Eye on the Prize
Despite a terrible accident as a teenager, this NRHA Professional kept his eye on the prize.
CASEY DEARY’S JOURNEY TO THE NRHA $1 MILLION CAreer earnings mark ended in spectacular fashion this past December. Competing in the 2015 NRHA Futurity finals, the Weatherford, Texas reiner won a thrilling run-off aboard the mare Shesouttayourleague to claim the sport’s most prestigious championship for the second time in his career. With a $161,466 check for the victory, he sailed smoothly past the earnings milestone, becoming the 24th and latest member of the elite Million Dollar Riders Club.
Watching the run-off and screaming herself hoarse was his wife, Nicole, who has weathered the ups-and-downs of her husband’s unlikely career as a horseman. The couple met while showing horses in high school, fell in love in their 20s, married and are raising four children; Wyatt, Joy, Owen and Olivia. As far as careers go, the couple has shared a bumpy road that’s only begun smoothing out in the last several years. And anyone who knows the Dearys will agree, the outcome couldn’t have come to a nicer couple.
Deary’s achievement is especially remarkable given all that he went through to rise to the top. In his own words, he grew up in a family that had “nothing to do” with equines. But as a kid, he was drawn to visit the horses in the pasture near his home. He liked to feed them carrots. From those humble stirrings, a lifelong passion was born.
Casey got his first chances to ride on rental horses during family camping trips. At the age of 12, he began borrowing an Appaloosa gelding that belonged to his parents’ friends. One day he was forced to dismount when a motorist honked the horn and the horse got spooked. Stranded in a bar ditch on foot, the chubby kid had to lead the tall horse along until he could find suitable terrain to climb back up.
By age 15, Casey had saved $1,000 to buy his own horse. This led to a fledgling career as a horse trader. He began buying horses, putting some training on them, and selling them through the classified section of The Dallas Morning News. With the income, he bought a horse trailer, saddle and tack, and kept investing in new fixer-uppers.
“There were many nice horses that fell victim to my learning process,” he said in his typical, self- deprecating manner. In an effort to mimic the reining horsemen that he admired, he’d slide the horses on the gentle hills of his parents’ small 5-acre pasture.
“It’s amazing that I didn’t die,” he said. Amazing, yes, because he very nearly did.
Through his horse trading, Deary had acquired a yearling colt, a “sweet horse” as he recalls, that he’d taught some tricks. He was riding at a friend’s place in Terrell, Texas when the horse spooked while negotiating a gate. As he fell off, Deary caught a foot in the stirrup and the terrified horse took him for a bronc ride that ended with Casey crashing his face into the steel pipe fence. His friend Alan Chappell rushed the rider to the ER, where the doctors worked to stabilize him.
Unable to eat, he lost close to 60 pounds in a matter of weeks. Lying in bed, the 16-year-old questioned whether he should continue pursuing his dream of being a horseman.
“I wondered if this was God’s signal to do something else, or a sign to put the hammer down and go forward,” said Deary. He had $5,000 tied up in what he called “my addiction,” and he was not one to easily let go of his hard-gotten investment in horse flesh. Despite having almost been killed, he made up his mind to stay on-course.
Over the next three years, he had to endure eight reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage to his face and overcome neck and spinal injuries. Because he’d also lost six front teeth, his high school classmates facetiously voted him “Best Smile” in the Forney High yearbook.
Looking back, he manages to see both the humor and the strength gained from his tragic accident. He needed both in the lean years that followed.
One of his formative experiences was attending a clinic put on by James Davidson, who worked under legendary reiner and NRHA Hall of Famer Dick Pieper. One thing Davidson said stuck with him.
“If a guy can learn to ride a horse like a reiner, he can transition that horse into any event,” Davidson told him. Deary set his sights on achieving that kind of mastery, working summer vacations under Davidson at Pieper’s ranch in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
The day after high school graduation, Deary took up residence with famed trainer Clint Haverty. He also attended junior college night classes in business. Between the demanding days at work and the long evenings spent in class and studying, he had little time to socialize.
Meanwhile, Nicole was going through what she called “my rebellious period” in college. But she ran into Casey at the American Paint Horse Association World Show and the encounter rekindled their friendship. The two began dating.
