Madison Gustin, Stephanie Johnson Tie for Rookie Levels 1 and 2 at 2017 NRHA DERBY

Johnson Wins Prime Time Rookie

As the Non Pro Derby finalists were riding for the 2017 titles, the Adequan Championship Arena welcomed NRHA ancillary action.

The Jackpot Rookie Level 1 and $200-added Rookie Level 2 saw a tie between two competitors in the Adequan Arena on June 30. Madison Gustin and Stephanie Johnson both marked a 143.5. Johnson also won the Prime Time Rookie class.

Madison Gustin wasn’t expecting to win a class Friday, but Guns R Spooky had a different idea. The duo from Weatherford, Texas, exited the arena with a 143.5 to tie for victory.

“We went in there just trying to have fun and take it easy to get ready for our Youth classes [Saturday] and Sunday,” Madison said. “He felt good and everything was great, so we ended up with the high score.”

Gustin arrived at the 2017 NRHA Derby on Wednesday and has been using the time to practice and warm up her 2010 gelding by Smart Spook and out of Berry Yer Guns.

“I’ve just been schooling; I got here Wednesday, so we’ve just been taking it easy getting ready to show,” Gustin said.

She says “Avatar” is full of personality—her favorite quality about him.

“I’ve owned him for about two years now, and he’s literally my best friend—it’s been so much fun,” Gustin said. “He’s got talent, but he’s so much fun to be around. I’ve been riding since I was 5 and started reining when I was 8. I ride with [NRHA Million Dollar Rider] Casey Deary, and I love it. It’s where I’ve grown up; I’ve been there since I was 8. He’s my role model and always has been. It’s so much fun to be around him and all the people at the Deary barn.”

Stephanie Johnson and Light M Up put together a winning 143.5, but Johnson still says it came as a shock because of the caliber of competitors she rode against. She credits the performance to her “soul mate,” the 2012 gelding by Wimpys Little Step and out of Aleena Starlight.

“It felt great whenever I was out there, but this is a big show, and it’s my first time ever coming to this show, so you just don’t expect to knock it out of the park,” Johnson said. “My horse is amazing; he’s my soul mate in a horse. We’re still getting to know each other, and we’re doing pretty good so far. This is a dream come true.”

Johnson and “Cato” are a fairly recent team. Johnson searched high and low for the perfect horse and finally found him in the fall of 2016. They showed at their first horse show early this year and are continuing to improve.

“Last year at the Derby, I was searching for a horse, never found one, and it took six months to find him. It’s been amazing ever since,” Johnson said. “He’s done great for me; we just started showing in February and he’s been incredible at every single show. The Florida Classic was our first show and one of the bigger shows we’ve been to, and we won high point there. We’re just a good team.”

Johnson says Cato’s ability to adjust to each rider makes him incredibly special, especially since Johnson is a new reiner.

“He’s super sweet and an open-caliber horse, but he’s gentle enough and kind enough that he’s good to me, because I’m still learning and still green eligible and rookie, so he’s just a great horse,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who has a background in Western all-around and hunter/jumper, trains with Josiane Gauthier Performance Horses at Sunny Pines Farm in Lucama, North Carolina. She says Gauthier’s training has been a match since she started reining.

“I’ve been reining for a little less than two years, and I kind of fell in love with reining the minute I started it,” Johnson said. “The horses are so beautiful and so athletic. I found Josiane, and she’s the most amazing coach; we just clicked. I absolutely love it.”

Madison Rafacz Wins Jackpot Green Reiner Levels 1 and 2 Aboard Better Not Rest

Madison Rafacz is no stranger to the show pen, and it was evident in in the Jackpot Green Reiner Levels 1 and 2. The 9-year-old daughter of NRHA Professional Mark Rafacz and his wife, multiple non pro NRHA World Champion Shannon Rafacz, marked a 142 aboard Better Not Rest (Custom Crome x Rest Stop) to top the competition.

“Jay” isn’t Madison’s main mount, but she seemed perfectly comfortable aboard the big 17-year-old bay gelding. Madison says Jay is easy to ride but can be difficult to show because of his size, but he has a sweet demeanor and is constantly looking for his next snack.

“I feel good; that’s the first time I’ve actually gotten to show him and won!” Madison said. “He’s kind of hard to show, but he’s really easy to show at the same time. He’s a really good boy, and we love him.”

Madison, who’s been riding her entire life and reining since she was 4 years old, says the class was the first time she had a victorious showing with Jay.

In the Level 1, Kr Ima Selfish and Allison Arnold scored a 141.5 to take reserve honors. Stephanie Johnson and Light M Up placed second in the Level 2 with a 140.5.

The NRHA Derby welcomes USA Para Reiners 

Jennifer Flanagan, executive director of Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center in Aiken, South Carolina was the only competitor in the USA Para Reining Grade 2 riding Smart Zone to a 131.

“I think my run was good, considering this is the first time for me to show on this horse; we got a score, so that’s always a very positive thing,” said Flanagan who started competing two years ago. “At the moment, she is in training with Steve Kutie, but I’ll be taking her home to South Carolina after this weekend. I’m super excited to get her home and start building that bond together.”

Cole Jacobs and Pinstripe Benz won the USA Para Reining Grade 3 with a score of 136. Jacobs and “Pinstripe” share a special bond. Jacobs, who has been competing in reining since 2012, was pleased with his horse’s performance after lots of time in the practice pen.

Holly Leigh Jacobson of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and Ruf N Loaded also competed in the USA Para Reining Grade 3, and although they received a no-score in the NRHA Para Reining class for not wearing protective headwear, Jacobson is grateful for every opportunity she has with the gelding.

“He’s such a professional horse, and I learn something new every single time I step in there. That’s the best part—you’re never done learning,” said Jacobson about her mount who was generously loaned to her by Cole Jacobs.

In the USA Para Reining Grade 4/NRHA Para Reining, Cullen Santino Le Roy took victory aboard Smokin N Tinseltown with a 130. Elizabeth Kelley and Czgunnacashbigchex marked a 125.5 to earn the reserve slot.

Founded in 1966, the National Reining Horse Association is a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting and encouraging the development of and public interest in the sport of reining. The focus is on developing and maintaining suitable standards of performance and judging and in providing a fun filled, family-oriented atmosphere.