Four Oklahomans are headed to Globe Life Field this March to compete at The American Performance Horseman.
By Lindsay Humphrey
The top five professionals from the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA), the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), and the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) will converge in a unique, never-before-seen team-based competition this March.
Three riders, one from each association, will make up five teams to compete for the $1,000,000 check on Friday, March 10 during The American Western Weekend. Professionals qualified for the event based on their earnings from 2022 in their respective associations with the top five in each making the final cut.
“We’re excited to give these athletes a unique opportunity to be center stage in front of people who may have never seen these sports before,” said NRHA’s Director of Marketing Sara Honegger.
Of the three associations represented in this competition, NRHA is the only one that calls Oklahoma home.
“We know once people see it [reining, cutting and reined cow horse] in action, they’ll want to be part of it,” she continued. “Having the event so close to home and with so many NRHA Professionals and events nearby, it means that people who want to be part of it will have plenty of easily accessible opportunities to connect with it after they leave Globe Life Field.”
NRHA is looking forward to connecting people not only with reining but also the Western performance horse industry as a whole. And while there are no reiners from Oklahoma in the competition, NRHA is eager to cheer on the horseman from their home state.
Representing the NRCHA is Lee Deacon who was the 2022 NRCHA Open Snaffle Bit Futurity Champion. This significant career win launched Deacon into the top five only two months before the year came to a close.
“It was a whirlwind of a horseshow for me and ended up being the best year of my career so far,” Deacon said. “Making the open finals was a goal, but I didn’t expect to win it all. That was a shock and then when I found out I qualified for The American Performance Horseman, well that’s just the cherry on top.”
Much like his peers, Deacon is treating the event just like any other horse show. He’s looking forward to the unique event on the biggest stage the performance horse industry has ever seen, but he’s focused on doing his job while he’s there.
“It’s time the cow horse industry gets the recognition it deserves,” Deacon said. “Just like they have done with the PBR, we need to get into people’s living rooms and allow the general public to get more familiar with our event. It’s an honor to represent the NRCHA on this world wide stage and I’m stoked to be a part of it.”
Fellow Marietta native is Lloyd Cox representing the NCHA. This unique competition will only add to an already historic cutting career for Cox who has earned more than $10 million over his training career that spans almost 40 years.
“Training and showing horses is our livelihood, so we’re trying to win as much money as we can every year,” Cox said. “Until last year, staying in the top five was mostly about seeing how you compared to your peers, there really wasn’t much incentive to be in that top five list.”
Consistency at every event he entered is what kept Cox in the top five basically all year long. No matter the stakes, success for the year boils down to the NCHA Futurity come November.
“If you can do well there [the Futurity], they give away a lot of money and it really adds up,” Cox said. “I think it’s going to be a fun and exciting event and I’m looking forward to competing against the other cutters as well the reiners and cow horse competitors.”
It was the 2022 NCHA Open Futurity that launched Lindy Thorn into the top five just in the nick of time. Not only did she make history by qualifying for The American Performance Horseman, but Thorn also became the first woman to win the Open Futurity since Kathy Daughn did so in 2000.
“I really didn’t know anything about the Performance Horseman until the owner of the horse I won the futurity on called and told me I had qualified,” said Thorn who was in Australia when she found out she would be competing at Globe Life Field in March.
Grateful for the opportunity to compete amongst the amazing trainers Thorn looks up to, she’s also excited to be cutting in front of such a large audience.
“I love that three different disciplines will be on display all at the same time,” Thorn added. “I think it’s very important for the world to see just how intelligent these animals are.”
Born into cutting and western pleasure, NCHA Professional Wes Galyean was raised in Oklahoma. He now boasts over $5 million in lifetime earnings in the cattle-based event.
“Last year  was probably one of the best, if not the very best year I’ve ever had,” Galyean said. “It’s so difficult to be in the top five; there are so many great competitors, trainers, riders and horses out there. And then we have cattle as variables, so it’s extremely difficult to get into that top five.”
While many of his peers had a long line of horses to show last year, Galyean only had a few. This meant his batting average had to remain high.
“This year was strong from the beginning to the very end,” he added. “Third Edge won the Super Stakes and the Derby, which is a pretty incredible feat and then he was named Horse of the Year. I think I only missed one finals when I was riding Third Edge last year.”
Each competitor selected up to two horses for the event and made their final selection one week prior, March 3. For Galyean, Third Edge was at the top of his short list.
“In my opinion, cutting is second only to horse racing as far as excitement for the spectators,” Galyean said. “You can only watch horse racing, but cutting is a sport anyone can get into if they want. This will be a really intense competition between the trainers as well as the horses and the cattle. These are all alpha horses, they’re extremely confident in their respective discipline and I know it’s going to be a great competition with a lot of intensity.”
The American Performance Horseman will kick off the 10th anniversary of the world’s richest rodeo, The American, on March 10, 2023. For more information about the event or how to get tickets, visit www.americanrodeo.com. To watch the action all weekend long, Teton Ridge+ is your free, go-to destination. For more information, visit www.tetonridgeplus.com.
NRCHA Top Five
1. Sarah Dawson
2. Lee Deacon
3. Justin Wright
4. Chris Dawson
5. Corey Cushing
NCHA Top Five
1. Adan Banuelos
2. Austin Shepard
3. Lloyd Cox, Oklahoma
4. Wesley Galyean, Oklahoma
5. Lindy Thorn, Oklahoma
NRHA Top Five
1. Shawn Flarida
2. Casey Deary, Texas
3. Fernando Salgado
4. Andrea Fappani, Arizona
5. Matt Mills, Arizona
Scoring: Reining Score + Cutting Score + Cowhorse Score = Team Score
Competitors will be vying for individual placings as well as for their team.