In 2000, Casey earned his first NRHA check on a horse named Crome Marks at a reining in Katy, Texas. The take was $36.28, about enough for a nice steak dinner with Nicole. But opportunities to compete in reinings at Haverty’s were few.
“(Clint) didn’t put me in the pen much. I understand why–you don’t invest a client’s money in what probably won’t work,” he said. Still, he was gaining practical experience in how to run a reining business and how to care for and build a show horse. Those skills would later prove invaluable.
But after three years of school and full-time employment at Haverty Ranch, Deary’s mental fabric finally began to fray. After the 2001 NRHA Derby, he asked Clint for two weeks off. He went to Nicole’s parents’ home in Glenrose, Texas, stayed in their cabin, and luxuriated in doing nothing. He was burnt out and ready to move on, so he told the Havertys that he wasn’t coming back. Clint held no ill-will about the young rider’s decision; he knew his program was a baptism by fire and he’d seen many riders come and go. Few had shouldered the workload as willingly and ably as Casey Deary.
Deary found work as a ranch hand at the Jae Bar Fletch Ranch, then moved on to the Shoe Bar, where his home was surrounded by 6,000 lonely acres. Both he and Nicole were attending Tarleton State College, and in 2002, the couple married. Soon after, Casey graduated Tarleton with a degree in business management. Having a diploma came as a relief. Though a good student, he disliked having to be indoors when he could be out riding instead.
During his “cowboy” years, he began training outside horses. Tammye Hutton, whose Hilldale Farm was just gaining acclaim, sent him young horses to start and he had a few non pro students. But it was pretty lean pickings for the Dearys.
“We didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” said Casey of the early wedded days.
“It was my dream to go to shows and have a pretty show shirt to wear,” recalls Nicole. “I wanted to help Casey. It was motivating, but at the same time, I didn’t know what we would do.”
Deary’s first big break came aboard a horse owned by Robby and Dani Robertson named Hesa Turbo Chic. After showing the horse at the 2002 NRHA Futurity, the Roberstons invited him to work at their Reata Ridge Ranch. They restructured their ranch and outfitted it as a training and show barn, filling it with good horses for Casey to ride. Under Robby’s business guidance, Deary’s business stabilized and expanded.
“The early horses were all Robby’s,” says Casey. “And they put us on the map.”
His first real “show” horse was the stallion Little Bay Starlight, a 5 year old Robertson bought for Deary to campaign. “Romeo,” as he was called, had a grapefruit-sized bog spavin on his left hock and less than 30 days of riding on him. But the injury proved only cosmetic and their vet, Frank Fluitt, was able to reduce it to the size of a golf ball. Deary earnestly went to work training Romeo.
In his first-ever NRHA Derby finals, Casey and Little Bay Starlight made the top-five in the Limited and Intermediate Open divisions. The $4,600 won there was Casey’s biggest payoff to date. Then, they struck again at the AQHA World Show, earning a Top-10 finish. And finally, the duo claimed both the intermediate and limited open class wins at the 2004 NRHA Futurity’s ancillary show, amassing $6,765 in less than a month.
It was a bittersweet time. Robertson capitalized on the horse’s success, selling Romeo for many times what he’d paid. Deary felt like he’d lost a close friend and actually cried when he delivered Romeo to the new owners. He still regards the horse as among the best he’s ever ridden.
But successes like these led to new opportunities and better horses. In 2005, Deary had a breakout year. One horse came to him with an injured neck that happened while training with another pro. An equine chiropractor, Merv Williams, went to work on the horse, Jacs Little Sunrise, and Casey showed the horse to the Open finals at the 2005 National Reining Breeders Classic, finishing fourth overall and banking nearly $19,000.
That fall, he also made the NRHA Futurity Open finals on Ciscos Roan Ranger owned by Allison and Harry Courtice.
“It was a nice horse, but a reject from the cutting world with very little reining experience,” Deary remembers. “Jason Wordsworth, an apprentice from Australia, asked me to show the horse (at the Futurity). After the NRBC, he felt I was in a better position.”
The horse was so green that a month before the Futurity, he was still not ready to show at the Southwest Futurity in Ardmore. But the pair proved spectacular in Oklahoma City, qualifying for the finals and winning the Limited Open championship. They also claimed the Reserve title in the Intermediate Open and tied for eighth overall. All told, they claimed $63,000, and Casey finished the year ranked 11th among NRHA Professionals.
