Poplin is first ever 3-peat champion of NWSS freestyle reining competition | TheFencePost.com

Poplin is first ever 3-peat champion of NWSS freestyle reining competition

Story and photos by Lincoln Rogers
for The Fence Post

The National Western Stock Show is one of the most important agricultural events in the country, and its RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining Competition is considered to be the most prestigious freestyle contest in the industry. So when a "first ever" happened at the 22nd annual freestyle contest, it was a big deal.

That big deal was Fruita, Colo., horse trainer Bub Poplin winning the NWSS Ram Invitational Freestyle Competition for the third year in a row. Riding 10-year-old Smokin Custom Chrome, Poplin reprised his 2017 winning routine by using a 13-foot-long wood garrocha pole in honor of Spanish horse traditions and vaqueros. Incorporating the long pole as a third element added to the partnership of horse and rider, Poplin and the smooth-moving Smokin Custom Chrome unveiled an intricate routine with balletic elements and cowboy artistry. The resulting 226-point score from the judges put him on top and made NWSS history.

"It's really great," said Kendra McConnell, NWSS Horse Show manager, about Poplin winning an unprecedented three stock show freestyle titles in a row. "It gives the crowd something to cheer for and something to get behind, even if they are not in the reining industry. And I will say, it is incredibly impressive that Bub can do that, knowing what competition he has out here. This is an incredible group of reiners," she added. "High-quality talent and riders coming from all over North America. For him to be able to do that says a lot for that trainer and that horse, right there."

When interviewed after his performance, Poplin wasted no time in giving credit where credit was due.

"It's this horse," said Poplin with enthusiasm. "He is an exceptionally minded horse. To do the kind of things I do out there with this pole, he just accepts it all so well. If you watch him do those routines, he just glides through what he does. That is a God-given talent. That is not a training talent."

Asked how it felt to make NWSS history by winning three consecutive freestyle competitions, the Fruita based cowboy wore a broad smile during his answer.

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"It feels really, really, really good," he said about the accomplishment. "I really believe this year — because I sit and watch quite a bit of it — I think it was probably the best set of horses and routines I have ever, ever seen here. I think everybody is really stepping up their game (and) that is pretty exciting to see."

With 14 contestants performing in front of a packed crowd, each year seems to bring more excitement and drama to the horsemanship playing out on the arena sand.

"You can't have any faults or you will lose here," said Poplin about the ever increasing level of competition. "It used to be you could have a cool routine and you could get a check in the top. Now it has to be a stellar horse and a stellar performance."

One of those stellar performances was put on by Longmont, Colo., horse trainer Sharee Schwartzenberger, who narrowly placed second with an impressive score of 225. Schwartzenberger tried staking her claim on the title with a graceful routine set to Santana's "Into the Night." Adding artistic drama and flair, she introduced the riding of Roberto Torres Jr. into her choreography. Aboard a big Fresian, Torres Jr. kept the beat with flashing hooves and added Spanish style to the performance. While she placed behind Poplin for the second year in a row, Schwartzenberger still loves the NWSS contest.

"This is the best freestyle ever," Schwartzenberger said about competing at the historic venue. "You have to come up with something different and unique. A lot of the (other trainers) do a lot of the freestyles, but this is the only one I like to show at. The crew here is amazing. You ask them to do anything and they will figure out a way to make it work."

Stock show officials agreed with Schwartzenberger's assessment.

"Our RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining is one of the best events we have, not only in the reining industry, but at the National Western," McConnell said. "It showcases our horses and our industry and, as you can see with the patriotic routines tonight and the cancer survivors' (rides), this is what the agricultural industry is about. We stick together, support each other and stand up for what is right. I don't know how they are going to top it next year. The team we have that puts this event on does a top notch job. I love it and can't wait to see what happens next year."

— Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer located east of Parker, Colo. He can be reached at lincoln@lincolnrogers.com or you can find him on Facebook at Official Lincoln Rogers Writing & Photography Page.

2018 NWSS RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining Top Five:

1 – Bub Poplin riding Smokin Custom Chrome – 226 points.

2 – Sharee Schwartzenberger riding Game Day Surprise – 225 points.

3 – Devin Warren riding It’s A Magnum – 224.5 points.

4 – Randall Dooley riding Oscar Party – 222.5 points.

5 – Drake Johnson riding Wimpys Tejona Whiz – 220.5 points.

People’s Choice Winner – Randall Dooley riding Oscar Party