Behind The Buckle
Author: Lauren Middleton
Think about when you started riding cutting horses, or maybe even when you first saw a horse on a cow. It is unbelievable what these equine athletes can do from weekend events to the "big pen" in Fort Worth, TX. We aspire to achieve greatness for ourselves and for our horses from taking home Championships and accolades to simply having that rush you feel after a great run. But from the time we first have the itch to try this unique sport, we all strive to win a buckle. These small pieces of hardware mean more to us than an outsider could understand because every buckle marks a milestone achieved or a goal met. Even the top riders in the industry, who have won many over the years, still remember the story behind each one. We took some time to talk to several stand-out competitors about the buckle they wear and which ones have meant the most to them over the years. The stories that we were able to hear encouraged us and inspired us because of the symbolism of the small bits of metal for these riders.
Paul Hansma is a top trainer in the industry and one of the best coaches. He is one to always look for in a draw, because there is much to learn when watching him show. Paul has won over $5 million in the cutting pen, but he stresses the importance of every accomplishment both in and out of the show pen. While working towards his next target, he takes the time to help fellow cutters reach their own goals through his educational clinics. Of course, we still wonder which one of his achievements does he hold close to his heart, or in this case, on his belt.
Photo by Bobbi Taylor
Paul wears his 1996 NCHA Open Futurity Championship buckle to show in and, rightfully so, it is the pinnacle of accomplishments in the NCHA. So many strive for the greatness associated with this gold buckle, but only a handful can wear such a coveted article. His everyday buckle is actually a reined cow horse buckle that he won in Canada in 1983. It was something different for him that he worked hard to achieve.
Paul Hansma and SCR Hydrive Chic
Julie Hansma, Paul's wife and top Non-Professional competitor, has a different take on the importance of her buckles and which mean the most to her. When she wins a buckle on a horse that is special to her, she keeps it on her belt until she is fortunate enough to have another favorite horse present itself. Right now, she wears a buckle she won in the NCHA Non-Pro Futurity Finals aboard Daisy Poochanan, a mare from the long line of very important horses to the Hansma Family. Julie has high hopes of winning more buckles riding Daisy, but we are sure that she will ride many more standout horses in the coming years.
Julie Hansma and Tommy Shelby
Trainer, Casey Green, of Perrin, TX, grew up in the sport of cutting and has certainly done very well for himself over the years. Just recently, he surpassed the million-dollar mark in NCHA earnings after being a finalist in the 2017 NCHA Futurity. When talking to him about the buckles that have meant the most to him, he had to go with his Limited Open Futurity Champion buckle that he won aboard He and his wife Codie's mare, Buckaroo Boon. It was his first aged event win of his career making it a pretty special feat. He also added his Youth World Championship Buckle because it was his first big goal to have set for himself that he achieved. The one he wears now is the most recent buckle he won at this past NCHA Futurity because it reminds him of what he works toward every day.
Casey Green and Taliate
Lindy Ashlock, another top Non-Professional in our industry, has been in the spotlight countless times, but each time is very special for her. She and her husband, Wes, who is making quite a name for himself as well in Open competition, have an excellent program in Abilene, TX. As many couples who are heavily involved in the sport, they work with each other every day and know the hours that go into each horse. Those long hours are worth it when it all comes together in the show pen! Lindy now wears a buckle that she won at the 2017 NCHA Superstakes on Non-Pro Horse of the Year, In Reyverse. It was an extremely successful year for her on that standout gelding. Prior to that buckle, one of her favorites was a buckle made for her by Jackie Reed for being Reserve Champion of the Classic Non-Pro at the NCHA Superstakes aboard Reynounce and, after that, a Championship buckle from the Bonanza on her talented mare, Reyce Lights.
Lindy Ashlock and In Reyverse
Michael Cooper, resident trainer of Rose Valley Ranch in Weatherford, TX, started his career in Missouri where he ran into the sport by chance. Overtime, he found success with horses through self-teaching and getting help from some influential horsemen. He and his wife, Jennifer, built their business overcoming bumps in the road and catching a few curve balls, but he is now a name you hear time and time again in the finals. Michael has amassed over $3 million in lifetime earnings, but the milestones to get there still mean a great deal to him. He wears his Michigan Great Lakes Futurity buckle as his everyday buckle around the ranch. It was his first buckle to ever win and reminded him of where he started. He shows in his 2009 Reserve NCHA Futurity Champion buckle and says he will not change it until he wins the Futurity, keeping him focused on his goals!
Michael Cooper and Judgement Day
Mary Ann Rapp
Prominent Non-Pro competitor, Mary Ann Rapp, also puts weight on every achievement throughout the years. She has won more than any other Non-Professional rider and many trainers in the industry for that matter, but like any other person that loves the sport there are a few accomplishments that hold a special place in her heart. The buckle that means the most to her is her NCHA Non-Pro Futurity Champion buckle that she won aboard Little Janey Lena. When she shows, she wears a three-piece buckle that she won on the NCHA Non-Pro Horse of The Year, Reyzin, at the Abilene Spectacular when she was four. This horse carried Mary Ann and her husband, Phil, through an unforgettable year and went on to have a fantastic career.
Mary Ann Rapp and Dont Stopp Believin
When speaking of Mary Ann, it has to be mentioned how unbelievable the Rapp Ranch program has become. She and Phil, who is the All Time Leading NCHA Rider having won an unbelievable $9,000,000 in the cutting arena, are the true power couple of the sport. They are known for producing horses that win year to year and for showing them in a way that just leaves you striving to get better. Phil, like Mary Ann, has a couple of buckles that mean a great deal to him. He primarily wears his 1994 NCHA Super Stakes Open buckle that he won riding Tap O Lena, a mare that has been so influential in building their program. Phil actually won both the Open and Non-Pro that evening in the Will Rogers! He won his everyday buckle aboard Playboys Ruby at the 1991 Memphis Futurity Open. This mare was equally influential in the Rapp Ranch and both mares are a huge part of NCHA history! Even those we consider royalty show their humanity when they hold certain memories and horses close to their hearts.
Phil Rapp and Hot Nu Cowboy
Last but not least, we felt it was necessary to mention the man that has won almost everything you can possibly win in the industry and some of them twice! Austin Shepard is from Summerdale, AL and has been making himself known for quite some time. Before speaking to him, we tried to guess what buckle would mean the most to him, but we honestly could not decide what it would be. Austin is one of the humblest people you will meet, so that made it even more of a mystery. It turns out that his first NCHA Futurity Championship buckle that he won aboard High Brow CD in 2007 is the one he wears all the time. His everyday buckle is an Augusta Classic Open Finalist buckle that he won riding Dual Kual in 2000. It was his first big Open finals that he ever made. To have won over $6 million dollars since then is pretty unbelievable! Austin made sure to tell us that he always wears a winning buckle for at least a little while. Bill Riddle told him a long time ago that his dad explained to him, you always wear a winning buckle because you never know if it will be your last!
Austin Shepard and Dual Reyish
Once again, every victory, no matter how small, is so important. The thought of reaching what these great riders have accomplished seems daunting to many that want to get involved in cutting, but that is not the point. The point is to take in every achievement no matter its size. That piece of hardware that you strive for is attainable! The stories of these riders are meant to inspire. They are meant to push. And they are meant to make you want to further yourself and move up as far as you can. Each level has its own special moments and though it may seem like you will never get there, you might as well try! While this applies to all things in life, we are focusing on the task at hand for now, winning the next buckle or the first buckle!
Photo by Bobbi Taylor