NRCHA Executive Director, Anna Morrison

When Anna Morrison stepped into the position of executive director of the National Reined Cow Horse Association in December last year, she felt she was taking a leap of faith in the middle of COVID-19 uncertainty.

But Morrison soon discovered the NRCHA had done an incredible job of keeping the Association on track despite the challenges of the pandemic, with record-breaking entries in events.

“There were some location changes and date changes for some of the premier [events]…but it really felt like I was stepping into an Association and a team that was minimally impacted,” she said.

In fact, the 2020 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity was hugely successful and this year is shaping up to surpass that. This year’s Futurity is experiencing its highest level of entries ever. The 2021 NRCHA Celebration of Champions/ World’s Greatest Horsemen was also the largest on record, as was the Stallion Stakes.

Morrison anticipates record-breaking Eastern and Western Derbies too.

She attributes the industry growth amid the pandemic to the fact that so many sporting, entertainment and social events were put on an indefinite hold. There were no concerts, no cruises; no one was going on vacation, so for many, it freed up time and money.

“When all of those get stripped away but horse sports are still there as an option, I think people really leaned into it. It was something you could be really engaged in and active in and be outdoors in a way that felt comfortable to those who were more conservative about their approach to managing risk during the pandemic…we welcomed everyone to the table in a very different way during the pandemic,” she said.

Morrison’s journey to executive director started out with her first administrative job after college at Colorado State University, where she majored in Equine Science. She worked at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO focusing on sponsorship and educational programs. She was then asked to come back to CSU as a program coordinator for the Equine Science program.

Morrison thought most of her career would be spent in academics. It was her passion. The job that brought her to Texas was a role with the Texas A&M Equine Initiative. She spent seven years at A&M assisting Dr. Jim Heird, who was the Glenn Blodgett Equine Chair Executive Professor & Coordinator, in building equine curricula, fundraising and building a new facility.

She then went on to spend four years with the American Quarter Horse Association focusing on their international programs. She also oversaw the AQHA’s Foundation. She said that helped gain experience with a member-based organization. She learned what leadership and service roles looked like.

Morrison understands the importance of being responsive to the needs of members, having competed in a number of performance horse disciplines herself.

Morrison has ridden in the Stock Horse of Texas, AQHA Versatility and NRCHA shows. In 2015, she was crowned the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse Amateur All Around Reserve World Champion.

Steer-Stopping at the World’s Greatest Horseman

Morrison said the NRCHA has done a great job of listening to its members. The cornerstone of Morrison’s plan is to continue capitalizing on the organization’s strengths while staying true to its roots.

“The NRCHA has so many things about it that are incredibly special and we want to preserve and promote those. And ensure that we stay true to what our sport is, what we offer, what [helped] our sport be so popular and exciting, and experience such growth. At the same time, we want to continue to maintain [what we offer]. Promoting these amazing athletes is the core of our sport and our amazing horsemen and horsewomen and the traditional training methods. We also want to create room for more people to come to the arena,” she said.

Morrison said creating entry points that are accessible to a range of riders will bring more people into the sport.

“That’s something that the atmosphere of NRCHA lends itself to so naturally. Our [members] are so welcoming, genuinely welcoming, supportive and encouraging. Helping people get to the arena and experience what it feels like to be part of the NRCHA family is one of our primary goals.”

Morrison added that she wants to ensure that the events are healthy and sustainable well into the future while supporting professionals in the sport. She also wants to enhance the experience of owners and exhibitors.

Morrison wants to help draw more non-pros and professionals to reined cow horse from other industries as well.

At the DT Horses Western Derby in Scottsdale, Arizona, for example, the NRCHA is bringing steer-stopping into the event. This means the competitors won’t just rope in the World’s Greatest Horseman, it also opens the door for ropers to take an interest in the sport as well. This class is called the CD Survivor Memorial Bridle Horse Super Spectacular, where the bridle horses will have a chance to compete in the usual events as well as steer-stopping.

At the Eastern Derby, presented by Mars Equestrian, in Cordova, Tennessee in July, there will be a special non-pro experience. They plan to invite non-pros to compete in their first premier event. At the Eastern Derby, there is a pre-Futurity, a Derby for 4- and-5-year-old horses and two sets of horse show classes.

“Oftentimes you haul to a premier event and you’ve got one shot at your class. At the Eastern Derby, you’ve got two shots. If the first class doesn’t go how you planned, we have a second set of horse show classes,” Morrison said.

There will also be complimentary social and educational experiences for non-pros. Competitors will have the chance to listen to top professionals share tips and advice.

“We try to be responsive to the things our members are asking for. And set those up in a way that are achievable and successful and make the experience better for our members,” she said.

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Written By Sophia Skeith