Colorado trainer Bub Poplin sweeps top awards on Smokin Custom Chrome |

Colorado trainer Bub Poplin sweeps top awards on Smokin Custom Chrome

Silt, Colo., horse trainer Aaron Ralston performed a "no hands" spin on Nic Stole My Heart during his freestyle reining routine at the 2017 National Western Stock Show. Set to a Jimmy Buffet tune, the routine earned Ralston 218.5 points and seventh place in the prestigious $20,000 RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining competition.
Photo by Lincoln Rogers |

$20,000 RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining Results (Top 7):

228 Points – Bub Poplin and Smokin Custom Chrome

224 Points – Sharee Schwartzenberger and Walla Whiz Affair

222 Points – Devin Warren and It’s A Magnum

221.5 Points – Randy Dooley and Pscar Party

221 Points – Drake Johnson and Yankee Cashier

220.5 points – Adam Hendrickson and Ima Ruf Spook

218.5Points – Aaron Ralston and Nic Stole My Heart

Regarded by insiders of the sport as the best freestyle reining event in the country, the $20,000 RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining competition at the National Western Stock Show lived up to its reputation in 2017. Boasting a field of 16 competitors, the high-profile contest entertained the sellout crowd with a variety of routines that included plenty of stage makeup, rock and roll wardrobes, a 13-foot-long pole and a sighting of “The Donald” on horseback.

While some routines touched the crowd with drama and emotion, others boosted the crowd’s energy through the use of high-octane music. Kiowa, Colo., trainer Guy Vernon used a different tactic, as his realistic Donald Trump costume (complete with rubber mask and trademark hair) entertained everyone at the venue.

“Obviously, the election, but it was just for fun, really,” said Vernon of his reasons for channeling Trump in the saddle, while adding his other costume idea had some drawbacks. “Originally, I was going to do a dinosaur, but it scared all the other horses, (and) I didn’t want to do that to anybody else.”

The big crowd and high profile of the contest also allowed competitors to raise awareness for issues close to their hearts. Franktown, Colo., horse trainer Devin Warren choreographed a moving routine that paid tribute to the issue of adoption, while pledging his winnings to a charity named Beautiful Redemption. The dramatic routine aboard 5-year-old It’s A Magnum not only touched the audience, it also earned a solid 222 points from the judges, which was good enough for third place overall.

“There are certain things in life that really matter,” said Warren about using his time in the arena to support Beautiful Redemption and their mission in the area of adoption. “The least we can do is help donate to those folks and bring awareness to them.”


A notch higher than Warren on the leaderboard was Sharee Schwartzenberger (Schwartzenberger Equine), a regular participant of the competition. While the event in the past has typically seen at least two Schwartzenbergers on the card, 2017 was Sharee’s time to go it alone. Rising to the occasion aboard 7-year-old stallion Walla Whiz Affair, Schwartzenberger donned a Steven Tyler costume and chose the Aerosmith tune of “Dream On” to accompany her ride. The classic rock song set a strong mood, while Schwartzenberger impressed the crowd and judges by removing the bridle and bit halfway through the routine. A final score of 224 points resulted in a second place finish in the prestigious freestyle.

After saying it was awesome to finish second and how much she enjoyed riding Walla Whiz Affair, the Loveland, Colo., rider described the stock show event’s high reputation within the industry.

“This is the toughest (freestyle reining competition), year round,” said Schwartzenberger. “Everyone brings their A-game and they bring their best horses. This is the one that kind of sets the standard. And this crowd is the best crowd around. It is one of a kind.”

One of a kind also described Fruita, Colo., horse trainer Bub Poplin, who returned to defend his 2016 co-champion title. Using a 13-foot-long wood garrocha pole in honor of Spanish horse traditions and vaqueros, Poplin delighted the packed stands with a first of its kind freestyle reining routine. Using the garrocha pole as an integral part of his act in the arena, Poplin and 9-year-old Smokin Custom Chrome unveiled a near balletic performance that incorporated all the reining elements and added artistic touches that were hard to match. The resulting 228 point score matched Poplin’s winning total from 2016, but gave him sole possession of the title in 2017.


Not content with just being the NWSS’ freestyle reining champ, Poplin also claimed the coveted People’s Choice Award, voted by the fans though the volume of their applause.

“I had it in my heart that I could do that,” he said of earning the audience’s approval. “Because I brought something they had never seen before, and I think that was exciting for them.”

While Poplin humorously stated his goal was to sweep all the awards and leave nothing for the rest, he turned serious when describing the inspiration for his vaquero-themed routine.

“A couple of our great horseman that were some of the founders of our bridle horse industry, Mr. John Hoyt and Mr. Benny Guitron, passed away this past year,” Poplin explained. “They were the actual true vaqueros. So I started researching a lot of the Spanish vaquero bridle horses and the spade bits, and when I got to researching, I came across the garrochas and the garrocha stick. And I watched them do these dances with these horses and I thought it was amazing. So I came home and thought, ‘I can do this.’ But when I started, I found out I really couldn’t,” he added with a smile. “My wife said, you have to understand they have been practicing for 20 years. And I had three weeks. So we got it put together and it was really fun.”

Adding to Schwartzenbergers’ comments regarding the NWSS invitational freestyle, Poplin summed up the level of competition.

“I sat and watched some of the horses and I tell you what, it might have been better than last year,” he said with admiration. “Those horses had some big maneuvers out there. It was very impressive. Very impressive.” ❖

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Western Growers launches automation initiative


Western Growers, the organization of fresh produce growers in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, announced Thursday, April 15, it is spearheading an initiative to increase automated harvesting in fresh produce industry, with a goal…

See more