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Fun In The… Sun?

Photographs by Performance Horse Photography

Colorado Reined Cowhorse Association’s Sagebrush show held April 19-23, 2023, in Pueblo, Colorado, at State Fairgrounds reached record numbers with an increase in entries of every derby and spectacular class over 2022. With over $45,200 added to this show it rallied in a great group of competitors from more than 14 different states all battling the same element… Snow! The CRCA members, judges, and event staff toughed it out and braved the weather in an all-day snowstorm. Thankfully, the facility in Pueblo features a large outdoor arena in addition to a sizeable covered arena that offered adequate warm-up space and could have served as the show ring should conditions have worsened and become dangerous. Luckily though, the ground stayed good, and exhibitors got to experience the winter wonderland. 

With over 58 entries spread through the Open Derby classes and over 25 in the Open Spectacular, the first day of the show was filled with big scores from top to bottom. Rounding out the Open Derby rein work was a three-way tie of Sarah Dawson on Itchin Ta Shine, Nicole Westfall riding Cat Like, and Debbie Crafton aboard Ohh You Betcha all marking scores of 146, and each taking home a check for over $900 in day money. Topping the leaderboard in a tough group of Open Bridle Spectacular horses in the rein work was Matt Koch riding Smart Ladies Sparkle and Darren Miller piloting Bet On A Smooth Pepto.

After a great day of rein work, securing the win in the Open Derby herd was once again Dawson, this time fighting her way to the top riding Vince Von to a high score of 148, as well as laying down a 147 earlier in the day on Lil Time Reymanising for the Open Bridle Spectacular herd work win. Lil Time Reymanising also won the Open Bridle fence work marking a 147.5.

Rounding out the final leg of the Open Derby was an outstanding fence work block. After the dust had settled (literally), it was EJ Laubscher riding Tattle Cat who walked away with the go round win with a 149.5.

Debbie Crafton riding Catbernet topped the Non-Pro Derby herd work with a 144, and to match that score in the Non-Pro Boxing Derby was Cheryl Chown on Hippster. The score of 144 seemed to be the magic number after Denille Leplatt laid down a nice run on her mare Hannas Metallic Rey to secure the herd work win in the Non-Pro Bridle Spectacular. 

Tying for 1st in the Non-Pro Boxing Spectacular herd work was Alexis Neiswanger riding DCR High As A Cat and DJ Crafton on Doctor spark, each marking a score of 143.

Following a successful first day out of the herd for the non-pros, the arena switched over and it was Jecca Ostrander riding Box O Opus Magnum to a win in the Non-Pro Derby rein work with a 145. 

Cheryl Chown rose to the top of the Non-Pro boxing derby rein work winning with a 143.5 on Hippster. 

Meg Ralston topped the leaderboard heading into the fence work after marking a 145.5 in the rein work portion of the Non-Pro Bridle Spectacular to secure the go round win. 

The final leg of the race for our Non-Pros came down to a single cow showdown. 

Kelli Buckley riding One Royal Princess secured the Non-Pro derby fence work with a 145.5. 

Lori Frampton-Crafton’s 148.5 in the cow work won her the round while showing One Smart N Timely in the Non-Pro Boxing Derby. 

The Non-Pro Bridle Spectacular high fence score belonged to Denille Leplatt on Hannas Metallic Rey with a 145.5. Winning the Non-Pro Boxing Spectacular cow work was Charles Jesse aboard Nics Black Gold with a 143.5.

Vezain Makes Triumphant Return to the Arena

Million-dollar bareback rider JR Vezain embodied the “Never Give Up” mentality when he stepped into the show pen for the first time since 2018 when a bronc flipped on him leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Most people would have considered such a wreck the end of their riding career, but Vezain chose to face one of the toughest equine sports head on and learn the cow horse discipline with help from NRCHA professional Aaron Brookshire. Vezain wowed the crowd as he executed the rein and cow work on his horse Neat Shorty Cat, seat belted in and with rubber bands helping to secure his feet. Vezain used only his upper body and his voice to cue his 2016 mare through each and every maneuver. It was a breath of fresh air to watch someone live out their dream, but even more so to see Vezain overcome so much while inspiring so many. There were more than a few wet eyes as Vezain walked out of the arena, just happy to be back in it. 

Vezain got his first glimpse of cow horse competition while competing at the inaugural American Rodeo in 2014, taking time out to visit Will Rogers Coliseum in time to catch some NRCHA World’s Greatest Horseman action. Vezain, who grew up cowboying and starting colts, is passionate about his horsemanship. Once he got a taste of the cow horse, Vezain knew his dream was to be in the cow horse pen amongst some of the best horsemen on earth. Vezain told his now wife Shelby, “Once I’m done riding broncs, I’m going to show a cow horse.”

