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Ep. 046: How Family Makes the Reining Horse Dream a Reality with Craig Schmersal

Co-host Katy Starr has an open conversation with 5 million dollar reining rider and reality TV star, Craig Schmersal about: • Life in the limelight with The Last Cowboy TV series and The Run for a Million, the richest event in the history of reining • Why he’ll never put winning above the welfare of the horse • His expert reining advice for those wanting to pursue a reining career

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-host Katy Starr has an open conversation with 5 million dollar reining rider and reality TV star, Craig Schmersal about:


• Life in the limelight with The Last Cowboy TV series and The Run for a Million, the richest event in the history of reining

• Why he’ll never put winning above the welfare of the horse

• His expert reining advice for those wanting to pursue a reining career


Have any topics you want to hear more about? Let us know at


Connect with Craig Schmersal and Schmersal Reining Horses:




  • *Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.*

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality Forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. This is your co-host Katy Starr, and our next guest is a National Reining Horse Association professional and judge, $5 million rider and the only rider in the world to have won every major event in reining, including The Run for a Million, Americana and all major shows in the United States. Welcome to the Beyond the Barn podcast, Craig Schmersal! We're so glad to have you here with us today.


Craig Schmersal(00:56):

Hi Katy. Thanks for having me.


Katy Starr(00:58):

So Craig, just to kind of get us started, will you tell us a little bit about your story and background? How did you get interested with horses and this lifestyle?


Craig Schmersal(01:08):

Back in the 1900s, my dad bought a couple of two year olds and he sent them to a guy by the name of Mike Flarida who's won the NRHA futurity two times, and his brother Sean Flarida is won it four or five. But my dad sent my sister and I there in the summer on two, two year olds that were green broke and Mike got them ready for my sister and I to show at the county fair. So that's where I first started. And then of course Mike had some reiners around there and I was like, man, that looks like a lot of fun. So I never really had a pleasure horse worth a darn because I always wanted to run and stop him and teach him how to turn. And basically that's how I got my start. And then I spent every summer with the Flaridas until I was 15 or 16 and then I, right after high school I went out and got a job. So that was my start.


Katy Starr(02:02):

That's awesome. So it's just been a huge part of your life ever since the beginning pretty much.


Craig Schmersal(02:07):

It has been my life since I was eight.


Katy Starr(02:10):

That's awesome. What would you say is a standout memory for you as a kid with horses? Just something that you'll never forget.


Craig Schmersal(02:20):

As a kid? Probably the very first time I made it to the state fair cause you have to qualify through your 4-H Club, your county to make it to the state fair. And I was like, they said, Craig, you qualified. I said, for what? I didn't even know there was a state fair. Any way I was like, really? And I thought that was a big deal and kinda got the bug. I was like, you know, shoot, that's all right. I wanna do more. And I've always been wanting to do more. That has never left me.


Katy Starr(02:49):

How old were you when you qualified for state?


Craig Schmersal(02:52):



Katy Starr(02:54):

Ah, so only a year into it. Wow. So you must have had a natural way with it then.


Craig Schmersal(02:59):

Well, I don't know what I had. I think I had a lot of luck actually.


Katy Starr(03:02):

A lot of luck. And so of all the disciplines you could have chosen to pursue, I mean it sounds like you had some interaction obviously in the reining world, but what drew you to reining of everything you could have done? 


Craig Schmersal(03:16):

Well, I thinkthe precision, you know, it's the best of all worlds. You have to go slow, you have to go fast, you're completely under control at all times, or at least you should be. And you know, in my neighborhood where I grew up, there was a lot of barrel racing. I have a buddy that's won the barrel racing futurity, I don't know how many times. So I had that influence. I had pleasure horse buddies I had, and then I had Sean and Mike who did the reining. And it just seemed like, I liked the horsemanship part and the pleasure part, but I like the fast part and it just was a, you know, I was drawn naturally to the reining cause, it's like driving a sports car, you got a lot of control, and you gotta be very precise and you know, that's what I liked about it. It's the best of all worlds in my opinion.


Katy Starr(04:01):

Oh nice. Okay. And so for anyone who might be listening that is unfamiliar with reining, can you share a little bit about how you prepare as a competitor and then how you're judged at a competition for reining? 


Craig Schmersal(04:15):

Well the reining consists of large fast circles, small circles, lead changes. You have four spins in each direction where they hold a pivot foot and then run around the pivot foot with the front end and the sliding stops where you run with speed. So you say whoa. And the horse hopefully puts the hind quarters in the ground and leaves slide tracks without picking up a leg or you know, they have to be free in the front, but you know, that's the reining maneuvers. And then they judge them on how pretty, it's correctness before speed. But if you can be correct and have a lot of speed, the most you can mark is a plus one and a half to a minus one and a half. But you know, that's you, you always try for the plus one, the plus one to half whatever. But plus halves are good too. And you know, it's just seven or eight maneuvers in every reining pattern and you started to score 70 so you can go up or hopefully you go up, sometimes you go down. So that's raining in a nutshell.


Katy Starr(05:14):

Nice. What would you say, of all the, I guess the maneuvers that kind of are comprised for reining, what would you say is the most difficult one to do?


