In a sport that is quickly taking the center stage spotlight around the world, Shawn Flarida is the sport’s superstar. He is the NRHA’s all-time leading money earner, and the first-ever Five Million Dollar Rider. Shawn has five NRHA Open Futurity championships to his name, and has won the All-American Quarter Horse Congress futurity eleven times. Despite his enviable resume, Shawn doesn’t let the winning go to his head. Known for his mischievous grin and affable personality, Shawn is known throughout the industry for his humility and unmatched work ethic. Shawn began his career as a youth, and knew from a very early age what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“I came home from school one day in second grade and decided that I had had enough,” Shawn says with a laugh. “I didn’t see any point to learning anything more when I could spend my time a lot better in the barn! All I wanted to do was train horses, for as long as I can remember.”
Despite his lack of educational interest, Shawn graduated from high school in 1988 and went to work for his brother, Mike Flarida, who had an established and successful business as a reining trainer.
Shawn branched out on his own in 1989, and married his high school sweetheart, Michele in 1992. The couple now has three children, Cody, 18, Courtney, 11, and Sam, 10.
“I had eight clients,” Shawn said of his start in the horse training business. “I barely eked out a living, but I never doubted it was what I was meant to do!”
From the beginning, Shawn has seen success in the show pen. His first NRHA paycheck came in 1981, and they’ve gotten progressively bigger ever since. He rode Moores Generator in the Limited Non Pro division at a show in Old Washington, Ohio, for that first check, and continued his winning ways throughout high school. In 1988, he won sixth in the NRHA Limited Non Pro Futurity aboard Kings San Sara. That same year, Shawn graduated high school and began his career as a professional horse trainer.
To start out, Shawn went to work for his brother, Mike, also a reining trainer and two-time NRHA Futurity Champion. He spent six months there and decided, with the full support of Michele, to go out on his own. He leased a barn in Miamisburg, Ohio, and was on his way.
Since beginning his reining career as a youth, the All-America Quarter Horse Congress has been a staple in Shawn’s schedule. In 1994, he captured his first Congress Open Futurity Championship aboard Dunnits Easter Bunny, owned by John Essman.
Early on, Shawn was successful as a trainer. He took two horses to the 1990 NRHA Open Futurity finals, and in 1991 he won the NRHA Derby Limited Open Reserve Championship. That same year, he had two horses in the NRHA Limited Open Futurity and finished fourth and eighth on Pobres Pauls Peach and King O Lena, respectively. In 1992, he was back in the Open Futurity finals on Lenas Sparkle, and in 1993, he won his first big paycheck when he won fifth in the NRHA Open Futurity on Peponitas Mr, owned by John Essman.
Since that first win in 1994, Shawn has won the event a total of eleven times, and finished as the reserve champion five times. He also has won more than 30 Congress Open event championships.
In 2002, Shawn’s career hit another milestone when he qualified San Jo Freckles, owned by Michael Harper, for the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, riding for Team USA. Shawn captured the individual gold medal and helped his team, which included Craig Schmersal, Scott McCutcheon and Tom McCutcheon, also capture the team gold medal.
As the wins added up, so did Shawn’s NRHA rider earnings. In 2002, he added a big chunk of change to his record when he captured the prestigious NRHA Open Futurity title – his first – on Wimpys Little Step, owned by Mark Schols. The $175,000 paycheck for the win brought him inches away from becoming an NRHA Million Dollar Rider, and in 2003, he became the third rider to earn that distinction, following NRHA Hall of Fame members Bill Horn and Tim McQuay.
After hitting the initial Million Dollar mark, Shawn’s career began an upward trajectory that just keeps growing. In 2004, he once again won the NRHA Open Futurity, this time on Rosanne Sternberg’s Smart Spook. He also earned major awards in Europe, including the World Reining Trophy reserve championship, the Reining Challenge Open championship in Kreuth, Germany, and another reserve title at the Americana in Augsburg, Germany.
