Million Dollar Rider
NORTH CAROLINA TRAINER’S MILLION DOLLAR CAREER.
A $10,000 PAYCHECK WAS THE FINAL DROP OF FUEL NEEDED TO propel NRHA Professional Michael McEntire into the circle of NRHA million dollar riders. McEntire earned that check as an open finalist in the 2013 NRHA Futurity aboard Maggie Jac Whiz for the horse’s owner, Tim Anderson.
Amassing a small fortune in the NRHA has been a 30-year pursuit for the North Carolinian. He and his wife, Nathalie, manage Mike McEntire Reining Horses out of their verdant acreage near Selma, a small town in the center of the state near Raleigh. The couple divides the duties between Mike’s riding and training and Nathalie’s management of the office and breeding program.
A perennial contender and many-time finalist at big events that include the NRHA Futurity, Derby and FEI-level competition, McEntire is respected as a professional among professionals. In 2012, he was chosen as the NRHA Professional Horseman of the Year, an award bestowed on the individual who exemplifies excellence in the NRHA. In addition to being a top rider, McEntire is an NRHA Judge who serves on the Judges Committee and the Judges Teaching Panel, as well as a non pro coach—and clinician.
As one might expect, horses became a passion with McEntire very early in life. His uncle owned Quarter Horses and these fueled the young boy’s interest. His parents, Caroll and Shirley, decided to buy him a pony. What they got was a less-thanideal, 2-year-old stallion named Corky from the famed Chincoteague Island herd.
“We’d gotten him to show in 4-H allaround competitions. He bucked me off several times, but I got him broke,” Mike remembers.
For the boy, getting Corky under control and working towards show ring competition proved the perfect training ground for his future career. Each time he rode, he says, he was looking for ways to make the horse a little better and figuring things out for himself. On weekends and in the summer, Shirley tirelessly hauled her son to 4-H contests and later, American Quarter Horse Association shows, where he excelled in the numerous events. But early on, Reining had gotten into his blood and became his passion.
“I lived for Reining, it was my favorite event,” he said. Like many southern riders, he looked up to Bill Horn who, at the time, was already a legend in the sport. Later in life, Horn would play an important role in helping McEntire along. But first, McEntire went to work for another living legend, Bob Loomis. He felt that Loomis had something special to offer that he couldn’t get close to home.
“At that time, the East Coast style of riding was quite a bit different than what was going on further west. They got their horses more broke and had them riding better,” he recalls. Loomis, the only rider to earn six NRHA Futurity Open championships, exemplified the emphasis on soft hands and body control. “Loomis taught me how to make a horse softer,” said McEntire. “It was a great experience. What I learned had a big impact on me becoming a better horseman.”
Following his apprenticeship, Mike moved back to North Carolina, establishing himself in the eastern part of the state where the ground is naturally suited to Reining. It also attracted top professionals, including Bill Horn. Horn, NRHA’s first Million Dollar Rider and a Hall of Famer, soon became Mike’s mentor and also his pal.
“I rode with Bill Horn a lot. We were good friends. I learned a tremendous amount from Bill and he had a big influence on my training program, for sure,” McEntire said. “He was the most talented rider I have ever seen throw a leg over a horse.”
Another close friend was reiner Kenny Eppers, who would step up to help McEntire as he prepared his young horses for the big events.
“I learned a lot of the small details that helped me get my horses shown at the NRHA Futurity. Kenny is a great horseman. He knows how a horse thinks and reacts to training and how to finish a horse. I really learned a lot about those things from him,” McEntire said.
Mike met Canadian Nathalie Beaulieu, who he married in 2000. She would become the last piece of the puzzle. Nathalie’s big contributions to the business were her insights into bloodlines and breeding, plus an eye for an excellent prospect.
One day, McEntire was on his outdoor track riding when his wife-to-be brought out a skinny filly. Mike took one look and thought, “My Lord she has a big head and a small rump. I really wondered what Nathalie had done.” That filly’s name was Boggies Secret and was sired by Boggies Flashy Jac, an NRHA Futurity finalist and winner of the All American Quarter Horse Congress Open Reining. Little did Mike realize how this little mare would help elevate his profile in the NRHA.