Craig Schmersal(05:27):

I think they're all fairly difficult because I've learned in life, if it's not difficult I don't like to do it. So you know,but to get a horse that can really run and stop pretty, that's pretty hard. I mean it's like, it really has to be natural for the horse. You'd like to take some credit, but a gifted stopper is a gifted stopper and it's actually the same way with the spin. Some horses can barely turn around in a 10 acre field, but some can really, really turn fast and correct. So, and you know, the circles are fun too. It's very precise. You want to go around there, I like to go around there on a drape rein and I want those horses to steer like a sports car. You know, if I barely touch them, I want them to react and and get where I want them to be. So it's all hard, it's hard to teach unless you just got a, you know, a natural born athlete. But that's the fun of it. Sometimes you got to learn how to make do with a little bit less of a horse and the other guys and sometimes you got that horse that they all want. So it's a good time.


Katy Starr(06:31):

It sounds like it really kind of challenges you as a trainer to kind of push your limits and see what you can really help a horse accomplish on their end too.


Craig Schmersal(06:43):

You know, it's one of those things where there's no manual to say, there's guidelines you know for sure. But there's a lot of, you gotta make a lot of decisions on the fly every day during the training at all times. And even when you show, you have to be mentally quick enough to adjust or to do, sometimes you don't do the right things. Sometimes you do, sometimes you're doing things and you don't know if they are the right things to do, but you gotta try and, you know, old as I am, I hopefully I've done a lot of the wrong things, so hopefully nowadays I do more of the right things. That's what I love about it. At the end of the day, I'm physically and mentally exhausted after, you know, full day at riding just because you have to make so many decisions and then you go to, you go home at night and you wonder if you made the right decisions and you know, it's a lot like parenting. 


Katy Starr(07:37):

Yeah. I get that. 


Craig Schmersal(07:39):

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and hope it was the right thing to do.


Katy Starr(07:43):

Yeah. Cross your fingers that it was the right decision. Right. Yep. That's really interesting. So can you take us through the day in the life at Schmersal Reining Horses? What goes on in your world?


Craig Schmersal(07:56):

Well, a lot of riding, you know, I still have probably eight or nine three year olds I ride every day. So that in itself is a full day. But I show up to work. I ride my three year olds and I do my derby horses and I still have four or five of those. And of course I got Addi’s. And then on top of all that, I watch all the lessons that are given at our ranch. And then I have to keep my eye on, I have seven, six or seven riders thatI watch and help all day just because they're riding my future and I like to make sure that it all, it all gets done right. And, you know,I'm pretty vocal. If I see something I don't like, I'll help them with it and, you know, just so they don't lay that foundation in there wrong because the foundation is, as you all know, that it's what we build our house on. So if the foundation's wrong, the house isn't very likely to last. So, you know, so that's basically my day. I watch a lot. I got eyes in the back of my head. I think my help would say so, you know, Ginger takes care of the business part. So that takes a huge load off of me because it's all I can doto ride the horses and get 'em ready to show, take care of my help.


Katy Starr(09:14):

Yeah, that's awesome that you have such good support there to kind of work as a team to make it all happen.


Craig Schmersal(09:20):

She takes a load off me. I'm telling you I don't have to. She handles the business side and I handle the horse side, so, and she's good at it.


Katy Starr(09:28):

That's awesome. So Craig, what makes a great reining horse? Like when you're going and trying to find, you know, one that you're gonna work with or one that could potentially take you to some of those events like Run for a Million or something like that. What makes a great reining horse?


Craig Schmersal(09:47):

Well, I look for pedigree. I look for the horse's looks, confirmation. But most importantly I like to ride them and I like to feel, I've had some horses that should have never done the reining, do the reining very well and vice versa. I've had some that should own the reining and they don't do it so well. So for me it's about the brain, it's about the ability. And I'm not one of those guys that can look at a horse and say, I don't wanna ride that one. Let me ride it and then I'll make my judgment. Cause you can't tell, unless you ride a horse, you can't really tell how his brain is or his ability. So I'm very careful not to miss one. I like to ride them. I don't care really how they're bred because every horse is pretty much an individual. They don't know. Horses don't know how they're bred, they don't know how much money they cost. So a cheap one might be to beat an expensive one. It's just one of those things where I'm a guy that I've learned over the years that I don't know much, I need to ride them. I can't look at a horse and tell you what it's gonna do because there's been so many be really good, that shouldn't be good. So I like to throw a leg over them.


Katy Starr(10:56):

That's what happens sometimes when you see that info on paper that seems super clean and just right where everybody wants it to be. But ultimately when it comes down to it, sometimes that's not what's gonna make them a winner.


Craig Schmersal(11:09):



Katy Starr(11:10):

And the Last Cowboy is a reality competition show that follows the lives of some of the top professional reining trainers in the country. And you had the opportunity to be a part of that cast. What was that experience like for you?


Craig Schmersal(11:25):

Well for me, I grew up wanting to be a horse trainer. I never grew up wanting to be on tv. So for me it was a little bit nerve wracking to say the least. I didn't know how it was gonna look. I didn't know, you know, it was very, I was like, I don't know, the TV thing just isn't my thing. But it turned out I think really nice. I think Taylor Sheridan has done a really good job with what the material he was given as far as the guys and girls on the TV show, you know, but for me to be a part of that, I was pretty, pretty nervous. And now this is, we just wrapped up our third year, so it's kind of like, I know the crew, I know the routines and every year it's a little bit different than the year before.