In a podcast interview three years ago, Vezain was asked, “If the wreck hadn’t happened, what would you be doing right now?” Vezain replied that he would be showing cow horses alongside the best. Two years later, Vezain sat in his leather shop praying to God for a change in mindset. It was two weeks later when Brookshire called Vezain and told him he had heard the podcast interview. Brookshire told Vezain, “I’ve dealt with Non-Pros that don’t know how to use their legs anyway, let’s do this.” 

For the past year Vezain has traveled to take lessons from Brookshire, but it wasn’t until three months ago that Vezain purchased his mare “Holly,” and it was off to the races… well, the horse show. 

“I didn’t actually believe I could do it until last week, when I stepped in the pen,” Vezain said when interviewed after the show from his home in Montana. “Through a very successful rodeo career I’ve won a lot of checks, but none of them have meant as much to me as my $27.50 check I won at the horse show.”

Vezain added that beyond the fulfillment he experienced of conquering a return to the arena, he loved the welcoming atmosphere of the Sagebrush show. 

“The arena was awesome, and the show made me feel right at home. Folks were very welcoming,” Vezain said. “The cow horse family is just like the rodeo family. Everyone is your competition, but you want to see them win too. I felt very much at home.”

Vezain’s first taste of cow horse competition only leaves him craving more. 

“I set some goals and I had to change my perspective a little bit,” he said. “I wanted to train my own from the ground up, so buying a finished horse and letting her ‘train’ me has been different, but I’ve loved it. My goals as of now are to compete at the World’s Greatest Horseman and become a million-dollar rider. I only have $999,972.50 left to reach my goal. We are officially on the way! I want to use my horse to inspire as many people as possible, and through faithfulness and love of Jesus anything is possible.” 

Composite Champions

While everyone appreciates go round money, it’s after the last horse and rider leave the pen that the champions are crowned. 

Leading the composite after all three goes was Matt Koch aboard the 2018 mare Smart Lookin Secrets (WR This Cats Smart X Secrets Blue Angel) with a composite of 441 worth $5,100 for owners XIT Ranches. 

Koch said his favorite thing about the Sagebrush show was, “Getting to show outside in a really neat facility,” adding, “I was just happy to get shown. That mare wanted to be good down there and get along. Thank you to everyone who helped the show run smooth and kept a a positive attitude through the weather.”

Reserve Open Derby honors went to Sarah Dawson riding Vince Von (Stevie Rey Von X Hottness) for owner Wendy Buehler with a close 439.5 composite worth a check for $4,149.

Winning not only the Intermediate Open Derby, but also the Novice Horse and the 4-Year-Old Incentive was EJ Laubscher riding Tattle Cat (Metallic Cat X Catherine) a 2019 stallion owned by Cassidy Jesperson. Tattle Cat earned a composite of 438 for combined earnings of $2,471 plus day money. 

“We don’t get to show outside very often anymore, and it just opens and frees them [horses] up and they feel refreshed,” said Laubscher, referring to his favorite aspect of the Sagebrush show. “This colt got sick last summer and had all summer off so he’s a little behind, and it feels like he is finally catching up. I took him out there and took a chance, and it paid off.”

“I am grateful for the great clients I have who are willing to take a chance and send us down the road,” added Laubscher. “Without our clients none of this would be possible, so thank you to them. I want to thank CRCA for like always, running a smooth and professional show.”  

Reserve in the Intermediate Open Derby was Debbie Crafton piloting Ohh You Betcha (Bet Hesa Cat X Isabellena) with a 434.5 winning a check for over $933.  

Richard Winters walked away with the Limited Open Derby win aboard Smack Talkin (Smooth Talkin Style X Haelies Comet) for owners Spahn Land & Cattle Co., LLC, with a 432 composite winning $1,037. 

“Everyone on the organizational side was so wonderful and willing to help,” said Winters. “Everyone from the office all the way to the back gate was happy to be there and happy to help.”

Winters’ long trip from Texas proved worthwhile.

“Knowing I had a 12-hour drive home, it made it a lot easier to be able to call the owners and tell them you got a piece of the pie,” he said. “The drive home is always easier when that’s the case. I sold this horse to a client just starting out in the cow horse and we’ve been sharing him. I asked the owner if he wanted to go to this show and he couldn’t, but he still sent me, so I’m just really thankful he let me go.”

Reserve behind Winters was Nicole Westfall aboard Cat Like (Bet Hesa Cat X Smart N Katsi) with a 431 composite and a check for over $860.

Rounding out our list of open derby winners with a 427.5 worth $597.98 was Level 1 One champion Cassie Jo Marshall on TGR Quarter Horses’ Bet On This Pepto 18 (Bet Hesa Cat X Ima Fern Believer). 

