It’s all in the mind

It is said that a brilliant athlete without a mind to match is a lost cause. In the competitive world of performance horses, it is the smart trainer who explores the mind of a young prospect and finds a willing and able partner. That combination becomes a winning one. That’s the case with NOT RUF AT ALL. He was a whip-smart and fantastic athlete from the beginning, and he proved himself right from his debut Championship win at the 2013 Tulsa Reining Classic Open Futurity with trainer Jason Vanlandingham. It was an exciting debut by an exciting horse who would only get better. As one fan said, “He is all heart and ability and matches it with a great mind.” Those are the ingredients to make history in the NRHA.


When the three-year-olds step up to compete in the NRHA’s most prestigious event, the Futurity, everyentry is literally that ‘new kid in town.’ Some come with illustrious breeding programs to brag on. Others have been touted by trainers as the biggest stoppers in the show. And still, owners have a lot of their own prestige, and that adds additional interest. When Million Dollar owner Vaughn Zimmerman’s entry, NOT RUF AT ALL, and trainer Jason Vanlandingham, stepped into the Oklahoma City arena for the first go in 2013, they carried all the potential in the business. Trainers enter that arena hoping they’ve got the right horse ready and willing. Jason entered knowing beyond doubt that he had it all. From the first day, according to Jason, “He came into my barn in January of his three-year-old year. He’d been well started by Bobby Avila, Jr. and I was expecting a nice young prospect who’d hopefully be ready for the early futurities and then the NRHA Futurity. That was the plan. He made me feel good and look good right from the beginning. He is such an exceptionally smart horse.” NOT RUF AT ALL is one of those rare individuals who use his mind to control and manipulate his athletic body. Jason taught him to make that connection, and it is what has made him such a great young star. “He really does ‘have it all’ in my opinion; spins, stops, rollbacks are all perfect. You can’t ask him for more ‘cause he’s already giving you everything.”


Jason Vanlandingham is one of the hot young reining trainers who have come up through the ranks. He’s only been at it since the late ‘90s and his Level 3 record includes a Championship at the NRHA Futurity, two more titles at the NRHA Derby and a long list of accomplishments at the major events around the country. When he hit Level 4, there was no doubt that this young talent was going to make headlines. Championships at the major aged events, from the NRHA Futurity and Derby to the NRBC, Tulsa and the High Roller, Jason’s name has become gold. His barn in Whitesboro, Texas, has been filled with a select number of big time horses for the past two decades. None more impressive than the pretty sorrel stallion who took up residence there as a January 2013 three-year-old. According to Jason, “NOT RUF AT ALL is owned by my friend and client, Vaughn Zimmerman. We had a plan for this colt right from the start; Tulsa, the High Roller and then the NRHA Futurity. There was never a time through his training that I thought perhaps I was asking too much. Vaughn and I knew we were on track following that first title at Tulsa. His mind, his athleticism, his heart . . . it’s amazing. He tries with every ounce of energy that he’s got.”


Keeping his client list small and his operation family driven and family worked has helped to make every horse worth Jason’s time and effort. With NOT RUF AT ALL, it was easy to look forward to working him every day. “He was so good minded. That’s the first thing I look for and he delivered it every day. I’d work to teach him something and he just got it! Not a lot of denial. Not a lot of resistance. I’d teach him something, he’d work on it with me and I never had to go back and do it over and over again. He just ‘got it’ so easily. He has such feel, and so much strength. His body control is amazing.” Jason and his client protected the colt early and didn’t take him to a lot of tune-up shows. “He was such an athlete and all he needed was to get used to the arena; the sounds and people all around. It never fazed him.” So 2013 ran exactly as planned; Tulsa Open Futurity Champion, High Roller Classic Futurity Champion and then The Big One, the NRHA Futurity Championship.


Looking forward, as the earnings have gone over the Quarter Million mark, NOT RUF AT ALL has a long and healthy career ahead of him. Championship titles through 2013 made NOT RUF AT ALL a worthy competitor. It was the 229 finals score at the 2014 NRHA Derby that proved NOT RUF AT ALL was not a winner by chance, but one of those rare individuals who does his job over and over again and takes home the titles every time. The 2014 High Roller Open Derby and Open Stakes Championships were against the toughest set of competitors in the hunt. He had one of his best goes, taking home two more titles and another big check, bringing NOT RUF AT ALL the reputation as ‘the one to beat’ in the coming 2015 show season.


The ‘Championship Season’ in 2014 put NOT RUF AT ALL into a whole separate category. He had become a superstar with a fan base of mare owners. According to his team, NOT RUF AT ALL will go into the breeding barn this coming spring and then on through the major NRHA and NRBC events. “Just the three big ones, we think. He’s a strong horse with not a scratch on him, extremely sound and healthy. 2015 should be a good year for us.” How can it not be? NOT RUF AT ALL is already the highest money earning four-year old in history of the NRHA with over $300,000 earned, and why would that not be a sign of even more success next year?