Craig Schmersal(12:09):

But, you know, I'm not gonna tell you that I enjoy it, but I'm happy to be a part of that TV show because if I'm not a part of it, that means I'm not qualified to show in The Run for a Million. So it's one of those things where if you ask me if I was looking forward to it, no I'm not, but I want to do it because if you're not on it, you're not getting the show atThe Run for a Millionbecause there's only 15 cowboys and cowgirls that get to qualify for that show. So it, it's become a huge, the biggest event like the Reining Futurity, I grew up wanting to win the Reining Futurity in the worst way. I, it's the thing I think about every day when I wake up is winning the Reining Futurity. But now, you know,The Run for a Millionpays 500,000 to win.


Craig Schmersal(13:00):

Now I wake up thinking how am I gonna get a better horse for next year to try to win The Run for a Million? So it's consumed our lives the last three years. It's been a great thing, it's been a great thing for our industry, and Taylor Sheridan has done us all huge favor with the show and with that event. Nobody knew how it was gonna be accepted. But I mean, we're running with open arms right now trying to get qualified and you know, it's just one of those things where I used to, and I still do look for good futurity horses, but now I'm looking for a horse to show at The Run for a Million. And that's the good thing about the TV shows. It shows the highs and the lows and the constant struggle to find, I don't care what kind of horse you have, you better find a better one. If you can find a better one, you better take it. So, you know, I've grown to like the TV show, but you know, growing up, if you would've said, Craig, you wanna be on tv, I would've said, heck no. Cause I'm pretty much an introvert when it comes to anything public speaking, being on tv, being on camera. But with where our industry has gone, I've learned how to deal with all that a little bit better.


Katy Starr(14:15):

You know, it's probably been really good for you in the sense that it's pushing you outside of your comfort zone. Because, and it's making you, I'm sure it's making you a better competitor in all around in what you're doing. Because I mean, I feel personally anytime that we're, you know, a challenge is set in front of us. Anytime we accept that challenge and we pursue it, you know, it allows us to grow and to become better at who we are. So I imagine that that's probably, that show has done that for you a little bit.


Craig Schmersal(14:45):

Yes. It has. I'm just not sure I want it to grow that much.


Katy Starr(14:48):

Not in the TV realm of things, but as long, long as it's more on the reining side.


Craig Schmersal(14:52):

I just wanna do the reining and just, you know, I wanna compete and do that thing. The other stuff is, you know, it, I get worried about it, I get nervous, you know, I don't really like to be pushed that far outside my bounds.


Katy Starr(15:05):

You're like, that's far enough. That's it.


Craig Schmersal(15:08):

That'll do.


Katy Starr(15:09):

One thing that I think is really neat about the last Cowboy and The Run for a Million and what Taylor Sheridan has done with all of that is just how much he has highlighted the reining industry and brought it into a wider audience that probably hasn't been aware of it before.


Craig Schmersal(15:29):

Oh, it's crazy what he is done for our, our industry, the western horses, you know, for me to be on an airplane and somebody recognized me is, you know, it's crazy. And it's all due to Taylor and these are people that are not even in the industry. They just happened to see the TV show, you know, nobody knew what reining was before and now it's like, hey. They're like, what do you do? I said, I do the reining, I train reining horses. And they, and they're like, what is that? I said, have you seen Yellowstone? They're like, oh yeah, that’s reining? Yeah. When they're in the arena and they do sliding stops and spins, that’s reining and they're like, oh yeah, I know what that is now. So for us, Taylor is, he’s done so much for us and with the prize money now with the horses, the price of horses have gone through the roof and you know, it's a good place to be if you have the product to sell. So yeah, Taylor has done, he's done an amazing job promoting Western horses in general. You know, I met a guy on the airplane that said, I got into it, I started riding at 60. I was like, yeah, you saw Yellowstone, huh? They're like, yeah.


Katy Starr(16:39):


Craig Schmersal (16:39):

I mean, that's all due to Taylor, so I can't say enough. And my hat's off to that guy.


Katy Starr(16:44):

Yeah, that's awesome. And The Run for a Million. So we've been talking a little bit about this, It's the culmination, right of The Last Cowboy series and it's the richest event in the history of reining. And you are one of the co-champions in the first year of this event in 2019 and have placed in succeeding years. I know 2020, you know, with Covid we had a little bit of an off year there. And got cancelled. But including qualifying yourself for the event in 2023. So what has the energy been like competing at The Run for a Million?


Craig Schmersal(17:18):

Well, the energy is second to none. I mean, the competitors are, it's this one single event that now everybody's trying to qualify for. So everybody is gunning to get qualified forThe Run for a Millionbecause that's where the real money is. And as far as the event goes, it's like going to a European soccer game now. It's sold out, you know, months in advance. The crowd is fantastic. I mean, they throw stuff in the arena. It's just, I mean, it is truly amazing. And I never thought, I've been lucky enough to compete in Europe at their reinings and I mean, they're completely crazy over there. They're super passionate and super loud. They cheer for everybody. And I never thought, you know, that I would see that in the States like I did in Europe. And now with The Run for a Million, there's just so many people that they see the TV show, they want to come, they buy tickets, they come and they cheer for everybody, you know, so it's, the energy is like, you only saw it really once a year and that's at the NRHA Futurity, that kind of energy. But now at The Run for a Million, it's, it blows that away I think.


Katy Starr(18:33):

That's really incredible. And at The Run for a Million, which is kind of unlike some of the other events, there are no age restrictions.And this year you happen to have the oldest horse. So what made you decide to bring back What A Wave to compete in this event at 14 years of age? 


