Fortunate enough to be born to parents working on cattle ranches, successful reining trainer and competitor Shane Brown developed a passion for horses at an early age.
“As young as I can remember, I was wanting to do something with horses,” recollected Brown during a relaxed conversation on a sun-drenched morning at his Shane Brown Performance Horses property in Elbert, Colo.
Sitting on a bench near a 31-stall barn, the accomplished horseman talked about life, horses and how he got from there to here.
“My earliest memories are wanting to be on a horse,” he continued. “That was my favorite thing on the ranch, was when we got to use a horse to go move cows. That was the whole part of what being a cowboy was about.”
Brown turned his cowboy dream into reality, starting with 4-H competition at age 9.
“I was about 14 or 15 is when I realized you could make a living being a horse trainer,” Brown explained. “Up until then, I wanted the knowledge to be able to train my horses on the ranch. Then, when I was 14 or 15, working at Pine Run Ranch, (horse trainer and reining competitor) Troy Heikes came along and started to work there, and I started realizing you could learn a method and teach and train these horses. The understanding that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was at about 17 (years of age).”
Asked about choosing reining as a focus vs. other equestrian disciplines, Brown revealed his enthusiasm for the sport was in place from the start.
“Before I knew about NRHA (National Reining Horse Association), even in 4-H, reining was my favorite class to do. In the mid-to-late 80s, there were very few just reiners. I remember — I couldn’t have been any older than 18 — one day Troy (Heikes) tells me, ‘don’t you think it would be great if one day we could only ride reiners so we wouldn’t have to do this other stuff?’” Brown said with a laugh at the prescience of the memory.
“We dabble in the cowhorse some,” he added about his training facility. “But we made a decision about 10 to 12 years ago, my wife and I did, that we wanted to be competitive on a national level. The national shows, NRHA, are very important to us.”
That decision paid off for the Browns, resulting in a beautiful facility located south of Franktown, Colo., with a barn full of horses, supportive clients and a resume crowded with accomplishments.
It’s something he never saw coming when he first dreamed of a career in the saddle.
“When I was younger I couldn’t picture forward even to having my own place,” said Brown, with a smile. “When we got married I told my wife, you better get used to living in single bedroom apartments and single wide trailers and she informed me no, we were going to have better than that; we are going to have our own place one day and I just thought that was crazy. We are extremely blessed to get to do what we love for a living.”
Part of what he loves is riding in reining shows, where his competitive drive can be satisfied.
“I love going to horse shows and going to competitions,” Brown said. “To truly enjoy it, you have to be able to honestly get in that mental state where you are judging yourself.
“Are you getting better? Are you getting things figured out?” he added about the maturity in the show ring he’s learned over time. “You can be a success if you walk in there and that horse is improving and you are getting some things better.”
In addition to traditional competitions, the shy-by-nature cowboy has learned to embrace the lights and attention found at freestyle reining competitions, since they are such good PR for the sport.
“They bring a lot of exposure to our sport,” acknowledged Brown about the popular contests. “A lot of times in our traditional competitions, if you don’t know the rules, it’s hard to watch. The freestyle allows those people to enjoy it. It’s entertaining, they get to bebop along with the music and clap and they are totally entertained. And we get to go in front of a lot of people who know nothing about reining horses every year and show them what our athletes can do.”
Discussing the annual freestyle reining competition at the National Western Stock Show, which Brown has won on multiple occasions, he offered his opinion in that the event was one of the best freestyle reining shows in the world.
“There is a lot of prestige and some bragging rights to get to be the one that does well in that (show),” described Brown about the Denver competition. “That is one of the only horse show events that I have ever been to in my life that sells out and packs the house the way it that does and then (the crowd) stays for the awards. The crowd loves it so much. It’s not all about the costume and the music. (Competitors) are still out there making big stops and big turns. The scores we get are incredible at that horse show.”
Prompted for reasons behind his success in the reining industry, Brown’s answer was a humble one.
“God has blessed me and I would give the glory to Him first,” he began. “Secondly, I have great, supportive clientele ... who want me to go and find success. Not only because it’s their horse, but they are supportive of me as an athlete and as a person — and they help me go out there and find those horses that we need to find to do that. I can’t say enough about the clientele that we have. We have a whole barn full of great people.”
Summing up the conversation, Brown was asked what advice he would give to anyone looking to start a career in the horse industry.
“I’m going to sound like some old fogey saying this,” he began with a laugh. “But it’s very honest. I’ve lived through the being young and just wanting to win and that kind of stuff. The people and the relationships you build in this industry are really what matters and winning isn’t everything. I know of nobody that, on their headstone when they pass away, has their credentials of what they were in this industry. It is way more of what they were as a husband, father, family person, friend, and that means so much more. Enjoy the ride and the people are way more important.” ❖
For more information on Shane Brown Performance Horses, visit their website at