Keeping the Prize

Shawn Renshaw's 'Smokums Prize' is the highest-earning reined cow horse in history.
by Annie Lambert

Smokums Prize is just four years old, but Shawn Renshaw’s talented stallion has earned over $200,000, making him the highest-earning reined cow horse in history. The Champion’s talent and good looks have had his owner on the hot seat, thinking about the future.
Smokums Prize, called “Junior” or “Jun” around the barn, “wants to be a show horse,” and that is just fine with his owner, Shawn Renshaw of Nipomo, Calif. But, how does a person decide what to do with such a valuable entity?
Renshaw agonized with the facts when deciding if he should keep or sell his stallion by Smokum Oak out of Tommie Tivio Tucker. The four-year-old won the Non-Pro and Limited Open Championships during the 2001 edition of the National Reined Cow Horse Assn.’s Derby last July. Those earnings, added to his three-year-old bankroll, kicked him over $200,000 in his short lifetime, giving him the distinction of being the richest reined cow horse in history. Shawn Renshaw has always made a business of his horses, but this horse is special to him—the “once in a lifetime” kind.

Agony and Victory
The past year has been an emotional ride for Shawn Renshaw. It started in Reno last fall, during the Snaffle Bit Futurity where he has always been a tough competitor. The non-pro and his little sorrel danced every dance, qualifying for the Non-Pro, Limited Open, and Open finals, but Renshaw was forced to watch from the sidelines as Ted Robinson piloted his sorrel stallion to the Open Championship victory.
After winning the Non-Pro Reserve Championship, Renshaw was in so much pain that he was barely able to dismount. The next morning, while finalists prepared for the Limited Open finals, Renshaw was unable to get out of bed and was therefore forced to scratch. An injured disk in his lower back was putting pressure on the nerves, causing excruciating pain. He could only hope to recover enough to ride in the Open finals.
When Sunday, Open Finals day, rolled around, Renshaw was out of bed, but not sound enough to give his horse the ride he deserved. Renshaw, who trains his own horses, asked his friend, four-time Open Futurity Champion Ted Robinson, to take the reins.
Standing at the practice pen, watching Open competitors prepare for the Herd Work finals, Renshaw expressed his regret at being unable to compete. “The biggest chance of my life, and I can’t do anything about it,” he said, shaking his head.
Later in the afternoon, he grimaced in pain as he descended a flight of stairs, trying to be the great sport he is known to be, but unable to hide his disappointment. After watching his special horse clinch the futurity with amazing fence work, Shawn Renshaw’s whoops of happiness overcame the pain in his back—something he probably regretted Monday morning. He jumped up on the back gate and saluted his jockey, Ted Robinson, with a pumped fist as Robinson returned the gesture.

To Keep or To Sell?
Shawn Renshaw knew then he would have some decisions to make regarding his horse’s future. He was not sure if he was ready to take on the role of “breeder,” but he knew Smokums Prize had too much class and quality not to contribute the horse’s gene pool to the performance horse industry.
“That is a whole other world,” he acknowledged. “I found out you have to be educated and have deep pockets to take on the breeding business.”
When negotiations fell through with an undisclosed buyer, Renshaw got off the fence, set his jaw, and decided to keep Smokums Prize. The stallion will stand the 2002 season at Dr. Van Snow’s Santa Lucia Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif., for a $2,000 fee. “Junior” stood to 25 mares last year at Santa Lucia. Did it change his attitude?
“His ground manners are slightly worse since he became involved with mares, but as far as riding and showing,” Renshaw said, almost in disbelief, “he is better. He is more aware of horses around him now, mostly when he is tied up—that is the nature of the game.”