Craig Schmersal(18:52):

Right. What A Wave was my horse, we trained him at our ranch in Oklahoma. And I have had a lot of success on that horse. I was reserve at a couple majors on him and then we sold him to Europe, or Bernard Fonck had him over there and he's won, he won three open world titles, which is a record. He won the World Equestrian Games gold individual. That horse, for me, I felt like, honestly I knew that, that horse would be really good. I didn't know if he would be enough to win The Run for a Million. But I wanted to showcase that horse because he is such a, he's that horse with the brain that is second to none. I mean, he's one of the best minded horses I've ever gotten the opportunity to throw a leg over. And for me, whether I was first or 15th, I wanted to show that horse there in front of all those people because I felt like he deserved the recognition. It was kinda likea victory lap for that horse, just to be that old and to show that good. And I had a little bad luck on him there. He pulled a hamstring running through the gate and I didn't really know it. I knew it didn't feel right. 


Craig Schmersal(19:58):

So, he was darn good. But yeah, I think he had a cramp or I don't really know what happened. I just had a little bad luck, you know, if you asked me if I'd have done it again. And I would just, because my love for that horse is, you know, he deserves that. He deserves to be in that spotlight.


Katy Starr(20:16):

You know, I think of all the things that we ask horses to do for us, for you to be able to see it in that perspective and give him an opportunity to, you know, kind of shine a light for him, I just think is really admirable and great for you to give him that opportunity.


Craig Schmersal(20:36):

People don't realize that us horse trainers, we start this deal because we love horses. And I just felt like that was, it was when they asked me if I wanted to show that horse inThe Run for a Millionit was like, like, yes, I didn't need to think about it. I wanted to do it. And I was like, that's, you know, I don't care how he did. I thought that horse really truly deserved to be seen by the people.


Katy Starr(20:59):

Yeah. That's awesome. So what has it been like sharing this passion for reining with your daughter Addi?


Craig Schmersal(21:07):

Well, to me it's been one of those things where that kid is ate up with horses. She is loves horses on another level. She competes on another level, for a young person. She has got nerves of steel. I'll put her up against anybody in the world when it comes to pressure situation. It's just one of those things, either you have it or you don't. And she has always had it. She's got the ability to act under pressure. You know, I can't say enough about the way she deals with pressure. I'm like, sometimes I try to trick her at home and I put pressure on her and you can hardly ever make her mess up. She can just, she has the ability to think on the spot and make a decision. And she does stuff with those horses. I'm like, how did she know how to do that? You know.


Katy Starr(21:52):

She's got a natural ability.


Craig Schmersal(21:54):

Yeah, it's crazy. So she shows so good. I mean, it's just like one of my buddies teased me. She, he said, she's the best showman in your family. I'm like, yeah, probably so. She's truly amazing. And I mean, I love that she loves the horses the way she does. I love that she, I mean, she's ate up with it. She's a barn rat, you know. She's good to work. She can drive the truck and trailer. I mean, we have a semi, she can drive it. She's 16, she's five foot two maybe. I'm so proud of her and her love for this sport. It's, it's kind of renewed my passion a little bit. You know, I've been doing this for a long time, for probably 30 some years. And, and you know, it's just like to see her see things and the way she sees, it's just unlike, it's really refreshing to me to see, you know, her love for this sport and her love for the horses.


Craig Schmersal(22:50):

You know, she'll ride all day and then I looked up and she'll be on one bareback doing silly stuff, you know. So she loves to ride, but she loves to play. And I've always encouraged that. I've encouraged her to do that. You know, when she was young, I was so worried I was gonna ruin it for her, you know, So, you know, every day we worked on one thing, and maybe it lasted five minutes, maybe 10 tops. But she's like, what else? I said, I just want you to go ride, have fun, do whatever you want. And all those times that she rides, it just added up and added up and added up. And I tried, just got lucky with the way I taught her, you know, and Ginger and I both have been a huge influence on her, but we just have been very careful not to overload her boat and cause I just never wanted her to lose the passion that she has. CauseI see so many kids burn out and grownups and I just, you know, Gingersometimes she'd be like, Craig, you need to do this. And I was like, that's enough for today. I'm not gonna do it to her. We'll work on that tomorrow. She's like, OK . So I love it. I don't know what I'm gonna do when she leaves to go to college. She's just verbally committed to the University of Auburn.


Katy Starr(24:04):

Oh, nice.


Craig Schmersal(24:05):

You know, so she's got a lot of stuff coming her way in the future. And I dunno how I'm gonna deal with her being gone.


Katy Starr(24:13):

Yeah. You might be making some trips


Craig Schmersal(24:18):

Yeah, I'm sure of that.


Katy Starr(24:18):

You know, I cannot even tell you how relatable, what you just said is. I know for me, but I know for others, like as a parent, in knowing that you want your child to find something that they're passionate about and how big of a bonus is it if it's something that you as a parent are passionate about, but you're so right because it's all about finding that balance and making sure that you're not pushing them too hard, but it's enough that it kind of really grows their love for it and makes them want to, I mean, at her age, her work ethic is probably just like bar none. You know, not a lot of kids her age are willing to put in the time and effort she is. And she chooses that, right? 


