Million Dollar Riders Show Grace Under Pressure
Updated: Aug 14
On the eve of the the richest event in Reining history, Karen Callinan gives you a peak behind the curtain as some of your favourite horses and riders prepare for the run of their lives. What she found should make Reiners proud.
Words and Pics Karen Callinan Design and Layout Inspired Photography and Design by Sam
The Stage is Set
With the hype around the Run For A Million reaching fever pitch, you wouldn’t be human, or at the very least you wouldn’t be a Reiner, if your heart rate didn’t spike a little as the United Airlines wheels thuds onto the tarmac of McCarran Airport. In cliched fashion the desert shimmered in the plus 40 degree heat. A strange combination of the Road Runner meets the Hangover springs to mind as our driver edged us towards South Point Casino and arena, our home for the week and venue for the richest event in Reining history - the Run For A Million.
As to be expected from a Brumley Management run event, the scene was one of calm professionalism as we cleared security and headed to the show office for our passes. Your eyes can’t help but take in the magnificently presented stables and horses. That's always the case at these events but this time there’s an added dimension - the camera crews. Booms with fluffy microphones, cord runners and producers with clipboards. Definitely a Hollywood vibe in the warm up pen. The Last Cowboy and Yellowstone factor adding an extra dimension.
Highly Concentrated Talent
Despite the extra attention and what can only be assumed as a gruelling schedule for the chosen few, they went about their preparation and business today in a manner that looked to outsiders like us at least, as just another day at the office. We stumbled across Abby Lengel prepping Gotta Twist It Up for his training slot in the main arena. Our presence alone could have been viewed as an unwelcome intrusion, yet owner Sandy Bentien and Abby welcomed us into their space and encouraged us to approach and pour affection on their beloved Ace. If there was a chance that running for a million could create tension or rampant egos it certainly hasn’t in that barn! With a “please come back when we’re done”, the inspiring trio strolled to the warm up pen. Less than 20 minutes later we watched Abby launch Ace, with a head turning run-in, down the chute into the Arena.
And so the afternoon unfolded, rider after million dollar rider though the gate, quietly and professionally under the watchful eye of a Show Stewart in the pen and a handful of their inner circle scattered in the stands or at the gate. Sometimes with the dog too. The Fappani family’s Boxer sat diligently at the gate watching Epic Titans every move with the focus of an invested coach. Craig Schmersal, Franco Bertolani, Jason Vanlandingham, Jordan Larson and Matt Mills almost back to back. Sam Flarida and Addy Schmersal made their presence felt too. The concentration of talent simply demanded to be noticed. If you’re looking for a form guide after today's training sessions, no can do - this race is anyones! A couple of Rookie and Non Pro riders were amongst the mix. How fortunate they are to have coaches like Casey Deary, Shawn Flarida and Craig Schmersal guide their sessions. You couldn’t help but notice the positive and gentle nature with which each NRHA professional encouraged and moulded their mentee. Potentially the last trip to the pen for some of these combinations before their big moment and all left with a positive experience.
Outside the Arena Outside the arena, South Point is a buzz this week with the ‘Flying Man - Locksmith’ convention in town, a huge bowling tournament in their 64 alley facility and of course, the main event - the Run For A Million. Just ask Jordan Larson, he knows all about the bowling in town this week. While trapped in the confines of a crowded lift headed beyond the 20th floor, Jordan listened attentively to a couple that spoke as passionately of their bowling adventures as we do our Reining. Little did they know what the well dressed horse trainer whose attention they held has at stake this week. We exited on the 14th floor and heard the conversation continue as the doors slide shut and upwards they went. Well done Jordan Larson. This Las Vegas location gives the show a completely different feel to the Oklahoma Futurity for we the spectators. That is until you take your seat in the stands, and then it's just the same. It’s another pen full of ambition, dedication, possibility, unimaginable highs and crushing heart break.
I’m sure as the final preparations and run plans are put in place there will be riders, owners and their families working into the night as I write this. For us, settling into our room knowing that some of our favourite horses are stabled at the base of the lift and knowing the show schedule ahead, leaves you with nothing but appreciation for your sport, gratitude for the horses and trainers that inspire us as riders and respect for the visionaries that present it for the world to see on this scale. This is The Run For a Million.
Rookies underway apx 5am Friday Morning AEST. More articles coming to Genetically Gifted.