Sarah Dawson

Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady

PHOTO BY CAROLYN SIMANCIK

Sarah Dawson and Selvarey won the NRCHA Open Snaffle Bit Futurity with a huge fence run of 224 for a (216 herd/220.5 rein/224 cow) 660.5 composite.
Selvarey (Dual Rey x Shine Smarter x WR This Cats Smart) is owned by Sheri L. Jamison.

A Behind-The-Scenes Introduction to Newly-Crowned NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion Sarah Dawson

In all reality, it’s a relatively small number of people who truly know the feeling of walking into a show pen in the open finals at the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity. You’re praying you’ve covered your bases, made the right calls and positioned yourself to be competitive against the best equine athletes in the sport and their undeniably talented pilots. The bright lights shine an almost surreal reminder on the fact that you’re on the big stage, being watched and judged as one of the elite few who belong there. It’s not just you in the game, but a horse that has met you at every turn, risen to your challenges and given just as much heart, try and grit as you have. There’s a part of you that wants to win for them more than yourself at this point. In the world of the reined cow horse, it’s not just one discipline that must be mastered and dominated, it’s three. Some say it’s a man’s world, some call these competitors the triathletes of equine sport and some were more than a bit surprised when the petite blonde powerhouse that is Sarah Dawson showed up on the scene and proved that together, a girl and her horse are a force of nature.

The daughter of famed horse trainer and natural horsemanship clinician Richard Winters, Sarah Dawson was quite literally raised atop a horse, showing not only a keen interest from an early age but also an inspired passion. “I’ve always thought that horses are in a person’s blood or they aren’t, and for me, they were always a part of who I am,” says Dawson of her lifelong affection for not only the industry but the horses themselves. Now an established trainer in her own right, she mans the helm of Dawson Performance Horses together with husband and fellow professional horseman, Chris. The Dawsons have proven to be a powerful one-two punch in the show pen, bringing their steady style and quiet brand of competitive prowess to the highest level within the NRCHA. “This sport is special, and it affords us the ability to channel our passion,” says Dawson of the appreciation both she and Chris have for what is more of a lifestyle than a profession.

Both trainers at the highest level of the reined cow horse world, the Dawsons bring the advantage of two sets of eyes and two equally-capable perspectives to each horse they train up through the ranks. “Chris and I are each other’s greatest supporter,” says Dawson of her spouse and training partner. “It’s so valuable for me to have his eyes to rely on. We set our egos aside constantly and let the other guy jump on a horse that one of us may be having some challenges with. We push each other to be better.” It’s a balance resulting from years of development, skill and unquestionable trust. That “secret sauce,” if you will, is one of the defining factors that has propelled Dawson Performance Horses into the limelight amongst an elite group of fellow competitors.

“This was a surreal experience. Everyone who rides into that arena, we all work so hard for this. So much has to fall into place in order to win, so for me, this was an emotional one.”
— Sarah Dawson, NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion

While the Dawsons have proven themselves as respected trainers and exceptional talents, it was the 2020 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity that magnified Sarah’s exceptional game for the world to see clearly. After winning the prelims on Smart Chic An Tari, she delivered a performance that brought the house down on Selvarey, a big-hearted mare out of Shine Smarter, a dam bred by her parents and who she herself piloted to a Limited Open Championship at the 2015 Snaffle Bit Futurity. It was this familial connection coupled with Selvarey’s unwavering try that led to an explosive run down the fence that had the crowd on its feet and cheering Dawson on. The energy was electric as Selvarey carried her to victory and cemented her in the record books as only the second woman in history to win the prestigious title of NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion, following in the legendary footsteps of Sandy Collier nearly 30 years prior. “This was a surreal experience,” says Dawson of the hard-fought victory. “Everyone who rides into that arena, we all work so hard for this. So much has to fall into place in order to win, so for me, this was an emotional one.”

“Around here, we take the saying ‘you are what you eat’ to heart. That’s a big reason why we use Platinum and have for so long. Bottom line, our horses are fit and healthy with slick, shiny hair coats, and we don’t have gut issues.”
— Sarah Dawson, NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion

Claiming the title of Open Champion at an event as coveted as the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity can change lives, no question. For Dawson, however, perhaps one of the most admirable qualities about her is her ability to take it all in stride. She remains humbled by the victory, inspired by the heart of the horse that carried her there and looking ahead to the future of the program she and Chris have worked tirelessly to create. Their spirits are high while their heads are down, focused on the next class of prospects that will take their time and attention to craft into tomorrow’s superstars. “Some horses just catch my eye,” says Dawson of recognizing something special in a horse that may just have what it takes to compete on the big stage. “It’s in the way they move and this ‘look’ that just silently says they’ve got the potential.” Aside from their ability to recognize young talent, the Dawsons are meticulous in their attention to the small details that add up to headline-making results. Their veterinarian, respected practitioner Dr. Joe Carter, visits the Dawson’s Perrin, Texas, ranch once a week with an eye on prevention. “It’s a lot easier to fix little things before they become big things,” says Dawson of their approach. “We try to prevent rather than treat.” The same goes for the horses' daily care and nutritional regimen. “Nutrition is huge for both us and our horses. Around here, we take the saying ‘you are what you eat’ to heart. That’s a big reason why we use Platinum and have for so long. Bottom line, our horses are fit and healthy with slick, shiny hair coats, and we don’t have gut issues.” The Dawsons have drilled down to a program that works for them and their horses, from veterinary care to nutrition and training style to their approach in the show pen.

While Sarah and Chris Dawson have reached what some would consider the pinnacle in the realm of the reined cow horse, to them, they’re only just getting started. “I’d love to become a million-dollar rider,” says Dawson of a dream still ahead of her. “That’s a pretty elite club that I’d like to earn a place in.” To get there, the Dawsons will simply keep doing what they do best, riding, training, minding the details and showing with their signature quiet confidence and each other’s support. “The drive and motivation to live this life can’t be given. It has to come from inside and go forward combined with the drive and heart of some really incredible horses,” says Dawson of the raw ingredients behind success at this level. “I love what I do. I have the most incredible partner in Chris, and now we get to share what we do with Hadley,” she says, speaking of the Dawson’s infant daughter. It’s a family business that has harnessed the dedication and immense passion of two great riders into overwhelming success, but to the Dawsons, it’s the dream they wake up living every day. “We’re going to keep doing what we do and appreciate the ride. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.”

A Platinum Performance® client since 2013, Dawson Performance Horses supports their horses with
Platinum Performance® Equine and Healthy Weight.

Jessie Bengoa

by Jessie Bengoa,
Platinum Performance®