Craig Schmersal(24:56):

Yeah. She knows how to do everything in the barn. I mean, there's not a thing that she's like, I don't know how to do that. You know, sometimes, I mean, she's 16 and I hire kids that are, you know, 24, 25, they, she helps them, you know? And you know, I'm just so tickled with her that she's got the brain. I just got so lucky. You know, it's just one of those things where it's like, I talk about horses sometimes. I got the ability and no brain. She has everything. She's got the brain, she has ability, and most of all she has the passion for it.


Katy Starr(25:29):

That's so awesome. What would you say is a standout memory for you of Addi when she was a kid? I know I asked you this about yourself, but as Addi as a kid with horses.


Craig Schmersal(25:41):

Oh man, there's been so many times that I've, she's brought me to tears about a thousand times. But to see her succeed, like at the NRBC, she was, she almost won the NRBC when she was 14. She lost by a half a point; she had overturned. But I was like, holy cow, that is something that, and she competes, she doesn't compete with youth, she's competing with grownups that have been doing this for 40, 30, 40, 20 whatever years. And for her to go in there and be able to compete, I'm like, holy cow, we got something here. And it's super special. I mean, so she was reserve at the NRBC a couple weeks ago. She was reserve in the non-pro at The Run for a Million.


Katy Starr(26:27):



Craig Schmersal(26:27):

In 2019, she won the horse trailer, saddle, buckles, everything that went with it. And the rookie at The Run for a Million, you know, there's just been so many times, even as a young kid, she had two or three horses to show and she had two classes going on at the same time. And one arena was one pattern and the other arena was another pattern. And she showed, I think she showed three horses that day. So she made six runs back and forth in different arenas and kept the pattern straight in both arenas. And it was patterns that she had learned that morning. And that's when I was like, wow, that's weird. She never went off pattern. She was like, I don't know, she was nine or 10 years old. She was tiny. And she just had had that ability to go back and forth. I mean, she showed one horse in one arena and one pattern, and she had to go to the next. It showed that a different horse in another arena. And that horse, she showed the other arena, she had to come back over to the first arena and do a different pattern. And that was, I was like, that's, I might have went off pattern that day as much as she had to show.


Katy Starr(27:30):

I was gonna say, that'd be challenging for an adult to do.


Craig Schmersal(27:33):

Yeah, it's crazy. And I think that was just the time I was like, holy cow. That's what she did at that young of an age. And that wasn’t, I don't even know how she did. I don't, I don't remember if she won or whatever. I just remember her staying on pattern. And I was like, that's crazy. And we have doctors and lawyers and people like that, that are in their fifties and sixties that can't stay on pattern every time. So, you know, it's just a, it looks easy, but it is so hard. And I think that's the one thing about the reining too, that is so humbling. I don't care who you're, I don't care if you're level four open rider or a greatest ranchrider. You have the ability to be humbled at any moment. So, but anyway, with Addi, I've had, there's been so much that she has done over the years and I'm sure I'm probably forgetting something big, but you know, she brings so much joy to my family and myself that when we watch her show, it's just like you shake your head. And I've enjoyed every, every minute of it. And I know, you know, we keep working. And to me too, sometimes she, maybe she didn't do good on a certain day, but I see her progress in the areas that maybe she was weaker.So for me, it's always a win when I see something like that. Maybe she was 10th place, maybe she was fourth or second. But if I see her grow, I'm excited.


Katy Starr(29:00):

That's where it matters though. That's so good.


Craig Schmersal(29:03):

Yeah. I see her putting in the work. I make her cry sometimes, you know, . So you know, I'm like, oh, maybe I crossed the line. But she is such a determined young person that, you know, it's just one of those things where, not the guy that is fluffing her up all the time. I'm like, this is what you did wrong. We need to fix it. And that's why she is where she is. I think because I've always been honest with her and she has an ability to take it. I might hurt her feelings at the moment, but I would rather have my feelings hurt and then grow, than somebody tell me, oh you did great and I stay the same. So it's kind of a fine line when you're coaching, you know, it's, I'm a horse trainer. I never went to college, I never went to coaching school, you know, I don't know what to do sometimes, it's like, I have no manual. I just kinda wing it and hope I'm doing the right thing. So Addi has done well. She's made me look really good the last few years.


Katy Starr(30:01):

Yeah, I'd say you and Ginger have done really well with how you've influenced her in this and she's gonna be really exciting to watch and see in the years to come what she accomplishes. So that's pretty amazing.


Craig Schmersal(30:13):

We're super excited to see what the future holds for her.


Katy Starr(30:16):

Craig, what do you feel has been your most challenging experience that you've had in terms of working with horses in all these years?


Craig Schmersal(30:24):

Well, the most challenging is to stay relevant and keep your mind open. And you're always trying to do something better. Your maneuvers or your techniques or whatever, that's the biggest challenge. You know, as you get older, your reflexes and your reaction time isn't what it used to be. And then these kids that you have taught over the years, they come in and they got, first of all, they're good riders. They got great reaction time, they got great feel, they got great talent. And they take the stuff that you teach 'em and then they tweak it a little bit and they make it even better than you thought it could be. So it's a constant challenge for me to stay relevant, to keep up with these young guys and girls that are so talented. And then they got the horse flashing. That's another challenge is getting the horse flash because it all, I don't care what they say, it all comes down to horsepower.


Craig Schmersal(31:24):

You know, if you have a great horse, you're gonna do great things. But it's a matter of finding the great ones. And it's a matter of, if you don't have a great one, you need to be able to still compete. So that's the one area that I have so much experience at, is I can manufacture a little bit of a stop or a little bit of a turn so I can stay competitive if I don't have a great one. So, you know, to find the great horses to stay relevant, that's the biggest goal or the biggest obstacle that we have. It's a constant climb or battle or whatever you wanna call it, to stay current.