“I loved the laid-back atmosphere, and the show ran really smooth. It was just a memorable show,” said Marshall. “This was my first Level 1 win with higher overall scores than ever before. This mare is actually bred so that was fun to win on one, and hopefully have a little champion inside. I couldn’t do this without TGR Quarter Horses. They’ve done a lot for me.”

Reserve Champion in the Level 1 was Bailey Bixenman (Owner/rider) on Starlit Lil Angel (Docs Soula X Nics Lil Angel) with a 417 composite to earn $498. 

A couple of unique classes CRCA offers are the 4-Year-Old Incentive and the Novice Horse Derby. 

Reserve in the 4-Year-Old Incentive was Erin Taormino on Rey More Heat (Hottish X Reyann Hickory) for owners JK Chicks Partnership with a 437.5 composite worth $536.90. Reserve in the Novice Horse Derby was Sarah Dawson riding Shiverz (Woody Be Tuff X Cats Boonolena) for owner Russ Mothershead with a 436.5 composite to earn $424. 

Moving over to the Non-Pro side of things it was Jecca Ostrander sweeping the Non-Pro, Intermediate Non-Pro, and Select Non-Pro on home-raised stallion Box O Opus Magnum (WR This Cats Smart X Opus Chic) with a 431 composite to earn a combined check of just over $1,300.

“Competing in the snow was my favorite thing. Going down the fence in the snow was just awesome,” said Ostrander. “This is my first Non-Pro Derby win. I’ve been successful but I’ve never been in the winner’s circle. It’s neat that it all came together even with the weather.”

“I want to thank my husband and the crew at home, Stetson and the kids,” she said. “Thank you Matt Koch for the excellent start and Jeremy Knoles for putting up with my non-pro ways. I want to give God the credit and glory because he puts the horses and everything else together.”

Closely following Ostrander was Kelli Buckley riding One Royal Princess (One Time Royalty X Dillons Skarlet Chic) to the Non-Pro Derby reserve win, as well as an Intermediate, Limited, and Level 1 Non-Pro Derby championship thanks to a 430 composite that gained her combined earnings of $1,844.82. 

“My favorite thing was getting to show in the snow. It was cool and different. I liked that it was a nice, big show and I got to catch up with everyone,” said Buckley, adding, “This mare is just doing so well, even with missing out on her 3-year-old year. Thank you to CRCA for always putting on a great show with great prizes and added money.”

Jens Naglestad on Shiney Lil Tick Tock (Hickory Holly Time X Cowgirl Sparkles) took reserve in the Limited Non-Pro Derby with a 427 composite and a check for $141.33.

Stealing reserve honors in the Level 1 Non-Pro Derby was Haley Pavlick riding LK Make It Reyn (Reyzin The Cash X LK Frozen In Time) with a 415.5 composite and $397.60 in earnings. The 4-Year-Old Non-Pro Incentive Champion was Debbie Crafton riding Biscuits R Smokin (Hickory Holly Time X IC The Buiscuits) to a 425 composite to earn $395.50.

Karey Louthan and One More Time Johnny (One Time Pepto X Shesa Dancin Diamond) walked away with reserve in the 4-Year-Old Incentive marking a 422.5 composite and earning $237.30.

Rounding out the derby divisions was Cheryl Chown aboard her 2019 gelding Hippster (Metallic Rebel X Hip Hip Sue Rey). Chown won the Non-Pro Boxing Derby, 4-Year-Old Boxing Incentive, and Select Boxing Derby with a 433.5 composite and a paycheck for over $900.

“Watching and meeting JR Vezain was my favorite part,” said Chown. “He is a super cool guy, and it was amazing to watch. The herd work on my 4-year-old was also a blast. This horse is super talented but he’s a lot of horse, and really spooky. He has been a big challenge for me, and getting through the reined work in the snow was such an accomplishment.”

Chown added, “CRCA has some of the most welcoming and accommodating people I’ve experienced. This show was a lot of fun and a good feeling because of it.”

Reserve in the Non-Pro Boxing Derby was Lori Frampton-Crafton on One Smart N Timely (One Time Pepto X Ima Smart Response) with a 432.5 composite to bank $454.28. 

The 4-Year-Old Boxing Incentive reserve win went to Gary Hawkes on Sendin Smoke Signals (Sigala Rey X Shesa Dualn Fine) who marked a composite score of 414.5 to earn $144.38.

The Level 1 Non-Pro Boxing Champion was Ashleigh Olds-Sanchez on homegrown mare Boondock Playgirl (Boon A Little X High Rolling Playgirl) with a 410.5 composite to win $160.34. 

“It was fun to show outside and the closest show to my house,” said Olds-Sanchez. “This is my first homebred horse I’ve gotten to show, and I had only ridden her once before showing. I think the Level 1 Boxing Derby Is amazing because it gives us with less experience somewhere to go. Thank you to CRCA for a great show and to Matt Matusio for all your hard work and help. Also, thank you to whoever brought the hand warmers!”

