Down the Fence

Down the Fence

New film on reined cow horse is set to debut next summer.

Story by Susan Morrison
Photography by Lori Adamski-Peek & Chris Jameson

It’s one of the most challenging and demanding disciplines in the Western horse industry, and hundreds of riders and their 3-year-old horses flock to Reno, Nevada, every fall for its showcase event, the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity.

Down the FenceThe Down the Fence crew includes, from left, front row, Patrick Thompson, Christina Allen, Chris Jameson and Lori Adamski-Peek,; and back row, Fernando Venegas, MJ Isakson and Ben Fonnesbeck.

It requires horses to be shown in herd work, reined work and cow work—three different events rolled into one exciting show. It has kept the vaquero tradition of training—beginning with the snaffle bit and gradually progressing to the bridle—alive.

And now it’s the subject of a feature-length documentary film that is in production.

Down the Fence takes a behind-the-scenes look at the horses and people that make reined cow horse events tick, and the journey to the Snaffle Bit Futurity. Filmmakers spent the past two weeks there, shooting video and conducting interviews that will become part of the movie.

Producer, director and writer MJ Isakson says it was the Snaffle Bit Futurity that piqued her interest and prompted her to start the project.

Down the FenceCalifornia trainer and two-time NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity winner Doug Williamson is among those profiled in the film.

“I went to my first NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity in 2008 and was blown away by the level of horsemanship,” she says. “I knew I wanted to make a documentary, at first because of the amazing horsemanship and the history associated with reined cow horse, and later because of the close community.”

Without a production team in place, Isakson took her own video camera and began interviewing trainers. A few years later, she met commercial photographer Lori Adamski-Peek, who was seeking a partner for a film project, and the two decided on Down the Fence. The film will document the horsemanship traditions, culture and community surrounding cow horses, Isakson says.

“This is our generation’s chapter in the long history of horsemanship, and it’s important that it be honored and documented,” she says.

The crew includes Fernando Venegas, assistant director of photography; Patrick Thompson, production sound mixer; Ben Fonnesbeck, digital media manager and camera operator; Chris Jameson, photographer; Jaclynn Parizek, graphic designer; and cow horse trainer Christina Allen, special events production assistant.

“They are all so talented and dedicated to the project,” Isakson says.

She credits NRCHA Executive Director Jay Winborn and President Todd Crawford with helping provide access at shows, and the cow horse community for its support. Cow horse trainers including Brandon Buttars, Todd Bergen, Erin Taormino, Jake Telford and Doug Williamson are featured in the film.

Down the FenceErin Taormino, who won the Level 1 Limited Open title at this year’s NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity, was interviewed for Down the Fence.

“There is just no way we could make this documentary without the support of the community, and the fact that they’ve offered that so genuinely is just an indescribable feeling,” Isakson says. “We’ve interviewed as many people in the cow horse community as time and resources allowed. We’ve also been following a few trainers more closely as they’ve trained and prepared to compete in the Snaffle Bit Futurity. We picked those trainers because of their different backgrounds and stages in their careers.”

Monetary support has come through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, with a goal of $50,000. After the Snaffle Bit Futurity, donations reached $48,000. The campaign was aided in Reno by several donations, including breedings to Gardiner Quarter Horses’ stallions Hes Wright On and Hickory Holly Time; a Bill Black hackamore; a Randy Paul bit; and a J.W. Brooks hat.

Isakson says she plans to begin editing soon, but also will film at locations in California and Utah. Her goal is to submit Down the Fence to film festivals next summer, and release it to the public in early 2016.

For information and a link to the Kickstarter campaign, visit or check out Down the Fence on Facebook.

*Editor’s Note: Soon after this story was posted, the producers of Down the Fence announced that they had surpassed their $50,000 fundraising goal. Production of the documentary will continue through early next year.

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