Big Break

Rhen Richard’s Rookie-Year Reno Win
It was a long road to the top for Richard. But it all started in Reno in 2008.
Sartain spins the short-round steer at Reno in 2008 for Richard.
Sartain spins the short-round steer at Reno in 2008 for Richard. | Kirt Steinke photo

Rhen Richard was the reigning National High School Finals Rodeo all-around and tie-down roping champion when he rolled into the Reno Rodeo with Nick Sartain in 2008. 

Their first rodeo together had been just over a month earlier in Guymon, Oklahoma, and Richard’s goal was the Resistol Rookie of the Year title with Sartain, who’d already made the Finals in 2006 with Shannon Frascht. 

 “I felt like I should have been there, I felt like I had a good partner with a good head horse,” Richard said. “We entered because we expected to win.” 

Richard heeled three steers in Reno on a 5-year-old stud named Travs Little Sug (who’s now a Riata Buckle and Royal Crown sire) in 17.6 seconds, worth $10,909 a man—a win that would have him convinced he’d never see a poor day. 

“We killed them the month of July for about three weeks,” Richard remembered. “We won like $30,000 from Reno to the end of the Fourth. I honestly got a little bit of a false sense of confidence—I thought it was easy. I thought I’d make it [to the NFR] every year forever.”

As the rodeo road goes, though, that first Finals qualification took Richard 10 years and a switching of ends to make. 

“I was so young,” Richard said. “I remember thinking I was going to make the NFR that year, and I had always had quite a bit of success growing up. Rodeoing that year was a lot to take in and learn, and I didn’t learn it all that year, or for another 10 years, I guess. The ups and downs, figuring out how to have a short-term memory—not letting failing kill you mentally—that was all tough.” 

But Sartain was one heck of a partner to keep the often all-too-serious Richard having fun on the trail. 

“I really hadn’t been out of Utah, and even to this day, Sartain is one of my better friends,” Richard said. “He’s an actual good person—not just a good time. I’m super grateful he got to be the guy who cracked me out. Nick is the king of the all-night drive, and I learned driving sucks that year. That was probably the hardest thing: learning how not to sleep.”

Sartain and Richard won Livingston over the Fourth of July, and they split the win in Cody, Wyoming, too. He won $49,698 on the year, finishing 23rd in the PRCA World Standings. 

Richard made his first NFR in 2018—qualifying in both the tie-down and team roping that year. He made the Finals again in 2019 in the tie-down, and he qualified for the NFR from 2021 to 2023 in the heading. 

From ‘Big Break’ to the Next Generation

In 2024, Richard is sticking close to home to go to the rope horse futurities with his family’s A&C Racing and Roping—a program that relies, in part, on the same horse Richard got his big break on back in 2008. 

The Richards’ program now stands a number of stallions, including Travs Little Sug, who’s 20 this year. By Travalena out of Little Miss Sug by Peppy San Badger, his stud fee is $3,000, with offspring eligible for the millions in incentive money. Richard rode Travs Little Sug on and off for a few more years, including to win the Greeley Stampede in 2012 with Jake Cooper. 

Rhen Richard and Jake Cooper roping at the Greeley Stampede in 2012.
Richard winning Greeley with Jake Cooper in 2012 on Travs Little Sug. | Anderesen/CBarC photo
pedigree for  Travs Little Sug

But for most of the last decade, the horse has pulled double-time in the breeding barn. His colts are just starting to make their way into the earnings charts as the futurities become more prevalent, but his 2014 colt, Docs Smart Young Gun, was Richard’s backup NFR horse in 2022. That horse, out of Smart Clo A Lena by Bar A Smart Chick, is also the head horse A&C Racing and Roping’s Trinity Haggard rode to win ninth at the Riata Buckle #10.5 in 2023, picking up $10,760. 

Thad Ward is showing a 4-year-old stallion in 2024 by Travs Little Sug, having already won a go-round at the Arizona Sun Circuit’s ARHFA Pre-Futurity against the best young horses and trainers in the country for owner McKay Taylor. Another A&C-raised 2020 Travs Little Sug mare, Heavy Sug, out of Heavys Version by Winners Version, won second in another round at the Sun Circuit’s heading pre-futurity, too.

Haggard and Docs Smart Young Gun at the Riata.
Haggard and Docs Smart Young Gun at the Riata. | Hubbell Rodeo Photos

“He seems to cross pretty good on everything,” Richard said. “He was one of those horses that could really take the heat at a young age. His colts mature pretty early, which is important in the futurity world. The horse was made right, had good papers and was a super individual. It made it pretty easy to keep him around.”

Train with the pros. Watch hours of Rhen Richard’s full training sessions—with many of A&C Racing and Roping’s top prospects and Richard’s rodeo horses—on Roping.com.

—TRJ—

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