Split Decision

Hopes and dreams were fulfilled today at the 6666 NRHA Derby presented by Markel. More than 100 of the world’s best non pro reiners teamed up with their horses to compete for their piece of glory and record-breaking purses across all levels of the Non Pro in Oklahoma City. They were led by Kim Muehlstaetter and Gina Schumacher, who clinched the Level 4 Non Pro Co-Championship and the lion’s share of the purse.

A pair of huge 227.5 scores from Draws 31 and 33 earned each pair a paycheck for $32,697.

Level 4 Non Pro Co-Champions: Kim Muehlstaetter and Gina Schumacher

Kim Muehlstaetter blasted into the pen aboard Smoky Mountain Rein with something to prove. She’s always believed her 4-year-old gelding had the talent of a champion, and she was ready to make the judges agree.

“He just has a special feel,” Muehlstaetter said of the Texas Horse Power Ranch LLC-nominated son of NRHA $7 Million Sire Spooks Gotta Whiz and Sprats Electricspark. “When you lope him, it feels like his feet don’t hit the ground. When he turns, when he circles, when he stops, his lead changes … he doesn’t have to think about it. It’s just so natural for him.”

Smoky Mountain Rein stayed hooked with Muehlstaetter, unfazed by the pressure that comes with competing as a 4-year-old against older, more seasoned horses.

“My horse gave me everything,” Muehlstaetter said of the ride. “He stepped it up, and he was with me every single stride in there. I just kept saying, ‘I know this horse is special,’ and I just wouldn’t let go working at it. Finally, tonight, he was on, and I was on, and it all just went perfectly.”

Muehlstaetter said she and husband Martin, an NRHA Million Dollar Rider, found Smoky Mountain Rein as a yearling. Martin trained the horse, who they purchased from Sleipner LLC in 2023 so Muehlstaetter could take over the reins to prepare for the NRHA Futurity.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Spooks Gotta Whizes,” she said. “He just had that special look to him. Like any 3-year-old, you have your ups and downs. He was good for me at the Futurity, then in the finals I had a huge bobble that kept me out of the money. I just knew he always had it in there; it was just a matter of putting it all together in the same run. We know each other like the back of our hand. ”

When it all came together in the Jim Norick Arena dirt tonight, Muehlstaetter breathed a sigh of relief that she’d done her horse justice. When the announcer called her score, she was stunned.

“I thought my horse showed pure. He felt like he had big maneuvers, but I really had no clue how big the score would be,” she said. “It’s what you work for all the time, to get that feeling. It’s all the countless hours, and the sweat and tears. It just makes that moment so much sweeter.”

Muehlstaetter, who thanked her family and team, said her plan is to show her gelding at one more derby this year, then give him time to rest to help ensure his longevity

“I don’t want to run his wheels off. I’d like to save him,” she said. “I’ve always believed in this horse, and tonight he proved that he could do it.”

Just two runs after Muehlstatter shook up the leaderboard, Gina Schumacher tied her 227.5 on her 6-year-old stallion, bred and nominated by NRHA Corporate Partner Toyon Ranch, Gunin Addy Tude (Gunnatrashya x Miss Lil Addy Tude).

After coming off a win in the 2024 National Reining Breeders Classic Non Pro, the pair continued the same game plan hoping for big scores in OKC.

“I was really sweating,” she said. “I was not sure I was going to get this done. I just tried to stay clean and not make mistakes, and tried to push my horse to the point that he was still comfortable, but that it would be enough to mark — that was the strategy.”

Although NRHA $2 Million Rider Duane Latimer is the head trainer at the Schumacher family’s XCS Ranch, Schumacher rides all of her horses five days a week. That helps her know when she can push, and fosters a strong bond with them.

“‘Guapo’ is a very kind horse to be around, super sweet in the stall, and it’s nice having him around,” she said. “In my head, I can only do good with my horse Gunnastepya, and it was actually really good for me to go and do this with another horse, just for my own feeling. It was really fun.

“He is like the kid in school who never wants to be in trouble and always does his homework and is always really good,” she continued of Gunin Addy Tude. “That would describe him best. He is very quiet and loves to play in the pasture. He likes cookies, he likes apples, and I think that sums him up.”

Schumacher expressed her gratitude for everyone who had a hand in reaching this historic milestone tonight.

“We have an amazing team — my family, of course, and all of the great people we get to meet at events … thank you to everybody,” she said.

When it came time to decide whether to share the title or compete in a runoff, both women had a clear answer.

“Our horses gave 100%,” Muehlstaetter said. “She [Schumacher] had a great run. Neither one of us wanted to run them again. They gave us everything they had. We always try to put them first and look at the big picture.”

Levels 3 and 2 Non Pro Champions: Lauren Love and Chexi Chic

With a 221, Lauren Love and her great mare Chexi Chic took the lead of the Levels 3 and 2 Non Pro Derby.

“Today was so fun; it was like going out there with my buddy,” Love said. “She was so good for me, and it was a blast. We didn’t ride her too much, and I didn’t want her to get tired. She was pretty happy the whole time we were here. I even said this was the happiest she had ever been at a long horse show.”

Love thanked NRHA Professional Arnaud Ferret, who has been the only other person to pilot the mare, as well as her parents and everybody who has helped her along the way. Between Ferret and Love, Chexi Chic had $124,087 in NRHA lifetime earnings (LTE) prior to their arrival in Oklahoma City. After winning both levels, they added an additional $35,000 to that sum.

