2023 Professionals of the Year

In the spirit of honoring excellence and commitment within our vibrant community, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) proudly presents the distinguished 2023 Professionals of the Year awards. Since its inception in 2012, these accolades have served as a beacon, spotlighting individuals who epitomize excellence as leaders of reining.

The essence of this honor lies not only in remarkable achievements within the show arena but also in the profound impact these individuals make through their unwavering support and contribution to our association and its members. The recipients of the 2023 awards embody integrity and sincerity, serving as paragons within our industry, tirelessly striving to advance and uphold the cherished ideals of reining.

Nominees for these prestigious awards, including NRHA Professional Horseman of the Year, NRHA Non Pro Coach of the Year, NRHA Youth Coach of the Year, NRHA Becky Hanson Horsewoman of the Year, and NRHA Up-and-Coming Professional of the Year, are sourced from NRHA affiliates and the discerning eye of the NRHA Professionals Committee. Subsequently, NRHA Professionals cast their votes for those who will join the illustrious ranks of our esteemed honorees.

Horseman of the Year: Brian Bell
Valley View, Texas
NRHA LTE: $2,659,353

Brian Bell started his reining career at 18 years old, winning the NRHA Youth 14–18 World Title. After immersing himself in reining, he became an NRHA Million Dollar Rider in 2013. In 2023, he accomplished his goal of winning the NRHA Level 4 Open Futurity on Crystalized Whizkey.

Not only has Bell competed and earned titles at all major NRHA events, but he is also known for his efforts to support the reining community outside of the show pen.

Supporters of his nomination said Bell has always been a strong supporter of grassroots and weekend shows in his region; he also hosts an annual affiliate show in Hamilton, Texas, because he saw a need for it in his region. He is very passionate about helping non pros and increasing inclusivity in reining. He also contributes to reining’s international growth through clinics.

Along with these efforts, he participates in every aspect of the business, including attending judges’ seminars.

Becky Hanson Horsewoman of the Year: Josiane Gauthier
Lucama, North Carolina
NRHA LTE: $688,039

Josiane Gauthier and her husband, Russell, had the opportunity to purchase Sunny Pines Farm in 2016 and have been running JG Performance Horses on their ranch since. Along with competing at aged events and making the finals of every NRHA major event, Josiane runs a breeding program and is known for her strong green reiner and non pro programs.

“Josiane is not just a coach. Josiane is ‘THE COACH!’ She doesn’t just preach to you, she leads the way, she guides, she is the way maker,” said the Southeast Reining Horse Association recommendation letter. “She empathizes with you. She shares in your success and your trials. She truly cares! You can always tell a JG horse from a mile away. They just carry themself differently. They have swag. They are healthy. They are confident. They know that they are loved and very well taken care of. Her clients are also this way. We just present different; a good difference. We have the best supportive community. This stems from a great leader and team.”

Non Pro Coach of the Year: Martin Muehlstaetter
Scottsdale, Arizona
NRHA LTE: $1,379,569

Martin Muehlstaetter was born in Villach, Austria. Before heading to the states, Muehlstaetter began riding horses there at a young age. He now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he and his wife, Kim, own and operate Muehlstaetter Performance Horses.

“Not only is Martin one of the very top professional reining horse trainers in the country, but he is also an excellent non pro coach,” read Muehlstaetter’s recommendation. “He has the top non pros in the country come to ride with him because he prepares their horses properly and then gives each non pro high-quality time to be able to prepare them so they can be competitive at the top level as well.”

Up-And-Coming Trainer of the Year: Luca Fappani
Weatherford, Texas
NRHA LTE: $788,051

Luca Fappani became an NRHyA member in 2015 and competed in the highest ranks as a non pro before becoming an NRHA Professional in 2023. In his first year competing as a pro, Fappani took home the NRHA Level 2 Open Futurity Championship, amassed over $375,000 and was 7th in the list of NRHA Top 20 Professionals.

“Luca always has a good attitude at work and gets along well with his peers. He is a sponge,” said NRHA $4 Million Rider Casey Deary. “He is always asking questions and trying to improve. Many of the questions are about trying to breed a better reining horse to ensure a strong future. Luca takes instruction well and is happy to give instruction to assist his peers. He has a lot of natural feel on a horse that allows him to adapt as needed. He handles the stress of major event finals like someone who has been there many times before. The entire world knows that Andrea and Tish Fappani are incredible horse people, but if a child is a reflection of the people that raised it, they are pretty amazing parents as well.”