Katy Starr(32:03):

Right. Who has been your most memorable horse and why? I know you've worked with a lot of horses so this is probably a tough question.


Craig Schmersal(32:13):

I have had so many good horses Face The Attitude. I mean, I showed in a futurity 20 something years before I finally won it. She's the one that will always be special to me because of my lifelong goal. It's the one goal I had for 42 years of my life. I wanted to win the futurity and she was the one that got me to that victory. So she will always have a special place in my heart and home. No smoking required. He, you know, to win The Run for a Million. I didn't know really what a big deal it was until I won it, cause it was such a new event. You didn't grow up wanting to winThe Run for a Millionbecause it was brand new. But to me now that's kind of consumed my life. I never thought I would take off my NRHA futurity buckle.


Craig Schmersal(33:05):

I thought I would wear that to my grave. But as soon as I won The Run for a Million, I slung that thing aside and put on my, my Run for the Million buckle you know. And, and now that's, you know, that's a big deal for us. So those two horses, I started off when I was a kid riding Cee Blair Sailor, he carried me to two open world titles. I've had so many in between, the What A Wave’s Tidal Wave Jack, I mean it's, there's been so many that Boom Shernic, Commanders Nic, they've all done for me. Those horses were, they were more like a teammate than anything. Those horses wanted me to look good. I feel like if those horses could have slapped me high five before we ran through the gate, those were the horses that would've tried, you know, I felt like they rooted for me to win.


Craig Schmersal(33:55):

And I've been just so fortunate to have so many in my life that have, you know, they've changed my life. All those horses, I'll never forget how it was to train them. Most of those horses trained me because they're such freak athletes. I was like, whoa, you know, they made me look good and they wanted me to win. And you don't always have that in a horse. Some horses don't root for you, believe it or not. So those are, I mean I got like 15 horses that have been so special to me that, you know, I'll never forget it. Pale Face Dunnit. I showed him, I bought him from Randy Paul and I showed him and had some success. But what he did in the breeding barn for me hasbeen unbelievable. I mean, he's a sire of my futurity champion and we own it. You know, we've bred, we own the sire, we had the mare at the ranch. To own a futurity champion is a huge deal. To win the futurity is a huge deal. But when you win the futurity and you own them and you've raised them, there's not too many people, if any, that have done that that I know of.


Katy Starr(34:59):

Yeah. It's pretty dang special.


Craig Schmersal(35:02):

Yeah. Honestly, that's probably one of the biggest accomplishments that we have is we bought the mother, we bred it to Pale Face, we raised the filly, she won the NRHA futurity and we still own her. You know, and, and that's probably the, I don't think that it gets much bigger than that in our industry.


Katy Starr(35:20):

My next question I was gonna ask you was what has been your proudest moment in life so far? I don't know if that fits the bill or if you have another one.


Craig Schmersal(35:29):

Well, other than my children, horse related has gotta be the futurity that's so, was so emotional for me. I mean, to have that goal for 40 years of your life and finally being able to obtain the goal, I mean, I still get choked up about that, but horse related, that's by far. My children, that's a whole nother story . So.


Katy Starr(35:51):

Oh yeah, for sure. 


Craig Schmersal(35:53):

But winning that futurity on a horse that we bred and raised and still own is, that is absolutely, I think the proudest moment of our careers because it was a family effort. I mean, my wife, I wasn't sure if we should buy Pale Face Dunnit. And she says, Craig, I know, we're buying him. I said, Okay. So we bought him with our own money and, and then the mare, we actually bought the mother and Face The Attitude and then we bought her and then the, a customer our said, well we would like to owner. And we just said, okay, we'll sell her to you. And, but you know, to have it all come together like that is, is not something that happens every day in our industry.


Katy Starr(36:30):

Yeah, no kidding. And you've been involved in this industry for a long time and rightfully so, you've earned some incredible accolades. What have you learned most about yourself through all of this experience and journey?


Craig Schmersal(36:43):

That's a hard question. What I've learned, I guess, is that I'm just as hard-headed and stubborn as you could possibly be.I mean, I don't take no for an answer. I don't have any quit in me. I'd probably ride too many horses because I think I can get every one of them. You know, I think I can teach them all how to be a champion. And I sometimesI've learned that I stay too long. I'm not very quick to cut one cause I don't have any quit in me. And I feel like, you know, I owe it to the horse to get them where it can be. I owe it to my clients to achieve success on all the horses. And you know, sometimes I stay too long. I mean, I don't know. I learned that I'm still trying to learn that I need to cut ties just a little bit sooner.


Craig Schmersal(37:28):

I've learned in the horse business, I think the longer you're in it, I've learned that I don't really know a whole lot about it. If I was as smart now as I thought I was when I was 25 or whatever, I mean it would be something I can tell you. But it is so humbling and the horses that, that you don't think have a shot jump up and win or the horses that you think are gonna kill it, can't compete, you know? So it is so humbling and you know, I just, I take every day. I mean, I go day by day on my training and you know, I just, I know that I'm passionate about the sport. It makes me so mad and it makes me so happy. So I don't know if that answers a question or not, but


Katy Starr(38:16):

I think it does. And I think that's what passion kind of is, right? It brings all the emotions out in you, whether you like the emotions or not.