“She knows her job, and we know how to prepare now,” Love said. “She is pretty easy; I just stay out of her way and keep her happy. We go to the barn every day, and she nickers. They [horses] just know their people. It is kind of surreal to think I own a horse of this caliber that has been this good for so long.”

The 6-year-old mare by Wimpy Chic and out of Chexanicki was nominated by breeder Alpha Quarter Horses LLC.

“I think that is why reining is so addicting, because when you get that great run, you want to go do it again,” Love said. “I am lucky enough to have a good partner to go out and show and give me a lot of confidence.”

Level 1 and Prime Time Non Pro Champions: Tricia Leone and Alpha Queen

Tricia Leone proved just how royal Alpha Queen is when she rode the 5-year-old mare to the Level 1 and Prime Time Non Pro Championships. The horse-and-rider team marked a 218.5 in the first section of the finals to secure the victory and a $10,000 paycheck, including nominator incentives.

“She’s just amazing,” Leone said of Alpha Queen (Wimpy Chic x Chexanicki), a full sister to Levels 3 and 2 Non Pro Champion Chexi Chic. “I absolutely adore her. We’re finally getting to know each other and getting a little more competitive with each ride. We feel like we’re in a really good place right now.”

Leone said Alpha Quarter Horses LLC-bred and -nominated Alpha Queen felt fresh for their finals run, where the mare’s stops were the highlight of her performance. She was thrilled to accomplish her goal for the show and said she’s looking forward to competing in the Amateur at The Run For A Million later this year.

“She’s so honest, and she’s just the coolest mare,” Leone said. “I feel like we get a little bit better each time we go out, so [I see] a bright future for this mare. It’s nice to have a mare that has such a sweet disposition because she wants to do the right thing. She’s right there for me.”

Leone, who thanked her husband for his support, credited NRHA Professional Trent Harvey and his team for elevating her confidence and showmanship after a 15-year hiatus from competing.

“I have a great team. Trent has a great staff and assistants, and everybody does such a great job,” she said. “It feels so good to be part of the family. I love my barn family. We all make a really good team.”

Youth Non Pro Champions: Michelle Fumagalli and TR Mr Joe

Eighteen-year-old Michelle Fumagalli has loved horses since she was 4 years old. Her connection was evident during the Non Pro Derby finals, where she rode TR Mr Joe to the Youth Non Pro Championship after scoring a 220.5. The duo also secured a Top 5 spot in the Level 4 Non Pro, along with the Levels 3 and 2 Non Pro Reserve Championships. In total, the pair took home $28,934, including nominator incentives.

“He is fun and high-spirited and sweet,” Fumagalli said. “It was a matter of being smart and not overdoing it or over-fixing it, but just riding the pattern and feeling the horse underneath me, and it turned out.”

TR Mr Joe, nominated by breeder Tamarack Ranch LLC, is by NRHA $2 Million Sire Lil Joe Cash and out of Ms Whiz Dunit, who has more than $30,000 in NRHA LTE. The gelding has been in Fumagalli’s family for two years, but she just started riding him in September.

Fumagalli said she enjoys sharing reining with her dad, Patrizio, who marked a 217.5 in the Non Pro Derby finals (handicapped to a 219) to finish third in the Prime Time. Fumagalli expressed immense gratitude for both her parents, as well as her entire support system and Huss Performance Horses for their time and effort.

“I have seen the progression in the confidence and trust in our relationship as we continue to get better, and I learn how to show him better,” Fumagalli said. “I hope to keep growing from here. He is one of the most talented ones I have ever ridden, and he is so sweet.”

Masters Non Pro Champions: Catherine Crandon and Flinns Dun Twistin

Catherine Crandon has owned 5-year-old Flinns Dun Twistin since she was 1 day old, and as of tonight, they are Masters Non Pro Derby Champions. The pair scored a 217.5 with their 3-point handicap to earn $2,000.

“She is the sweetest, kindest, and tries so hard,” Crandon said. “She really tried hard today. She is just a keeper. She was right on the money, and I couldn’t have asked her to be any better.”

Crandon, who nominated her Grace Reiners LLC-bred mare, has been reining for 24 years and says the sport found her. She first saw it at an American Quarter Horse Association show in Canada, and when she saw the maneuvers she thought, “I would like that!”

“She tries, and I trust her,” Crandon said of Flinns Dun Twistin (In Like Flinn x Wimpys Dun Twistin). “I think that is the most important bond of all. I pretty much ride her all the time, and I think that is the most important thing.

“I cannot thank Ruben Vandorp enough,” she continued. “He is a tremendous help, and I cannot thank him enough.”

The excitement continues to build at the OKC Fairgrounds as the NRHA Open Derby finals take place tomorrow, where the purses will again break records across all levels of the competition. Join to watch in person, or tune in on the Cowboy Channel or the free live feed at nrhaderby.com.

Join the Fun with Ride Guess

Whether you have an eye for a winning run or simply want to have fun by making predictions, join in with NRHA’s newest virtual game, Ride Guess, powered by Spooks Gotta Whiz. This addition gives fans a chance to be part of the finals, whether they are in OKC or tuning in via the live feed.

Ride Guess is a product of Inside Rodeo sweepstakes games, which have taken the Western industry by storm and are produced by NRHA Corporate Partner Teton Ridge. Visit nrha.com/rideguess and sign up to go head-to-head with other fans, showcasing your reining knowledge and competing for incredible prizes. Rack up points throughout the Level 4 Open finals, and the top three players will be crowned champions at the end of the evening. The winners will receive prizes such as an NRHA Futurity package.