The following year was another outstanding one for Shawn, as he once again captured the 2005 NRHA Open Futurity Championship, this time riding KR Lil Conquistador, owned by Cheree Kirkbride. Prior to that, he captured the NRHA Open Derby title on Smart Spook, and also won the Congress title on KR Lil Conquistador.
By 2006, Shawn was not only in the habit of winning consistently, but also started capturing the top two spots at the shows. He did just that at both the Ariat Tulsa Reining Classic with Walla Walla Whiz, owned by Arcese Quarter Horses, and Western Whiz, owned by Sammy Ely, and at the Congress Open Futurity with Senor Tejano Whiz and BR Sheza Cameo Jac, both owned by 4R Performance Horses. Earlier in the year, he also reached another elusive goal, winning his first NRBC Championship on Einsteins Revolution, owned by Wagner and Vandorp. He also finished as the Open Reserve Champion at the NRHA Derby on KR Lil Conquistador.With all the winnings adding up fast, it was no surprise that in late October 2006, Shawn hit another huge milestone – becoming just the second NRHA Two Million Dollar Rider, following Tim McQuay.
2007 was another whirlwind for Shawn. He began the year by riding KR Lil Conquistador to the Open title at the Wimpys Little Step Derby, and later won his second NRHA Derby title on Walla Walla Whiz. Again, he took top honors in Tulsa, winning first on Wimpys Little Chic, owned by Arcese, and second on RC Fancy Step, owned by Jimmy Pierce and Mark Schols. “RC” also captured the Congress Open Futurity for Shawn, making it his sixth win at the event. With a barnful of talented, athletic horses, Shawn headed to the 2007 NRHA Futurity with high hopes – and once again, he did not disappoint. Scoring a 231.5, “Lexi” stole the hearts of nearly everyone and helped Shawn capture his fourth NRHA Open Futurity Championship.
More to Come
As good as 2007 was for Shawn, 2008 was even better. After winning second at the Bill Horn Shootout in Ocala, Fla., he rolled into the Wimpys Little Step Derby in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with winning on his mind. RC Fancy Step stepped up to the plate, winning the event for him, while Walla Walla Whiz won second. KR Lil Conquistador also performed well at the event, winning fourth and becoming just the second horse in NRHA history to win more than $300,000.
And that was just the beginning.
Gordyville brought another set of first-second placings, with Western Whiz and Hollywoodgundunnit, owned by Arcese, taking home the open derby winnings. And at the NRBC, Flarida once again set major records, becoming the first rider to ever win first and second at the event. Wimpys Little Chic also saw a milestone at the event, becoming the first NRHA Futurity Champion to ever win the NRBC. “Lexi” scored a 233 for the championship, while RC Fancy Step finished second with a 231.5.
It should come as no surprise that in 2008, Shawn was poised to make history once again. No horse had ever won the top three reining events in the world – the NRHA Futurity, the NRBC and the NRHA Derby – that is, until Wimpys Little Chic and Shawn came on the scene. The pair slid into reining history after winning all three events with a score of more than 230 on each run.
At the 2008 NRHA Futurity, Shawn became the NRHA’s first-ever Three Million Dollar Rider.
The 2009 season once again kicked off with a bang, as Shawn again captured the Open Derby title at the Wimpys Little Step Derby, held in Cloverdale, IN. It was his second consecutive win at the event on 5-year-old RC Fancy Step, owned by Buffalo Ranch.
At the 2009 NRBC, Flarida took both Wimpys Little Chic and RC Fancy Step to the finals, where he finished 2nd on the mare and tied for 3rd on the stallion. At the 2009 Derby, he once again dominated, this time winning the event for the fourth time on RC Fancy Step, with a score of 232.5. Wimpys Little Chic finished third with a 229.5, with her earnings putting her over the $400,000 in earnings – the first reining horse in history to do so.
