At the 2017 National Cutting Horse Association Summer Spectacular, the best was saved for last.
Austin Shepard, the last rider to work during the 21-day show, clinched the coveted 4-year-old open division title Sunday night, the third jewel of the 2016-2017 Triple Crown Series.
Shepard and Sir Long Legs turned in a whopping score of 229, five points higher than reserve champion Matt Miller and Metallic Smart Cat.
If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.
Austin Shepard, 2017 open division champion
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The victory earned the stallion’s owner, Lew Hall of Lakeland, Fla., the $40,862 prize at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
Earlier in the performance, Paula Wood of Stephenville clinched the non-pro title aboard Suen Too Be Black with a 219.5. The victory earned Wood and her husband, Kobie, a check worth $18,545.
The open finals featured 21 horses. Sir Long Legs and Shepard were the 11th duo to work in the second bunch of cattle. In many cases, being last is a disadvantage because the best cattle already have been worked.
But Shepard, a 40-year-old Alabama cowboy who is the son of longtime pro cutting horse trainer Sam Shepard, selected three energetic cattle during the 2 1/2 minute run — cows that could help generate a high score.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Shepard said.
Shepard said Sir Long Legs thrives because he loves working cattle.
“He’s very cowy and very smart,” Shepard said. “The more you ask him for, the more he gives you.”
Riders tend to take more risks during the final round with the bigger prize money at stake. But Shepard said he didn’t have to impart a sense of urgency to Sir Long Legs.
“Really, I didn’t have to do a lot extra,” Shepard said. “It was a lot of him. It wasn’t like I was exposing him as far as he would go. When he got hold of that first cow, I could feel it. I can’t make him do that.”
Shepard and Sir Long Legs were intense and explosive on all three cows.
“When I was working my first cow, I thought, ‘If I can just keep this up,’ ” Shepard said. “You don’t want to get down lower, you just want to keep building.”
In the non-pro finals, Wood and Suen Too Be Black were the sixth duo to compete in the second bunch, which is a more preferred draw.
“She’s a cow horse,” Wood said. “Every time we’ve shown her, she’s gotten stronger and stronger.”
Suen Too Be Black is a granddaughter of Chita Cash, a mare that carried Wood to the 1997 Summer Spectacular 4-year-old non-pro title.
Like her grandmother, Suen Too Be Black has a knack for handling cattle.
“She real sticky on a cow, real tight on a cow,” Wood said. “She’s real cowy.”