Craig Schmersal(38:25):

I hate it. I love it. But one things for sure, I've been coming, going to work every day for the last 32 years. So, you know, it's just one of of those things that's in me.


Katy Starr(38:36):

Yeah. Craig, what would you say is a bucket list item that you have yet to do in your life that you would really like to do someday?


Craig Schmersal (38:46):

Oh, that's hard. Horse-related, there's, I mean, I show up to work every day cause I wanna win and I won. I've been fortunate enough to win, you know, all the majors, but I'd like to win them again. But personally, thanks to my wife, I have a lot of other interests other than horses. You know, I like to fish, I like to hunt, you know, I want to do more stuff with my kids. And I feel like I've always put my kids first, but even now I feel like just to help, our kids have been fixing up homes and doing stuff like that and selling and I'm not very involved in that. And I feel like I would like to do stuff like that with my children. I turn 50 this year, so it's like I still love the horses and I think I'll always ride as long as, you know, especially for Addi, you know, I'll ride for Addi till the day I die. But I don't know that riding 15 and 18 horses or 20 horses a day is, I don't know how much longer I'm going to do that. I'm gonna be a little bit more selective about what I ride, you know. But my bucket list long term is just, I'm gonna still compete, but you know, I'm gonna lower my numbers. And I think probably that's gonna, I think actually I'll be as successful, if not more, because I won't have as many distractions. 


Katy Starr(40:11):

Right. Focus in a little bit more.


Craig Schmersal(40:12):

Yeah. When I go to work now I gotta ride all those horses and watch all my help and watch all the lessons and you know, if I could just come to work and ride my horses and concentrate on my horse, I think I can hit another level as old as I am.


Katy Starr(40:27):

Yeah, that'd be really awesome.Who in your life has been your greatest inspiration?


Craig Schmersal(40:34):

Well, there's been a lot growing up, it was my dad, Mike and Sean, Tim McQuay, Bob Loomis, those guys or Randy Paul. They did so much for me and some of them I've never really even talked to a lot when I was young. But just to watch them, like, I wanna do it like that. I want to be like him or better than him or whatever. But you know, the support that my wife has given me over the years is crazy. She's made it where I can succeed. You know, as far as taking, she takes, I feel, sorry, not sorry, but I feel for the guys that have got to run the business and ride the horses because man alive, I'm beat after I ride horses all day and I don't come home to have to deal with the business side. She takes that completely upon herself to do that for me. And I know it's not always fun for her. You know, I get to do the fun part. She's at home making sure the bills are paid and the, and all that stuff. So my wife has been probably the one I, out of the years, she's, we've been together for, I don't even know, almost 30 years. And she's been the one person that has always done everything she possibly can for me to be successful. So.


Katy Starr(41:53):

That's really incredible. I mean, just to be able to have that support, there's probably, I mean, you're very talented in what you do, but I also feel like she's probably a huge part of the reason why you're at the level that you are because she's been there by your side. 


Craig Schmersal(42:08):

Oh I promise. Yeah.


Katy Starr(42:08):

Right there with you.


Craig Schmersal(42:10):

I'm where I'm at because of her, because you know, she keeps it real. I mean, she's my, my biggest fan. She's my biggest critic. She's the one that says, get off your ass and go get it done . You know, I’m like, okay.


Katy Starr(42:23):



Craig Schmersal(42:24):

So I mean that's the one thing in my life that's been, I mean, I left home when I was 17 and I've been with Ginger for 20 some years and she's the one that has been the most consistent in my life. And to have that set of eyes watch me ride, I don't always enjoy what she tells me, but I know she tells me it for the right reason. You know, so sometimes it hurts my feelings and I get a little bit of, it's like being an artist and somebody telling you that your painting is ugly, you know. It's, that's what we are basically, we're an artist and we're painting a picture and when she says, Craig, that doesn't look right or it doesn't look good, I don't know how to tell you to fix it, but I can tell you that you need to address it. So, I mean, without her, I would not have won what I won I'm sure of it.


Katy Starr(43:15):

Yeah. That's really amazing. And Craig, if you could pick a quote to represent who you are and your life, what would you say that would be?


Craig Schmersal(43:27):

Oh, that's a hard one.


Katy Starr(43:29):

Yeah. There's a lot of quotes I think you could look at, but


Craig Schmersal(43:32):

I don't really know what the quote is exactly, but I think it goes something like, winning without integrity is not a win at all. Or something like that. So everything I've won, I've, I've felt like I've done the right thing by the horse, the owner. And to me probably, I don't believe in winning at any cost. That's not how I was raised. I would rather be second three years in a row than to be first one year and then not have the horse to show the next two.


Katy Starr (44:05):



Craig Schmersal(44:06):

To next year. So I've always felt like I've done the right thing by the horses. I've got so many horses that have went on to long non pro careers and it's due to me in my heart, I know it's because I've done the right thing by those horses. I won't gut one for a victory. I can't do it. You know, if I can ride to the edge and win, that's great, but if you think I'm gonna push one over the edge to win, that's not me at all. I've always kept in mind why I started riding horses is because I love them and I'm not willing to shorten a horse's career for the victory today. So that's not much of a quote, but that's been my motto.


