Performance Horses on the World Stage

Performance Horses on the World Stage

The inaugural The American Performance Horseman, featuring American Quarter Horses, saw individual and team winners.

Team Blue is awarded The American Performance Horseman championship rings by AQHA CEO Karl Stressman, second from right. The team consists of Sarah Dawson, Fernando Salgado and Adan Banuelos, from left. PHOTO: Courtesy of Teton Ridge

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Holly Clanahan and Becky Newell

Expanding upon its commitment to elevate and positively impact the western industry, Teton Ridge debuted The American Performance Horseman in front of a crowd of 18,000 on March 10 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

For the first time, the top five 2022 year-end money-earning professionals in cutting, reined cow horse and reining came together to compete for $1 million in prize money in a competitive exhibition format. And nearly all of their horses were American Quarter Horses. TAPH, which was paired with The American Rodeo, provided a global stage for the athletes of each western performance-horse discipline to compete not only for individual prize payouts, but also a first-of-its-kind team format, as well.

When the dust cleared, Adan Banuelos and All Spice were the cutting champions, Casey Deary and Down Right Amazing had won the reining, Sarah Dawson and Shine Smarter took home reined cow horse honors, and Team Blue won the team event. Additionally, the breeders of the horses that won the reining, cutting and reined cow horse events will be recognized during the AQHA Breeder Recognition Banquet at the 2024 AQHA Convention at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Each breeder will receive a check for $5,000 and a trophy.


Adan Banuelos and All Spice (Photo courtesy of Teton Ridge)

The only love letter that Adan Banuelos, 34, has ever written was to a special mare named All Spice. Seriously. And he can't talk about the mare without getting teary eyed. Well, there were more tears in his eyes on March 10 after he and All Spice won the cutting with an intense 229 at The American Performance Horseman 

Adan won the 2020 National Cutting Horse Futurity Open with All Spice, then had said goodbye to the mare when owner Teton Ridge decided to retire her shortly after that. Needless to say, Adan was over the moon to be reunited with her for the first TAPH.

“This is the best horse I have ever ridden,” Adan told the Journal in February. “I had ridden her full brother, Badboonarising, and thought that he was the best horse I had ever ridden, but then his little sister came along and said, ‘Hold my beer.’ I didn’t know God could make horses that good. She is just so elegant.”

All Spice is a 2017 red roan mare by Once In A Blu Boon and out of the High Brow Cat daughter Show Biz Kitty. She was bred by Royce Stallcup of Seymour, Texas. QData shows that All Spice had nearly $400,000 in lifetime earnings prior to The American Performance Horseman. Adan and All Spice’s TAPH win in cutting added another $100,000 to her bank account, and that doesn’t count team winnings of $25,000.

After the event, Adan acknowledged Teton Ridge for producing The American Performance Horseman.

“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.”

Adan said the only negative thing about his TAPH win is that he’s going to have to say goodbye to All Spice again. “But I’ll do a better job of it this time,” he said.


Casey Deary and Down Right Amazing (Photo courtesy of Teton Ridge) 

Some horses are just aptly named, and at The American Performance Horseman on Friday, reiner Casey Deary proved why his mount – Down Right Amazing – fits right into that category.

“That’s a very special horse,” Casey said after his reining win that netted $100,000, as well as an additional $8,333.33 for Team Green’s third-place team finish. “That horse has been part of the family since he hit the ground, and his mother was a special animal, so he possesses a lot of great traits from both parents.” Down Right Amazing is a 2017 sorrel stallion by Colonels Smoking Gun, out of the Walla Walla Whiz mare Shesouttayourleague. Casey, a two-time AQHA world champion with lifetime National Reining Horse Association earnings of more than $3 million, was grateful to the bald-faced stallion, who turned in a smoking 231.5 score. “My horse sure did most of the work for me,” he said. 

And Casey, always a jokester, turned serious when he talked about what the win – and his always-supportive family – meant to him. “God has been so good to me,” he said, choking up for a moment. “I know I don’t deserve it, but he has blessed me to do what I do, and I have an amazing family to go along with it, and it certainly makes it worth it.”