Youth Coach of the Year: Matthew Flarida
Purcell, Oklahoma
NRHA LTE $340,152

Matthew Flarida grew up in Western Ohio, where he learned his father, Mike Flarida, a two-time NRHA Open Futurity Champion and an NRHA Hall of Famer. Not only has he made the finals at all major NRHA events, but he is known for helping youth in the show pen and helping them become better horsemen altogether.

“Matt started coaching two sisters, Victoria and Tessa Watchous, when they qualified for The Run For A Million (TRFAM) Rookie class in 2022, and they have come so far since they joined his program,” read Flarida’s recommendation. “Matt has helped them to better prepare their horses to show and achieve a lot of personal milestones. He has gone above and beyond to put the time and effort into the girls getting time in the saddle and improving. They travel several hours each way from either their home in Kansas or from school at OSU [Oklahoma State University] to take multiple lessons each week. They qualified for and competed at TRFAM again, as well as the NAACs [North American Affiliate Championships] in 2023. He not only coaches their riding and showing but has put equal effort into sharing his knowledge of the importance of good horsemanship and caring for their horses.”

Goals set at the 2024 NRHA European Affiliate Summit

The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) hosted the annual European Affiliate Summit in Barcelona, Spain, on January 19–20. The meetings held during the Summit included the European Executive Board Meeting, the European Council Meeting, and the European Affiliate Summit. The meetings were a chance to share updates, have conversations about the state of affiliates across Europe, set goals, and allow affiliates to connect and collaborate.

To help facilitate, NRHA representatives included Sr. Director of International Affairs & Development Samantha Oldfield, NRHA Vice President Mike Hancock, and newly appointed NRHA Commissioner Billy Smith.

On Friday evening, the European Council held a meeting where affiliates with a council seat discussed annual business, such as a review of their bylaws, a 2025 European Affiliate Summit location, and upcoming 2024 reminders and deadlines. The council also connected with the Italian Reining Horse Association (IRHA), which will host the 2024 NRHA European Futurity in Cremona, Italy, to review the event conditions.

Saturday was dedicated to the European Affiliate Summit, a crucial time for attendees to connect and collaborate with fellow European affiliates and NRHA representatives.  Smith was formally introduced to each European affiliate and was informed about their unique goals and characteristics. Affiliates also had the chance to voice their concerns to NRHA and the other affiliates present to collaborate and problem-solve.

“It is important for NRHA to hear what barriers affiliates are facing so that we can help them remove or work through them,” Oldfield said. “It is also a time for affiliates to work together and share how they overcame certain barriers through different strategies and problem-solving and to learn from one another.”

A highlight of the European Affiliate Summit was the focused conversation and teamwork that occurred. The meeting was a time dedicated to the sport of reining in Europe, and attendees took it as an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments, set goals for 2024, and brainstorm creative solutions to challenges they faced.

“This is the one time a year we can get together, other than at a horse show, and discuss what is happening in each affiliate,” Oldfield said. “It is quite amazing to see what affiliates have done through their own ingenuity to grow members and events and to see relationships form out of the [European Affiliate] Summit.”

NRHA Approves New Strategic Plan

During their first meeting of the year, the NRHA Board of Directors unanimously approved a new strategic plan to shape the association’s direction effectively over the next 3-5 years.

The last strategic plan, adopted in 2017, was highly successful and boasted years of all-time records for purses, entries, and nominations.

“We set a strategic goal of 125,000 [annual] worldwide entries within five years, and I am happy to share that not only did we meet that goal in 2022, but we have also now exceeded it with over 131,000 entries,” said NRHA President Mark Blake. “Instead of sitting around spending a lot of time asking ourselves, what’s next? We already know. This plan helps us accomplish that.”

The new plan, formulated with members of the board, staff, and committee members alongside facilitator Glenn Tecker of Tecker International, creates an envisioned future for the association, with clear goals and detailed objectives to help achieve those goals.

Four major benchmarks include reaching 18,000 members, increasing youth membership by 10%, achieving 175,000 total worldwide entries, and reaching nearly 2,000 professional members.