Reserve titles in the Level 1 Non-Pro Boxing Derby went to Todd Winczewski on Yippeekirey (Olena Oak X Jasons Rey Of Light) with a 404.5 composite for $106.89. 

The Derby was over, but the fun was not!

Winning the extremely competitive Open Bridle Spectacular was Sarah Dawson aboard Smart Chic An Tari (Smart Chic Olena X Shiney Tari) for owner Aaron Ranch marking a 438 composite to take home $1,054.20.

“It’s nice to have somewhere to go school your horses and have a chance to win some money if they’re good. The people are so great at these shows. This is my second CRCA show and they’re just great,” said Dawson,” adding, “This mare came back from an injury as a 5-year-old and she’s only been shown in the bridle a few times, so it’s lovely to add another notch to her belt.” 

Reserve Open Bridle Spectacular honors went to Matt Koch piloting Smart Ladies Sparkle (WR This Cats Smart X Shiners Diamond Lady) to a 437.5 composite. 

Earning the Limited Open Bridle Spectacular title was Trea Allen (owner/operator) with a 428.5 composite worth $358.75.

“People making the best of all four seasons was a lot of fun,” said Allen. “My horse had the winter off, so it was cool I was able to leg him up, come out and show him, and get a win. Thank you to CRCA for putting on such a great show.”

Reserve in the Limited Open Bridle Spectacular belongs to Kyle Likes (Owner/operator) and Most Peppy Dual (Perfectlygood Dually X Dolano Question) with a 417.5 winning $215.25. 

It all came down to the fence work for Denille Leplatt, who won the Non-Pro Bridle Spectacular with her mare Hannas Metallic Rey (Metallic Cat X Reyhanna). Leplatt’s high fence score gave her a final composite of 428, which was worth $515.20. In addition to thanking the CRCA for a well-run show close to her home, Leplatt was grateful to get the job done going down the fence. 

“It was a really fun show with good prizes and good added money,” she said.

With the same composite of 428, Meg Ralston took reserve and $386.40 on Seven S Tuff Boots (Blindsided X My Boots Are Tuff.).

The Limited Non-Pro Spectacular Champion Charles Jesse rode Nics Black Gold (Nic It in the Bud X Shiners Diamond Jackie) to a 414.5 composite for $215.25.

“I thought it was neat that all of the big names were there, and I was out there riding alongside them,” said Jesse. “You can get that at the big shows but not normally a local show, so I was impressed. I’ve been working hard at it. I haven’t been able to show for about two years due to work, so I appreciate the fact that I was able to get back to it and get this win.” 

Reserve went to Kelli Buckley on One Time Safari (One Time Royalty X Dualin Safari) with a 405.5 composite for $143.50. 

Rounding out the three event classes at the 2023 Sagebrush was Catherine Brown-Swain on Mintgundition (One Time Pepto X Peppermints), who took reserve in the Non-Pro Boxing Spectacular with a 429 composite to earn $500.

The Sagebrush was the first full show for CRCA’s new Executive Director, Emily Perry. 

“The show was so much fun, and we have such a great team behind us,” reflected Perry. “Thank you to everyone that came to show and thank you to new and recurring sponsors. These shows would not be possible without them. We appreciate everyone who stepped in and had a hand in helping throughout the show, especially setting up and tearing down the cutting pen. I’m just grateful for everyone who chose our show.”

Supporting Perry behind the scenes was CRCA’s president and show manager Tawny Fye. Fye’s motto “Don’t quit Showing!” held true in Pueblo.

“The weather posed a bit of a challenge,” said Fye, “but everyone kept a good attitude and soldiered their way through it. It didn’t feel like work to me, everything just ran so easy, and everyone had a great time. If this was your first time showing with us, thank you for joining our growing association. This is the way we like our shows to run—smooth, fun, and relaxed. We love to see all the new faces. Thank you to all the board members, Emily Perry, and our show secretary Keri Croft for helping make this such a smooth running show for everyone involved.”

The Sagebrush show offered four great vendors to shop with including TM Leather, Twin Trees, From Sparkle to Fringe, and Estrada Boots. 

Throughout the busy week CRCA members were able to fit in a few quick meetings including an informative non-pro meeting, as well as a youth meeting where a Colorado Reined Cowhorse Youth Association (CRCYA) was formed, and officers were elected. More information about the youth association will be released soon. 

Next up is the CRCA Drought Buster in McCook, Neb., followed by the Western Slope Futurity in Montrose, Colo., then two shows in Douglas, Wyo., which are the Firecracker in July and Mid-America in September. Visit for more information.

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