Down Right Amazing was bred by Curtis Performance Horses of Weatherford, Texas, and is owned by DAG Ventures LLC of Crowley, Texas. Prior to TAPH, the horse had earned $224,251, and his major wins included the 2022 Run for a Million Open Reining Shootout and the 2022 National Reining Breeders Classic, where he was the open classic reserve champion. 

Reined Cow Horse

Sarah Dawson and Shine Smarter (Photo courtesy of Teton Ridge) 

When Sarah Dawson walked into the arena March 10 to be crowned the reined cow horse champion at The American Performance Horseman, she was accompanied by three very special beings: Shine Smarter, the mare who brought Sarah and Chris Dawson into a relationship and later a marriage; Chris, who also competed at TAPH and is a million-dollar rider like his wife; and their daughter, Hadley, who’s not quite 3 and who was very interested in grabbing the Rolex watch that was just awarded to her mom. Looking at them all and knowing how they are tied together, Sarah said, “This is what it’s about, is family. We wouldn’t be anywhere without each other. I think it’s incredible that this whole horse industry is a family within itself.”

And, of course, it was a night to celebrate 11-year-old Shine Smarter, who with Sarah in the saddle, led the rein-work portion with a score of 226 and also went on to win the fence-work portion with a 226.5. Shine Smarter is by WR This Cats Smart out of the Shining Spark mare Shiney Tari. 

“This night is way more about her than it is me,” Sarah said. “She has been with me since the beginning, she has given me the opportunities that I have today, and I think out of all the money she has won, she has actually only won one championship title, so for her to do this tonight, it’s so special. I can’t put it into words. … I told Chris right after my run that it just felt right, from the moment I walked down here for the fence work, that mare, she was so quiet and so in the zone, it was just this feeling I had, and it felt right. To go out there and do it was amazing.”

To Shine Smarter’s previous lifetime earnings of $216,766, TAPH added $125,000, including both her individual reined cow horse win and her membership on the winning Team Blue. She was bred by American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer and AQHA 50-year breeder Carol Rose and Richard Bell and is owned by Linda Mars of Jackson, Wyoming. In addition to her show-ring accolades, Shine Smarter was also the 2020 AQHA-National Reined Cow Horse Association leading dam, having produced Selvarey (by Dual Rey), whom Sarah rode to the 2020 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity open championship.

Team Blue

Team Blue celebrates a big win by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. (Photo courtesy of Teton Ridge) 

“Two No. 1’s and an up-and-comer” is how Fernando Salgado described the makeup of Team Blue during The American Performance Horseman Media Day in February. In the competition to qualify for TAPH, Sarah Dawson finished first in the National Reined Cow Horse Association 2022 earnings, Adan Banuelos was first in the National Cutting Horse Association, and Fernando finished third in the National Reining Horse Association.
“I’ve got to not drop the ball,” said Fernando with a laugh.

He didn’t drop the ball, and Team Blue took home the win and diamond-encrusted champion rings, presented during the awards ceremony by AQHA CEO Karl Stressman.

Sarah and Shine Smarter, an 11-year-old mare by WR This Cats Smart and out of the Shining Spark mare Shiney Tari, won the reined cow horse with a 226 in the rein work and a 226.5 for their solid go in the cow work. Adan Banuelos and All Spice, a 2017 red roan mare by Once In A Blu Boon and out of the High Brow Cat daughter Show Biz Kitty, won the cutting with an intense 229. And showing that he’s no slacker, Fernando picked up $50,000 for his third-place run on Pale Dun Star in the reining.

All told, Team Blue racked up a score of 905, with each team member taking home $25,000 for the team win. Team Red (Lloyd Cox, Shawn Flarida and Justin Wright) was second, Team Green (Casey Deary, Chris Dawson and Lindy Thorn) was third, Team Purple (Wes Galyean, Andrea Fappani and Corey Cushing) was fourth, and Team Burnt Orange (Matt Mills, Lee Deacon and Austin Shepard) was fifth. The members of the second- through fifth-place teams each took home $8,333.33 for their team placings.

The American Performance Horseman was supported by AQHA, American Paint Horse Association, National Reining Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association and National Reined Cow Horse Association.