Additionally, NRHA will focus on four core values that will serve as cornerstones of the association: Leadership, Camaraderie, Integrity, and Respect.

A refined mission statement of “to promote the reining horse worldwide and advance the finest traditions of western horsemanship” will continue to serve as the backbone of the association.

“There is a renewed sense of energy when you have an incredible team who have all come together to tackle something like this strategic plan,” said Blake. “It’s incredible to see everyone ready to get to work.”

NRHA Commissioner Billy Smith highlighted the plan during his Annual General Membership address, stressing the importance of association alignment. “Nothing meaningful happens without a strategy that everyone can get behind. Hope is good, but it’s not a strategy,” stated Commissioner Smith.

The association alignment will allow the board to develop and accept committees’ specific priorities tied directly to the strategic plan. Committees will present recommendations to the board to achieve these priorities. “Our staff, committees, and board must all be pulling on the same rope, in the same direction,” added Smith.

Many of NRHA’s advisory committees reviewed and discussed the plan at length during last week’s Winter Meeting in Oklahoma City.

You can read more on the new strategic plan here.

Another Million for Spooks Gotta Whiz

With more than $24 million won by National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) competitors in 2023, stallions are reaching new million-dollar milestones rapidly. One of the stallions who left their mark last year is NRHA Hall of Famer Spooks Gotta Whiz. Not only did the stallion surpass the NRHA $7 Million Sire mark just two months after crossing the $6 million, but he was also the second-highest leading sire of 2023 (NRHA categories 1-12) with $2,285,709 earned by his offspring.

Spooks Gotta Whiz offspring excelling in the show pen is no surprise considering the stallion’s own successful career. The 2007 stallion, bred by Clint Haverty, earned the 2010 NRHA Level 4 Open Futurity Championship with NRHA $3 Million Rider Jordan Larson. His talent continued to shine with NRHA $7 Million Rider Shawn Flarida when the team won the Level 4 Open Championship at the 2012 NRHA Derby and the National Reining Breeders Classic that same year. The team ended their career on an impressive note by taking home a team and individual gold medal at the 2014 World Equestrian Games held in Normandy, France.

The sire by Spooks Gotta Gun and out of Prettywhizprettydoes had exceptional offspring push him past the $7 million milestone at the 2023 Futurity and Adequan® North American Affiliate Championships for owner Michell Anne Kimball. In the open and non pro futurity alone, Spooks Gotta Whiz offspring earned more than $458,000, greater than any other sire.

One of the offspring that helped Spooks Gotta Whiz become the top-earning sire at the 2023 NRHA Futurity was Shez Got Addy Tude (out of Miss Lil Addy Tude). With NRHA Professional Kole Price at the reins, the mare scored a 223 to earn the NRHA Open Futurity Level 3 Championship and sixth in the Level 4. The wins added $137,861 to her NRHA lifetime earnings (LTE). The mare, owned by Capital Quarter Horses LLC, was nominated by Michell Anne Kimball, owner of Spooks Gotta Whiz.

Mare power continued to propel Spooks Gotta Whiz to the next milestone when NRHA Professional Luca Fappani and Playing With Da Boys earned the Open Level 2 Futurity Co-Championship and $108,000 for owner Neiberger-Camp Partnership. ‘Charlie’ (out of My Berry Best Gun) was bred and nominated by Sergio Elia and now boasts $112,099 in NRHA LTE, all earned with Fappani.

Although Spooks Gotta Whiz retired from the show pen in 2014, his name still echoes through arenas worldwide as his offspring dominate in the show pen, proving that his talent, heart, and tenacity continue to leave a lasting legacy.

Spooks Gotta Whiz’s top-earning offspring include:

  • Alpha Jac Sparrow (out of Chexanicki), owned by Fritz Leeman, bred by Alpha Quarter Horses LLC, earning $240,326
  • Mic Dropp (out of Dun Dry Whiz), owned by Tim Anderson/Clark Reining Horses LLC and bred by Clark Reining Horses LLC, earning $235,987
  • Spooks Gotta Spark (out of Dolittle Lena), owned by Kevin Truax and bred by Bobby Lewis, earning $215,585
  • Spooky Whiz (out of Myo Starlight), owned by Bosque Ranch Performance Horses LLC and bred by Spence Bell, earning $186,043
  • Gotta Twist It Up (out of Make It With A Twist), owned and bred by Sandra Bentien, earning $183,837

NRHA Winter Meeting Concludes

The annual National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Winter Meeting concluded on February 6 following three days of productive meetings of the board, executive committee, Reining Horse Foundation Board of Directors, and various advisory committees.