Bulls to Cow Horses
Shawn Renshaw is easy to find at a show. You just need to follow the loudest voice rooting for everyone—pro or non-pro—yelling encouragement and one-liners. He got his start riding horses in a very roundabout way. He was a bull rider for about ten years and won’t give himself much credit, except to mention he did “okay”as an amateur, but that it is a rough racket as a pro. He had been around rodeos and although his family was not at all involved with horses, he bought one. “I thought I was a cowboy,” Renshaw laughed, “but I couldn’t train it. A friend invited me to a Les Vogt cow horse clinic in Santa Maria about 13 years ago.”
Renshaw went to his first horse show in 1991 and has never shown anything but cow horses.
“After riding bulls for ten years,” he said, “it was a big transition. I actually had to use some finesse and get out in front of a crowd by myself.”
The hardest part of showing for Renshaw used to be getting there; all the work and preparation before the shows. The actual showing was the easy part for him. Things have changed with owning a superior horse.
“It gets intense now, and you have to be pretty focused to go both ways (show in both the Open and Non-Pro), so I try to concentrate,” he said.
Gigi Gortner, his girlfriend and a good non-pro in her own right, is a great help to him by helping physically with the horse and mentally with Renshaw’s state of mind.
“My major goal,” he said, “has been to buy young horses and go to the Futurity, then sell them. Walt and Sharon Wright have been very good to me over the years, and I go there first when I’m looking for a prospect. It has worked well for me.”
Renshaw bought Smokums Prize in July of the stallion’s two-year-old year. He was staying with Walter and Sharon Wright while showing at the Salinas, Calif., Rodeo. He had done well with many of the Wrights’ Smokum Oak babies and wandered out to see what they had in two year olds. Walter had been asking $15,000 for Smokums Prize, and no one seemed to think he was worth the price. Renshaw liked the little stallion and told Walter he’d take him, if Walter would accept a couple of payments. He did.
The colt had been laid up, due to a curb, for a short time prior to Shawn Renshaw picking him up in late September. Renshaw didn’t begin riding him for awhile, but after three or four rides, he declared, “This sucker is a freak, man. You could just trot around that round pen, say ‘Whoa,’ and your stirrups would almost touch the ground—he is such a natural.” Shawn Renshaw judges a great reined cow horse by its acceptance and mental attitude. “They have to be a low-keyed, tolerant horse,” he said. “A lot of the really good horses are too hot, and they just can’t do our stuff. It takes a good-minded horse; you can go a lot further on one like that. “Smokums Prize has a good mind,” Shawn beamed. “I could go show him over and over, and he’d go in and do his job the same every time. You can only do so many hard runs. He is special, and I don’t want to lose that.”
Shawn Renshaw’s stallion will not become a weekend warrior—he will be shown only at major events.
Renshaw’s biggest money-earning horse prior to Smokums Prize was Smokum N Jazz, a 1994 gelding by Smokum Oak out of Jazz O Lena, which earned over $30,000 and maybe as much as $50,000. Their wins included the 1997 Santa Ynez Snaffle Bit Futurity Non-Pro Reserve Championship, World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity Non-Pro finalists, and the $5,000 Pro-Am Limited and $20,000 Limited Open finalists. In 1998, they won the Cow Palace Non-Pro Hackamore Championship and the Triple Crown Championship.
Renshaw does most of his own training, only venturing to Ted Robinson’s, a two-hour trek from Nipomo, about four times per year, unless he has an unsolvable problem.
“My most influential teacher is Ted Robinson,” he said, “so I try to copy most everything he does. There are a few things I throw in there to mess things up,” he chuckled.
Renshaw also studies Jon Roeser for his finesse, and Ron Ralls has been a big influence on his cow work.
Shoeing horses is Shawn Renshaw’s chosen profession. His previous vocation was as Operating Engineer. He served an apprenticeship and became a journeyman in the Operators Local 12 Union.
“I was operating heavy equipment,” h said, “kind of a glorified deal, but it was really good money.”
When he decided to become a blacksmith, he attended the Western School of Horse Shoeing in Phoenix, Ariz. After graduation, he apprenticed with his mentor, Walt Post, in the San Luis Obispo, Calif., area before venturing out on his own. Renshaw does not have much extra time, but when he does, he puts it back into his business by attending shoeing clinics and keeping up with the latest techniques.
Renshaw has two children who live near him in Nipomo where he resides with Gigi. His daughter Nicole, 17, shows in the National Reined Cow Horse Assn. (NRCHA) and is involved in FFA through her high school. She had a Snaffle Bit mount for this year, but it didn’t make the cut, and her dad wouldn’t let her show it. Brandon, Renshaw’s 14-year-old son, rides a little bit, but he is mostly interested in team sports like baseball and basketball as well as FFA and 4-H.

Future Plans
Renshaw, laughing, describes his sorrel partner as “the best horse you could ever imagine—and then one day he’ll bite you!”
Having shown for ten years, he remembers having horses that the show atmosphere and pressure upset after two or three runs. He could feel their tension walking in the gate and their ‘cowing up’ with anticipation.
“This horse doesn’t have a nerve in his body,” Renshaw said of his Champion. “You can show him time after time, and he is the same horse each run. He is always there, big run after big run.”
Smokum’s Prize was a money earner in the NRHA Reining Futurity after the Snaffle Bit last fall. Renshaw is hopeful the reiners will take a serious look at him as that industry is starting to cross into the cow horses more and more. Renshaw also showed him at the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Assn. (PCCHA) in Burbank, Calif., last year, narrowly missing the Non-Pro finals.
“He is awesome on a cow...he’d cut if his owner knew how to cut,” Renshaw laughed. “If he puts all his versatility in his babies...(pausing)...it will be awesome.”
At 14.2 with Smokum’s solid, correct little tank of a body and beautiful doll head, passing on his looks would also be an asset. Shawn Renshaw also owns the stallion’s two-year-old full sister and said, “She is good-looking; not as pretty as ‘Jun,’ but nice.
“Since I decided to keep him,” Renshaw disclosed, “I have made it my goal to get to the World’s Greatest (Horseman). It is something I really want to do, and I think it is his type of event.”
For now, Smokums Prize and Shawn Renshaw are headed to the American Quarter Horse Assn. World Show later this year. Renshaw has never been there, but he figures Smokums Prize will get a lot of exposure to people who are not familiar with his talent...stay tuned!