February 25, 2008 -- The adage "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" no longer applies to Porterville, Calif., trainer Russell Dilday. On February 24, Dilday, riding his great horse, Topsails Rien Maker, finally captured the National Reined Cow Horse Association World's Greatest Horseman title in Stephenville, Texas--but the road to the championship wasn't easy. After the first two events, it seemed clear that it would come down to two riders--Dilday and Robbie Schroeder of Gainesville, Texas.
"I haven't absorbed it yet," admitted Dilday. "I keep waiting for them to announce, 'We have a review.'"
Having finished as Reserve World's Greatest Horseman twice, he knew that he needed to lay it all on the line to win, but it seemed that luck wouldn't be on his side. Drawing up first in the herd work, he only managed to score a 211, a score that normally wouldn't seem too promising. However, tough cattle made it difficult to mark high, and Dilday ended up in fourth place.
"I scored two 211s, and I was bummed about both of them," he noted. "I knew it was time to play catch up."
From the beginning of his reining pattern, it was easy to see that Dilday was not planning on taking it easy. From super fast spins to flawless lead changes, he was clearly out to mark high. A score of 221 put him a few scant points ahead of Schroeder and another equally talented stallion, Shine By The Bay.
Going into the steer stopping, a little strategy was needed. "I played it safe, but I knew it still had to be good, because Robbie was right there with me, and he's a much better roper. Obviously, he won that part, but we did OK," Dilday said.
After the roping, Dilday and Schroeder were tied, and it all came down to the cow work, where Dilday drew first. A difficult cow looked like it would put the leader out of the running after another 211 score. "We just didn't have luck," he said. "I thought it would run, and it didn't. So I figured we would get beat. But I considered it and thought, 'Oh well, second's cool. I've done that before.'"
But Schroeder also had a difficult cow and marked a lower score than Dilday. With seven horses left, it was possible for another rider to take the lead, but none of the remaining finalists got close.
"All these horses could have legitimately won it," said Schroeder, who finished as the reserve champion. "But it all came down to luck today. I'm just thrilled to be here in the finals, with this caliber of horses. I'm very happy for Russell to have won it, finally."
Along with an impressive title, the World's Greatest Horseman contest also bestowed its champion with a check for $30,000.
Finishing reserve and winning $22,500 was especially exciting for Schroeder, who has won numerous American Quarter Horse Association World Championships in roping. Although he has competed in the event three other times, 2008 is the first time he has made the finals.
Both top finishers agreed that the World's Greatest Horseman is the best western competition for putting horses and riders in real situations.
"These horses can go do anything on a ranch that needs to be done," said Schroeder. Dilday was quick to expand on that statement, "This event makes you do everything you would have to be able to do as a cowboy. Frankly, a guy without a rope is just a boy on his horse."