Above photo courtesy Teton Ridge/The American Performance Horseman
Photos below by Jessica Hein
With a pair of No. 1-ranked riders helping compose their team for the 2023 The American Performance Horseman event, Team Blue—Sarah Dawson, Adan Banuelos and Fernando Salgado—had the odds stacked in their favor for the inaugural event, which took place March 10 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Still, anything can happen on a stage like that, where the Top Five contenders in reining, cutting and cow horse faced off against each other in a never-before-seen team format, with live animals, in an unprecedented venue and in front of 18,000 thundering fans.
Cutting was first up, and APHA member Adan Banuelos marked a huge 229 with his great mare All Spice (QH) as the third draw. The 2017 red roan mare was all business, and when Adan singled out his first cow, she seemed to look back at her rider to say “Hang on, cowboy.” Big, bold, smooth moves with plenty of hangtime helped the team clinch the cutting championship and $100,000. It was easy to see why they were the 2020 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity Open champs, and why Adan has a special spot in his heart for All Spice.
“It’s unbelievable to be on a stage like this,” Adan said. “Thank you to Teton Ridge for letting the world see what we do. This mare has brought me places that I’ve never been. I’m very happy that she got to be seen today.”
Next was reining, led off by APHA member Fernando Salgado and his Paint, Pale Dun Star, for Team Blue. They marked a solid 224, but it was fellow APHA member Casey Deary aboard the 2017 sorrel overo stallion Down Right Amazing who scorched the scoreboards with a 231.5 to clinch the $100,000 event championship. Ears pricked, the stallion looked right at home in the baseball-stadium-turned-arena and was a shining example of why we say Paints are #MarkedForGreatness.
“That’s a very special horse. He’s been part of our family since the day he hit the ground,” said Casey, who also showed the stallion’s dam. “This is far beyond anything we could ever imagine.”
The capstone was working cow horse, and as the leader from the morning’s dry work runs, APHA’s Sarah Dawson came back as the final performer for the herd/fence work finals. The horsewoman proved she could lead the pack front to back, efficiently marking a 226.5 for a 452.5 composite to earn her own $100,000 payday with her great mare Shine Smarter (QH).
“It just felt right tonight, from the moment I walked down here. She was just so quiet and so in the zone,” Sarah said. “Then to go out there and do it, it’s amazing.”
For their Team Blue victory, Adan, Fernando and Sarah each earned an additional $25,000 along with other prizes. The horsemen, however, all acknowledge something bigger that came out of the inaugural American Performance Horseman event: the opportunity to open new eyes to Western performance horse sports on a stage unlike anything the horse-show world has seen before.
“Our sports are so freaking cool, but the biggest problem we’ve had is that they haven’t been big spectator sports,” Sarah said. “Teton [Ridge] has come in and proved that we can turn this into a spectator sport. I’m excited to see what it turns into from here. I think they’ve opened a door that we didn’t know we could open—I think this is just the beginning. It’s hard to imagine how things could top this, but I can’t wait until next year. I hope I’m a part of it, but if I’m not I’ll be in the stands watching.”
The American Performance Horseman took place as part of The American Rodeo’s Western Weekend extravaganza, produced by Teton Ridge in association with APHA, AQHA, NCHA, NRHA and NRCHA. Seven Paints and 10 APHA members were among the 15 horse-and-rider teams vying for $1 million in total prizemoney offered at the event. For more information, visit americanrodeo.com/events/american-horseman.
[Reprinting all or part of this news release is permitted, so long as credit is given to the Paint Horse Journal and a link provided back to apha.com.]
The American Paint Horse Association is the world’s second-largest international equine breed association, registering more than a million horses in 59 nations and territories since it was founded in 1962. APHA promotes, preserves and provides meaningful experiences with Paint Horses.