Shawn capped off the year by once again capturing the All-American Quarter Horse Congress Futurity Championship and the NRHA Open Futurity title aboard Gunnatrashya. It was the third time in Shawn’s career that he captured both titles back-to-back, and only the fourth time in NRHA history that the feat has been accomplished. In fact, this was one of his winningest seasons to date, with $581,591.03 in earnings at the close of the show season.
The 2010 show season saw Shawn continue to put checks in the win column. He won the 2010 NRHA Derby aboard the incomparable Gunnatrashya with a big score of 235 and then won the USEF WEG Team selection trials just two weeks later aboard RC Fancy Step. He dominated most regional futurities in 2010 earning the win at the NCRHA futurity, the Dominy Plantation futurity, the Tulsa Classic John Deere Futurity, the Tradition futurity and his ninth Congress Open futurity. Aboard the ever reliable RC Fancy Step, Flarida was the high scoring rider in the WEG Team competition and lead Team USA to the Team gold medal. At the close of the 2010 NRHA futurity Shawn had earned over $116,000 at that one event and boosted his annual earnings to $423,403.18. In fact, at the futurity he became the first rider in NRHA history to have accumulated earnings in excess of 4 million dollars.
At the point in his career where most would be slowing down, Shawn keeps his eye out for the next great prospect and hopes to shape it into his next champion. It is the desire to find and mold another champion that continues to drive this talented rider and trainer. In 2013, Shawn hit another incredible career milestone when he crossed the 5 Million Dollar Rider mark by earning the NRHA Open Futurity reserve championship aboard Tinseltown Fly Guy, owned by Fritz Leeman. He continues to be the NRHA’s leading rider and only rider to have earned in excess of 5 Million dollars!
Despite his phenomonal success, Flarida can be counted on to remain his usual, humble self. Notoriously superstitious – and always showing in a green shirt – Shawn’s focus is on working hard at home and being the best horseman he can be. He is a dedicated family man, and his mom and dad, Bill and Betty Flarida, often travel with the family to shows.
“My dad is my best friend, and he’s a great horseman as well,” Shawn has said of his father, Bill. “My family is the most important thing in my life, and I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it weren’t for the love and support of my wife as well. She’s sacrificed a lot for me and my career.”
As the three Flarida kids grow up, it’s likely that the tradition of great horsemanship will continue. Cody, currently a high school senior, is an academic standout that is looking forward to selecting a college. Courtney is member of the Lady Rams cheer squad and can be found leading her team to victory in some top flight cheering.In 2013 she has added volleyball to her activity list and is working on a killer serve.
As the youngest, Sammy, is probably the one most likely to follow in the family business. When he’s not wrestling or playing baseball, Sam can usually be found in the barn. Sammy showed for the first time in 2012 and is already developing a reputation as a showman. The youngest Flarida won his first congress championship in 2013 when he was named co-champion of the very first Congress Short Stirrup reining class marking a 214. “He told Michele once that he wants to be a cowboy when he grows up,” Shawn shared. “But he wants to be ‘better than Daddy.’ He probably will be!” Shawn and Sam brought the horse down during the always popular Congress Freestyle Reining in 2013. Asked by OQHA to do a freestyle demonstration, Shawn enlisted the help of his wife, Sam and friend and accomplished freestyle choreographer Laura Schoeller. The end result was a routine perform to live music performed by AQHA member and Nashville recording artist Denny Strickland, who reworked the song “Watching You”. Click here to watch their incredible performance.
Of course a family with interests as diverse as the Flarida’s, they need a coordinator to make sure everything stays organized. Without Shawn’s wife, Michele, every member of the family freely admits that it would be chaos! Michele not only takes care of the daily business needs, she keeps Shawn’s daily schedule under control. In addition, she is a busy mother of three active children. Between football, wrestling and cheerleading practice and all the booster necessities, Michele is always on the run. Then throw in several horse shows a month and a 40 stall training barn, it’s hard to figure out how she manages it all. But she does, and with a big smile!