BY TRACY WAGER / OCT 2022
On the road to the American Performance Horseman, Next Stop, the Snaffle Bit Futurity:
Q - It is a dream to compete at the highest level and win at the Run for A Million Cowhorse Spectacular. Even better is the fantasy that one would do it on a horse they raised up from a green-broke 2 year old to a performance champion. With Hott Rod you did both, in a world where folks are paying record-high prices for horses competing in the show pen. And…in doing so you’ve shown it is possible, to make your own horse, and win on the biggest stage for everyone else with a dream.
How does that make you feel?
A - It is a huge sense of accomplishment. That horse, he is different from the other horses. He is something very special. All of these horses take time. I spend as much time on his back as any of the others. But, he takes his job more seriously than what the others ones do. You can really feel the difference the next day, when you find out if it was a good work or a bad work. He adapts to change, he adapts to getting better and he accepts it. Win, lose or draw, he is a horse that you look forward to getting back on the next day.
As proud of myself that I am to bringing him to this level and making him a big-time bridle horse and the incredible year that we just had, a lot of this comes from the special horse that he is. You do not see that very often, and if you did, I probably would be out of a job.
Q - How did you meet Hott Rod?
A -The first time I saw him I was in Grandview Texas out in a pasture. It was the summer of his 2 year-old year. Austin Adams had raised him, and I was driving clear over to Weatherford and looking at other horses, and other 2 year-olds. We were getting ready to rope that evening, having some fun and I was leaving town the next morning to head home. Grant said, you really should ride that colt. He has been turned out and not ridden for a week. I went out and grabbed him. We really were just messing around. As soon as I got on him and loped off, I could feel immediately that he was my kind of horse. The way he travelled, the way he moved, the way he thought. He was a bit greener than the other 2 year-olds I had been trying, but he just gave me a great feeling. I try and keep that in mind any time I go and look at 2 year-olds. These horses have got to fit. It’s like going and buying a new pair of shoes, if there is a break-in period or you have something to work thru, it seems like it just never works out. It is a feeling that I honestly cannot describe, but it is like, “Yes, I love this”. I can feel it as soon as I get on, or start playing around with them. I get along better with that feeling, rather than horses that I talk myself into.
Q - So you were shopping for his owner Lynne Wurzer?
A - Yes, I have a cute story about that. She had called me about the 2012 Snaffle Bit Futurity. She introduced herself to me and said, “If you have some time, I would like you to find a 2 year-old for me for the futurity coming up,” I said, “it’s like this, I don’t go out shopping for them, they just sort of come into my life. If I find one and one comes along I will give you a call. It might be 2 days, it might be a couple of months”. So, 2 months go by and she called me. She said, “You haven’t forgot about me, have you?” I told her, “No ma’am, I just have not found one. Be patient, I’ll come across something”. A couple of months later I found Good Time, and the story goes on from there. I trained him up, we won the futurity and some other major events. It was kind of a Cinderella story. Then she said, “Can you for find another for me,” so I said, “OK, I cannot make any promises that it will turn out the same way”. She agreed, and understood. There were a couple of other horses along the way, and she said, “Find me another”. I told her, “I cannot make any promises,” she understood. I told her, “The same rules apply,” she said, “I know, I know”.
Then there is Hott Rod. He shows up and look what he has done. Long story short, first horse I find her is Good Time, he wins the futurity in 2014. He does good in the derby’s, and now he is my special kid’s horse! Then Hott Rod comes into our lives and you know what all he has done for us! It has all been pretty cool. She has to pay attention to how much she can spend, and where she can go, what events. She has done it right and she let me guide her the whole time, so this is a really, really cool story! You hear about a lot of people that spend this much money, and are buying horses, like you said Tracy, that have already hit the show pen. You hear that they are paying gobs of money and she does not have that. But she is loving the journey!
Q - During your Presidency of the NRCHA recognition of the sport has exploded from exposure on Yellowstone and the The Run for a Million, amongst other smart moves.
What effect is this having on the performance horse world?
A - This is exciting. It very truly is! What is even more exciting is that what people are starting to recognize more than ever, is that the horses we have, are just as special and just as important as any single event for performance horses. Like the Reiners, the Cutters. We are getting to where these horses could have gone to the Reining pen or the Cutting pen, but they can do the 3 events. And I guarantee you that they are just as good in all 3 events, not just one. The adrenaline and the excitement shows that the NRCHA puts on for the crowd. Everyone cheering for each other, the camaraderie…that is the biggest thing.