Katy Starr(44:47):

That's really admirable though, Craig. That's so good. I would say that there are, obviously, there's always bad eggs in the industry, right? In any industry that you look at. But that's a huge part of it is we do ask a lot of horses. And so for you to really, you know, put the horse above yourself as a competitor, as an elite competitor, that's a huge deal. So I think that's really incredible.


Craig Schmersal(45:13):

Well, thank you. It's sometimes it's like, I wonder if I would've had the other mentality what I, what else I could have won or how many times I could have won certain things. But I just have always been, I always think about the future. I always think about, you know, that horse going on to have a successful show career after me. And I've, I mean, I have a lot of proof. So that's probably one of those things where it makes me super proud. You know, maybe I didn't win it, but when I see kids showing my horses that I was third in the futurity on, you know, when they're 10 years old and being competitive and winning the rookie of the year and you know, it, it brings me joy and I know I did the right thing by those horses when I see that stuff happening.


Katy Starr(45:59):

Yeah, absolutely. Craig, what would you say is the most important thing that horses have taught you in your life so far?


Craig Schmersal(46:08):

Well, they've taught me so much about life, about staying with something and seeing it through. And you know, I wish I had some fancy answer for that, but I ride the horses because I love them and they've taught me that you've gotta stay with it. And it's helped me, you know, with my life in every aspect as far as raising children, you know, you have to be consistent. And I think that's probably the biggest thing is consistency is what I base my program on. And I don't care, it's my horse program. It's raising our children. It's consistency in my marriage. You know, it's just, I mean, I don't know. I mean, I don't know if that answers a question or not, but I wish I had some kinda fancy answer. But I just know that even with people, horses are, I guess what too, horses have taught me not to judge a book by its cover.


Craig Schmersal(47:15):

And I don't care who you are or where you're from, everybody that walks into my ranch, I treat them, I don't care if they pull up in a Porsche or, you know, a shitty car. I treat them all the same because you just, you cannot judge a book by its cover. And I've learned that those horses, you really have to spend some time with them and cultivate a relationship. And you know, where I've had a lot of horses, like I said earlier, that they weren't really bred the best. They weren't really conformationally correct, but they didn't know that. And so it's about giving every person andevery horse a fair shot.


Katy Starr(47:59):

Right. We as humans, or I guess their owners or trainers or whatever, we're the ones that probably put limitations on them majority of the time. 


Craig Schmersal(48:08):

Yeah, I would think so.


Katy Starr(48:09):

Yeah. So if you could offer some advice to anyone wanting to break into the reining industry, what would you say to them?


Craig Schmersal(48:19):

Well, my advice would be, I think you're gonna have to spend a minimum of five years working for somebody. And that's not always fun. And because you gotta learn how to do the stuff we do. And sometimes you gotta do the jobs that are not so much fun, but you need to go work for a top trainer. I can tell you the biggest mistake that I see kids make is they get advice from their friends. And their friends don't really know what they're talking about 90% of the time and they think they do. But if you want to go to the top, you better get your advice from Bob Loomis and Tim McQuay and, and you know, guys like Mike Flarida or Sean Flarida, Andrea or somebody that's been in the, in their shoes. And I see a lot of kids, they go to another one of their buddies and get advice from them and they don't even know what they're talking about.


Craig Schmersal(49:11):

So for me it's about getting advice from people that've seen it all and following that advice they told me. I always ask, you know, where do I need to go? What do I need to do? But I always ask the guys that were on top where I need to go and what I need to do. And I think that's the best advice I can give you is you gotta be prepared to spend five to seven, 10 years working for somebody, but work for somebody good that has a good program, that has a good reputation. And then, you know, that's one of the best pieces of advice that I could offer is just get good advice, work somewhere good. You know, for me, I knew I had one option in life and that was to be a successful horse trainer. I had nothing else to fall back on. And sometimes those kids, they wanna do what we want to do, but they got a way out. I didn't have a way out. I was gonna be a horse trainer, come hell or high water. And there was, even when the times were tough, when I slept with mice and all the, andreally crappy housing. I mean, I'd never thought for a second about going home. I thought about how in the hell can I be a better horse trainer so I don't have to live like this for the rest of my life. So.


Katy Starr(50:23):

It is, And now look at you. You're a movie star


Craig Schmersal(50:26):

Yeah, now I'm on tv.


Katy Starr(50:28):

Yeah. TV star . That's funny. That's great advice. Hopefully we have some, you know, future up and coming reiners that are listening to this and feel inspired by your interview and really wanna pursue that avenue themselves. So, how can our listeners stay connected with you after this episode?


Craig Schmersal(50:49):

Our website, I think its is, you know, Ginger's pretty good about keeping that updated and current. And hopefully if you're watching NRHA major events, hopefully, you know, there's a lot of live feeds at our major events. You know, we live in Scottsdale, Arizona where that's where our training operation is. So if you ever get in the neighborhood, give us a shout.


Katy Starr(51:14):

And you guys are on social media too, so people could jump on Facebook and Instagram to follow you.


Craig Schmersal(51:19):

Yes. We got that going for us too. I think Nick takes here, all that, our son.


Katy Starr(51:25):

Excellent. All right, Craig. Well, thank you so much for being on today. And to our listeners, thank you for being here. If you have any topics that you'd like to hear us talk about, reach out to us at, if you have any topic ideas that you'd like to share with us. And Craig, thanks again for being on today. We sure appreciate it.


Craig Schmersal(51:46):

Well, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.


Katy Starr (51:50):

Thanks for listening to The Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight, and don't forget to turn off the water.


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