“Secret,” as the couple called her, showed her potential, carrying Nathalie to a non pro finals spot at the 1998 NRHA Futurity. Three years later, Mike campaigned the mare to qualify for the $100,000 USET’s (United States Equestrian Team) Festival of Champions held that summer in Gladstone, New Jersey. There, he and Boggies Secret won the Futures Division championship. Mike also placed third in the same competition aboard another horse, Freckles Top Prize.
“That win was a real breakthrough for my career,” said Mike. “I won the Gold and the Bronze medals, and people took notice. It was the turning point that led to my getting better horses.”
As any trainer will tell you, gaining the attention of top owners and breeders is key to attracting top futurity prospects. Mike did that, for sure, but more importantly, the win instilled in him a heightened sense of self-confidence.
“I knew then that I could compete at the highest level, that my program was coming together. After that, my horses showed better, they were better broke and I started attracting top horses.”
A slew of career “firsts” and big victories ensued. In 2003, he qualified two horses for the open finals at the NRHA Futurity. Although one of the horses was injured and could not compete, he was able to enjoy his first NRHA Futurity Open finals ride aboard the stallion Little Foxy Knoxie. Mike also earned the 2003 Novice Horse World Champion title on Pretty Royal BH.
In 2004, he won the Reining Futurity championship at the All American Quarter Horse Congress on a horse called Hot Smokin Chex owned by Jennifer Kersey of England. Mike was also third in the NRHA Futurity on the stallion he had trained. McEntire won more than $100,000 on the stallion between those two shows.
In 2006 and 2007, Mike won close to $140,000 on the stallion The Great Guntini. And for three consecutive years (2007–09) he was the open champion at the Double Run Futurity on the horses Helluva Chex, HR Okie Whiz and Baroom Gunslinger.
His biggest strike, though, came at the 2010 NRHA Futurity. Many years prior, Englishman Bob Mayhew had invited Mike to teach some reining clinics in England. He met a lot of people and made a lot of friends at the clinic and soon became a conduit for exporting horses from the U.S. He strived to find horses that could show well, which served to strengthen his name among the European riding crowd.
One of his clients was David Evans, owner of a stallion named Red Stripe Spook (Smart Spook x Ms Red Capri). “Coors,” as Evans nicknamed him in tribute to his favorite American beer, had changed hands several times in his early years. As a young colt, he wasn’t much to look at, according to McEntire. But as he matured, the stallion grew into himself and turned into an elegant athlete and a beautiful mover. Coors went into training under one of McEntire’s assistants. A few months later, Mike rode the horse and was so impressed with his talent and the way he performed, he informed the assistant that he’d be taking over training from that day forward. McEntire enjoyed training the horse immensely, swearing that he just got better with each new day. He called Red Stripe Spook “the best-minded 3 year old I have ever trained.”
Competing at the 2010 NRHA Futurity, the duo advanced to the open finals, where they earned the reserve championship. In a “spooky” finish, they were runners up to the Michelle Kimball-owned horse Spooks Gotta Whiz, masterfully ridden by NRHA Professional Jordan Larson. The margin of victory was a scant one-half point.
In the ensuing two years, McEntire and Red Stripe Spook would go on to earn open championships in a flurry of derby events that included the 2012 ABI & Carolina Classic Derby in Williamston, North Carolina, and the 2013 Florida Classic Derby in Tampa Bay, Florida.
To his further credit, McEntire captured the open futurity championship for the second time at the 2011 All American Quarter Horse Congress Futurity in Columbus, Ohio, on Harley Surprize Lena for owner Raynald Rodrique of Quebec, Canada. That same year, he was the only rider to put three horses in the NRHA Futurity Open finals.
Looking back over his long and satisfying career, McEntire never forgets the emotions he felt as a kid that motivated him and have stuck with him throughout the years.
“Since I was a kid, I have always been interested in training colts and young horses. I have tried to remember always why I got into this. It’s because I love horses,” he said.
“I have been fortunate to have help from many great horsemen in this business—Bill Horn, Bob Loomis, Kenny Eppers, Tim McQuay, and so many more. And I can’t neglect to mention my best friend, (NRHA Professional and Two Million Dollar Rider) Craig Schmersal, who helps me before and during the big shows.
“I could never have reached $1 million without the help of fellow competitors and the owners who have allowed me to train and show so many wonderful horses through the years.”