But the big season proved a mixed blessing.
“I was still mainly getting ‘grocery’ horses good for weekend non pro riders,” he said of that time. “And because I’d moved into the Top 20 Riders, my eligibility changed. I went from two great shows to starving for three years.”
Finally, in 2007, a couple of students at Texas Christian University, George and Chloe Lawrence, needed a place to board their horses. Deary’s barn was full of low-budget horses, so Lawrence agreed to pay full training for the mare, This Chicsdundreamin. Nominated for the Futurity, the horse got sick during the course of the event. But George was convinced she’d make a good horse, and he and Casey took her on the road. They put another horse in the trailer, Starlights Sugarwhiz, a son of Little Bay Starlight that had been owned by Nicole’s parents, Allen and Nancy Stillwell, but was now George’s. “We went everywhere. To San Francisco and Las Vegas. There were a few times I was the lone Texan at a show,” said Casey.
Both horses ended up piling up money, scoring huge checks at the Wimpys Little Step Derby, Reining by the Bay, the High Roller Classic, the Gordyville Breeders Cup, and the 2010 NRBC, where both horses were finalists. This Chicsdundreamin, who the pair call “Lexi,” alone racked up $124,609 in earnings. Starlights Sugarwhiz tallied $75,453.
Finally, Deary seemed to have found his place among the sport’s leading contenders. All the work and preparation set the stage for what would come next: the mare Americasnextgunmodel. Deary eyed the David Silva-bred horse at the 2011 NRHA/Markel Insurance Futurity Prospect Sale, but Silva rejected Deary’s highest bid. But client Dana Conrad and Nicole urged him to buy the horse. After the sale, Casey approached Silva and sealed the deal.
It had been the wish of Conrad’s late husband, John, to put Deary aboard a winning horse that would carry him to the top of the reining world. As the horse progressed through the futurity season, placing at the Cowtown Classic and winning the Open title at the High Roller Classic in Las Vegas, the phone rang off the hook from well-heeled individuals eager to buy the horse.
“We debated whether to sell her. I told Nicole, ‘if you don’t think I can get it done, we need to sell her,'” he said. “At the time, we had three kids, very little money, and people wanting to write huge checks.”
But Nicole, who’d been in dire straits before and always had faith in her husband and the Lord to provide, encouraged him to do what he’d done as a teenage boy: stay the course.
Before the finals began, Deary slipped away to his truck. He needed a quiet place to settle his nerves and he turned to his well-worn Bible. He read Psalm 37:4, Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
“If you go down to verse 7, it says, ‘Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.’ That gave me so much peace and patience.”
Deary entered the arena at a screaming run and threw down a slide that set the entire crowd into jubilation. And the noise only kept building as they watched what many would describe as a near- perfect run.
“It was so loud and intense in that arena, and the crowd was so crazy, you could feel the energy. It is such a huge honor that there are that many people willing to cheer me on,” he recalls. Even the mare, who Deary calls “Lily,” quivered from the excitement despite being deaf. She could feel it in the ground.
Deary’s mark of 228 points went unchallenged and the rider was crowned the 2012 NRHA Futurity Level 4 Open Champion. The $157,750 win marked the biggest victory, by far, that the rider had ever experienced. But then, history repeated itself. That, of course, was the thrilling run-off win that came after tying Franco Bertolani in the 2015 Futurity aboard Shesouttayourleague. That huge victory came on the heels of another accomplishment; in November, he won both the World and Reserve World Championships Junior Reining at the AQHA World Championship Show aboard In Like Flinn, owned by Todd Neiberger, and Magnum Starlights owned by Antler Ridge Ranch, respectively.
Throughout, Deary has remained humble and extremely thankful for his life, both the ups and the downs. Despite winning two NRHA Futurities and surpassing $1 million in earnings, he’s often said he doesn’t feel he belongs among the elite riders. But, he believes that it’s all to serve a higher purpose.
“I feel like God put me here to ride these horses and use these opportunities to spread His word,” said Deary, who has spoken before many groups about overcoming adversity and holding tightly to faith throughout.
“God gave Casey these talents,” said Nicole. “And we just ask for wisdom to put it all in the right direction.”
National Reining Horse Association
by Gavin Ehringer
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