After three consecutive years in Texas, the meeting relocated to Oklahoma City, a refreshing change that was well-received by those in attendance. For members unable to attend, links for various presentations have been conveniently provided in this article.

The general theme throughout the NRHA Winter Meeting was the overall current strength of the association while simultaneously looking to the future to build on the momentum.

The NRHA Board of Directors convened for two days of meetings, tackling typical business matters while also addressing new items.

Election procedures were updated to include slight changes in affiliate reallocations, which were unanimously approved. You can read more about the opportunities to run for a 2025 leadership position here.

An updated schedule for the 6666 NRHA Derby presented by Markel was approved, and it features a few member-friendly changes, which include moving the Para Reining Championship to take place following the NRHA Invitational Freestyle presented by OKC CVB as well as the addition of the Open Level 4 and Level 2 Maturity division to run concurrent with the second slate of Open ancillary classes on Monday, June 17.

Take a look at the full schedule here.

A recommendation from the NRHA Bylaw Committee was unanimously approved to add an additional Director-at-Large seat to the executive committee, which rounds out the group to seven. The NRHA Nominating/Governance Committee will meet to put forward a candidate to fill the position, which will help alleviate issues with filling leadership positions, specifically the role of Vice President, which has been difficult to find candidates for in recent years. Additionally, this will avoid having an even-numbered committee and bring the number of seats closer to the original eight that served on the Executive Committee prior to 2017.

The board of directors also approved a new code of ethics, elevating their leadership by holding themselves to a higher standard along the same lines expected of NRHA judges and stewards.

Chief Financial Officer John Foy delivered the association’s financial report, highlighting that the association is in its strongest financial position in history, that purse trajectory continues upward with the largest total purses awarded last year, that worldwide membership totals remain stable, and that NRHA’s media reach have grown exponentially. NRHA’s annual audit was completed without issue and has been available to the members on ReinerSuite since January. He emphasized to members that the reining industry is extremely strong and is experiencing continued growth through membership numbers and purses. You can review the full presentation here.

The Adequan® North American Affiliate Champions (NAAC) conditions were approved, with a small update from the last three years. Based on member feedback, to compete at an Affiliate Regional Championship (ARC), a rider must show proof of membership to an affiliate within the region they are qualifying in at the time of entering. Proof of affiliate membership is the responsibility of the exhibitor and will be verified by the show office. Riders who score higher than a zero at an ARC are qualified for the NAAC on that class, on that specific horse. Read more here.

In addition to the meetings, the well-attended Futurity Judges Review provided an opportunity for members to discuss the NRHA judges program and to look back at runs from the 2023 6666 NRHA Derby presented by Markel and NRHA Futurity alongside members of the teaching panel. The panel shared video from additional camera angles to demonstrate how maneuvers can be viewed and marked differently from different vantage points.

The panel also showcased HorseIQ, the online equine learning platform that can be utilized whether you are an exhibitor tuning up your skills or a judge who needs a refresher. Check out HorseIQ here.

The Annual General Membership Meeting (AGM) was especially poignant as it marked President Mark Blake’s last in his official role and Billy Smith’s first as NRHA Commissioner.

Blake highlighted 2023 and the records broken- including over $24 million awarded (up from $23 million in 2023), over 9,046 Non-Pro members, and a Nomination Program foal crop of 3,203, breaking the record set the year prior.

A full statistical overview of 2023 can be downloaded here.

Commissioner Smith spoke about the recently approved strategic plan and the importance of association alignment moving forward. He also stressed the need to focus on strategic plan-based decision-making and to celebrate the association’s storied history. The association will refocus energy through this discipline to produce more creativity, simplicity, forward-thinking, accountability, and data-driven decision-making.

Various NRHA Advisory Committees then met to round out the Winter Meeting to tackle current projects and look ahead at ways to implement the new strategic plan. A full highlight of this approved plan will be announced in coming days at news.nrha.com.