Our board is a huge part of that, plus our numbers going up over the past couple of years at the Futurity & the Derby’s, plus the additional money that is coming in we are turning around and putting it right back in to the premier events. To build up to the Association to the point where this year it will be the first year that the Snaffle Bit Futurity is going to pay $200,000.00 to win! We are not holding this money to make the Association richer, we re building on it, but we are being smart about where we put it. We are giving it back to where the people can benefit.
Q - Next stop on the road to the American Performance Horseman is the Snaffle Bit Futurity.
How hard is the championship to win now, when compared to years ago?
A -It is just as tough now as it was the first time I stepped into that pen. All the exhibitors, all the horses, are all very, very capable. Anyone that is entered is very capable of doing better than you. That is what really drives me.
As times change and a person learns more, you can never stop learning. We all know that! There are some things out there that put a little bit more pressure on you or that make you strive a little bit harder. But today it is just as hard as it ever was!
Q - Todd Bergen says it is a lot tougher now, especially because the horses are so much better.
A - Todd Bergen is Todd Bergen, he is incredible! The growth has made it even tougher, but for myself growing up and only doing the Reining. I struggled for a long time to learn how to work cattle, learning to read them. In making my way thru and going thru all the different changes as far as what could be different, and the presentation that you make in the pen was a lot to learn. I cannot disagree with him one bit, but for me it is just as hard as it ever was! This year or any year.
Q - Teton Ridge purchased the American Rodeo, and is overlaying the American Performance Horseman, as a one-day event on what will be the biggest stage ever for the sport. Thomas Tull has emerged as the newest and biggest patron of the performance horse world we’ve ever seen in 43 years at Bridle & Bit. You are on his Teton Ridge Team, can you share with us what he is up to?
A - Thomas Tull is incredible in the way that he is wanting to do this. He is making this so that trainers like us can do this. It took me 3 days to get back to you Tracy, because we are out here schooling the horses and not just working 8 hour days. I mean it is 15 to 17 hour days! Getting these horses ready. If this was to work out the way Thomas wants it too, it can be life changing for us to where it can do so much more with our life. And when we do get older we could retire. I mean not everyone is Doug Williamson and just do this forever! This is awesome, because of what it is going to make for us. It is going to be life changing for us, whether is it is when we are competing as well as the fact that we will have something to show for it at the end. If it is being able to have our own place one day, or having extra money to retire on or just to make a difference in our lives.
Q - This is making a difference not only in the performance horse world, but it will make a difference for everybody to enjoy. He is bringing us television. We have been waiting a long time for this. It has been a challenge for the industry. You can watch the NFR, but not what we do and what we love and spent our lives on.
A - It will bring a whole new audience to know us and learn about what we do and help in keeping the Association’s growing. He is bringing the performance horse part of it to where people might now say, “Oh you ride horses? Wow, That’s cool!”. Where maybe another sport athlete, a Football or Basketball player might say, “That may be something for me or my family to do,” or “Maybe I ought to look into that?”.
More people that can see it, will now be interested in being a part of it! If you are at home watching this on TV and it does not matter if you have a horse or not, they can envision themselves doing this. No matter if it is the cow horse, the Reining or the Cutting. It is a much easier way to start than the Rodeo events. Folks would be able to see themselves doing these 3 events a lot easier than say Bronc Riding or Steer Wrestling. On a stage like the Globe Life Field it is not just a local get together with a few friends having fun. This is turning into something where we will be looked at as athletes and these horses as athletes as well!
Taylor Sheridan and Yellowstone opened the door to people being really interested in this lifestyle and it set the stage for this event that Thomas Tull and Teton Ridge have created. Now these people will buy tickets and come to the American, or be able to watch from home and want to think about trying it for themselves.
Thomas Tull really wants to make it bigger and better for the Western Performance World. Honestly, he wants to build it up so it can make a difference in our lives as trainers and athletes as well as to bring in new faces and new people to help the industry as well as all of the Associations.
Q - What does this mean to you and the Western sports and the performance horse World?
A - Super, super, exciting. Because for me I strive on and get a lot of adrenaline and excitement showing in front of a crowd such as what is at The Run for A Million or The World’s Greatest Horseman. So to have the opportunity to show in front of the whole World, because of how this has been put together at the Globe Life Field is something that is really, really exciting for me! Not only for the money that he is putting into it, but also for the experience of just being there and being part of it. The production of it and how it is going to be put on, is something I want to be a part of. It is important to me to have a shot at doing this.