Owner Vaughn Zimmerman talks about his years of experience, and unlike so many owners in the performance horse world, he is a true horseman. “I’ve been fortunate enough to breed and raised winning horses in so many different areas. I’ve had race horses, halter horses, pleasure horses and the reiners have held my interest for the longest time.” As an aside, Zimmerman owned Boonlight Dancer and took him to the Championship title at the 2001 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity with trainer Todd Bergen. “Our plan was to take him on to the NRHA Futurity. I wanted to win both those titles on the same horse. The stallion came up a little sore at the NRHA Futurity and ex-rays proved there was a chip in his ankle. “We went ahead and did the surgery, and while he was coming back, we got an offer from Polo Ranch to purchase him on a soundness exam. That exam proved him sound, and Polo Ranch went on and showed him successfully in NCHA for a short time just to prove him capable.” Zimmerman’s long history in the horse business brings with it an innate knowledge of the horses he sees and the ones he owns. “A good horse is a good horse, no matter the discipline. I have tried to see the best in all of the winners.” It was that knowledge of a ‘good horse is a good horse’ that first brought NOT RUF AT ALL to his attention. The colt was for sale through Casey Hinton and Zimmerman’s Missouri trainer, Bobby Avila, Jr., was impressed and called on Zimmerman to take a look at this colt. He did and he saw his next project. In NOT RUF AT ALL, Zimmerman saw the conformation and the great mind coupled with the athleticism that makes a true winner. The son of A Sparkling Vintage had sold to horse dealer Doug Carpenter for a modest sum as a youngster. By the time Zimmerman saw him, he was a stout, strong colt with that certain look that Zimmerman locates so well. He went home to Missouri with Zimmerman, and Avila put a great two-year-old start on him. Therein lies the tale of a relatively unknown colt turning into the biggest, baddest young stallion in the competitive arena. “I like to see any horse built to do the job he was bred to do. This colt was already built right. He has so much muscling in his hind end and down the leg. As he’s matured, he’s gotten even stronger and people tell me he has the look of a horse with double muscling in that back end.”


Vaughn Zimmerman already had a reputation of bringing young stars to the prestigious NRHA Select Sale, and had just had the High Seller the previous year. “Our plan was to take him to the Select Sale and I thought we’d top the sale or at least come very close. It just didn’t click, and I ended up paying the full commission to buy him back myself.” As time has told, a lot of experienced buyers missed the boat in Oklahoma City. In January, NOT RUF AT ALL made the trip to Zimmerman’s friend and trainer, Jason Vanlandingham in Whitesboro, Texas, and the true test of a young three-year-old: preparation for the tough competition that would come in the fall. Jason says, “Bobby put a great start on this colt, and we built on that from the first day. He was the best minded, best learner I’ve ever seen. He went forward from the beginning and never took a false step. He was amazing.”


Zimmerman tells us, “My son Justin and I have a great relationship and have become partners in this horse business. He and I own a number of really select mares together and he’s taking on a lot of the responsibilities. It’s something we enjoy doing together. In fact, we’ll have NOT RUF AT ALL foals on the ground this coming spring out of mares we own together. We’re looking forward to seeing what he’ll produce. It’s got to be good!” While RUF is just coming five, he’s already in demand as a breeding horse. According to Zimmerman, “The plan includes a select book of mares in the 2015 season, made easier because Hartman Reproduction of Whitesboro, Texas, is directly across the street from Jason Vanlandingham’s training facility. We’ll just jump him in the stock trailer, run him over across the street to Hartman and get him collected.” Considering Hartman’s reputation as a reproduction specialist, mare owners will have no problem getting them settled, even during the show season. “An interesting side to this breeding business is the amount of semen we’ll ship to Europe and now Australia. That’s exciting, to see the number of contracts coming from out of the US. Then on the other hand,” Zimmerman says, “there’s the mare owner that calls to talk about NOT RUF AT ALL, tells me how much he likes my horse, goes on and on and then says he’s sorry he can’t breed but there’s not enough ‘color’ for his program. It still surprises me that people will give up quality on every level just over the color. In my opinion, color should be the very last thing you consider.” Vaughn Zimmerman ‘walks the talk’ of a true horseman. A wise decision by Zimmerman to buy his colt out of the Select Sale made this earner of over a Quarter Million Dollars to date as one of his best ever re-purchases. The bright sorrel colt sparkled in the auction ring, and ‘there was just something’ that made him special to get Zimmerman to make that final bid and since that hammer dropped, Vaughn Zimmerman has watched NOT RUF AT ALL win more money than any other in just over one year’s time!


NOT RUF AT ALL was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. His pedigree was more than honorable; by Harper and Petra Conner’s A Sparkling Vintage, a proven son of Shining Spark, who has EquiStat PE over $8,000,000 who is out of an own daughter of Little Peppy, who is simply a legend with PE over $25,000,000. The bottom side carries another hit of Little Peppy through the dam’s sire, Lil Ruf Peppy with PE over $8,000,000. This pedigree speaks of a natural talent for reining with both sire and dam carrying the right genetics. This pedigree carries all the solid strength and quality that has been foundation to our performance horses. You’re in doubt? Just look up the second dam, Taris Vintage. That alone should be enough!


The bottom line? The foundation is laid with great ownership, a talented and intuitive trainer, and a horse of exceptional intelligence. A truly great young stallion needs to stand on his physical and mental abilities. An athlete is only as good as the trainer who connects to that mind. It truly is ALL IN THE MIND. A great trainer will find a way to share that mind, make it willing to work for him and produce a superstar like NOT RUF AT ALL. He’s got it all!