stems from the comprehensive outlook he took when building it.
“You can run a weekend show on the other packages out there, but if you want wireless tables, scores going to the internet, overlays on the video—all the little details that you see here [the Futurity]—you need Alex’s system,” Dan said. “It even has a financial component to it.