The 2024 competition to be crowned World’s Greatest Horseman was full of the best of the best. Among all the talent, Shawn Hays and MoonshineAndTwoAdvil rose to the top.

The National Reined Cow Horse Association Kalpowar Quarter Horses Celebration of Champions may have kicked off on February 11, but for Shawn Hays, the journey to the top started seven years ago when he started working with his horse, MoonshineAndTwoAdvil, as a 3-year-old.

Hays recently joined the NRCHA Million Dollar Rider Club and can now add World’s Greatest Horseman to his list of accomplishments.

The Ray Shell Ranch and Western Bloodstock World’s Greatest Horseman competition began with over 70 entries before narrowing down to the top 16, advancing to the finals on February 24, 2024. Boyd Rice and Saddling At Sunrise started the day of finals with a 222.5 to take the lead in the herd work. Kelby Phillips scored a 226 in the steer stopping aboard Duals Lucky Charm. Time For The Diamond and Nick Dowers lit up the arena with a 227 during the rein work, and Brandon Buttars and Cuttin Wright Up had the highest score in the cow work portion with a 228.5.

Hays and MoonshineAndTwoAdvil ended the day having scored an 885.5 (herd: 221.5; steer stopping: 222.5; rein work: 217; cow work: 224.5). Close behind him in second place was Boyd Rice aboard Saddling At Sunrise with a composite score of 884.

This isn’t Hays’ or MoonshineAndTwoAdvil’s first time attempting the WGH title. The year 2024 marks their fourth time competing. Hays remarked that the steer stopping portion of the event was where they had struggled in the past, and this year, with lots of hard work and roping practices put in, he wasn’t going to let that be what slowed them down.

Hays had to grab his hat during the rein work portion. Photo by Amy Olson

“It finally paid off,” Hays says. “We finally got it. The fourth time was a charm, I guess, instead of the third time. I’ve been second at this deal twice, and it just feels great to finally get over being a bridesmaid.”

He is certainly the bride now and walked away with $150,000 in prize money. The total purse for WGH was $393,000 — the largest payout to date.

Hays wasn’t always standing on the NRCHA winner’s podium. He didn’t get started with cow horses until he was in his 30s. Don Murphy, NRCHA Hall of Fame member, was the person responsible for introducing Hays and his family to the sport.

MoonshineAndTwoAdvil is a 2014 gelding by Metallic Cat and out of Little Short Stuff, owned by Wichita Ranch. According to EquiStat, the gelding has earned $171,470, not including the prize money from winning WGH.

“It should be called World’s Greatest Horse, I think. He just gave his all tonight, and I was really pleased with him.” — Shawn Hays

Hays says that MoonshineAndTwoAdvil excels in the events where a cow is involved. The duo was the first out for the fence work, and following a great run down the fence, Hays’ excitement and joy could not be contained. The crowd in the Will Rogers Coliseum cheered as he lifted his hat in the air.

But with 15 more horse and rider teams to go, also vying for the lead, Hays knew there was nothing more to do. He had put his best foot forward, and all that was left was to wait.

“I just went back to the stalls,” Hays says. “I [thought], ‘Man, I can’t watch. I can’t wish anyone bad luck.’ So, I just sat back there and figured if the Lord wanted me to win, I was going to win it. If not, that’s just the way it was going to be, but I knew I did all that I could do.”

All of their hard work and patience certainly paid off for the pair.

The World’s Greatest Youth Horseman title was captured by Nicole Donahoo aboard Very Smart Pearl.

Very Smart Pearl is a 2015 gelding by Very Smart Remedy out of Black Pearl, owned by Nicole Donahoo and bred by Ward Ranch.

“He has so much heart, and you can always count on him.” — Nicole Donahoo describes her favorite things about Very Smart Pearl.

This duo has been together for three years, with the goal of one day making it to this championship.

Nicole Donahoo and Very Smart Pearl work the cow in the fence finals.

“It feels pretty amazing,” Donahoo says, unable to keep the smile off her face following the awards ceremony. “Ever since I first bought him, this has been my ultimate goal. So, to get it done has been pretty crazy.”

The youth had a tough field of over 40 competitors, and only the top 11 moved to compete in the Fence-Only Finals, held February 24, 2024, in conjunction with the WGH Finals. Donahoo was in the lead in the standings heading into the final event, a lead she was hoping to hold onto.

“He was awesome,” Donahoo says. “We had a pretty tricky cow, and he handled everything. He covered my butt a couple of times, too… He comes out every day and tries so hard.”

Donahoo captured the title with a composite score of 1,074. Close behind in second with a 1,073.5 was Tylie Norcutt riding Soulas Hickory Star.

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