Shawn Flarida prepares to make a second go at The Run for a Million

He’s certainly not the “last cowboy” around, but Clark County resident and professional horseman Shawn Flarida is the most recognized name in the equine profession of reining. And, for the second time, he will make a go at The Run for a Million in August.

Flarida, a National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) hall of famer, and his wife Michele made Clark County their official home in 2001. The couple met while attending Wapakoneta High School where Flarida is also a Hall of Fame inductee – right alongside astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“I could see in him from an early start that he was a very talented (horse trainer) and he needed to go on his own path and direction,” says Michele . “I pushed him … to start his business.”

Following Michele’s advice proved to be a game changer for the Flarida family. With no experience around horses and having grown up mostly in Chicago prior to moving to Wapakoneta, Michele calls herself a “city girl.”

“It was not the future I had planned for myself, but it’s one that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she says.

A pioneer in the sport of reining, Shawn Flarida Reiners, located on Beard Road, now welcomes clients to the area from all corners of the world – many of them flying into Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

Reining is a western riding discipline that has quickly grown in popularity in a relatively short period of time. The riders guide the horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops – maneuvers originating from working ranch horses.

All work is done at the lope, or the gallop. Reining competitions are designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within the confines of a show arena.

Flarida has won more than $6.5 million in the sport of reining, but he says The Run for a Million offers a high level of competition and intensity.

“Any time you have 15 guys, and they can only have one horse each, it’s going to be intense,” says Shawn. “Typically, we can take about three horses (to competitions).”

The Run for a Million boasts the largest purse in the history of reining. Fifteen professional riders will compete for a prize totaling $1 million. In addition, there is a $100,000 Shoot Out, $50,000 Invitational Freestyle, $50,000 Non-Pro Championship and Rookie Championship.

Leading up to The Run for a Million is The Last Cowboy, a Paramount Network reality TV show following the competitors on their quest to make history in The Run for a Million. Flarida was interviewed at previous competitions this year by producers of the show.

Despite the pomp and circumstance that comes with a televised event, Flarida remains humble and stays true to what he values most: his family.

Flarida’s parents, Bill and Betty Flarida, served as Ohio Quarter Horse Association youth advisors and have encouraged him throughout his career. Married for 68 years, they still attend competitions to cheer on “Team Green.”

Shawn and Michele have three children of their own. The youngest, Sam Flarida, will be a senior at Shawnee High School this year and is already taking his father’s reins.

“He’s liked horses since he was really little, and he had an aptitude to communicate with them just a little bit differently,” says Shawn. “He developed into his own routine. Watching him ride and how is brain thinks, it’s not exactly like mine, but he’s very talented. It’s kind of cool.”

Michele says they chose not to approach their children about becoming involved with the horses. They wanted their kids to choose their own path and come to them if it was something they felt interested in.

The Flarida's son Cody is serving as a police officer in northern Ohio, and their daughter Courtney is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati.

Sam, however, is already making a name for himself in the reining industry with numerous notable wins.

“He rides a lot like (Shawn), and they think a lot alike, but Sam is younger and gutty,” says Michele. “He’s willing to try some things that Shawn has already tried, but Sam will push it a bit. He has to find his own way.”

Sam, Katsy Flarida (daughter-in-law of Shawn and Michele), and five additional non-pro riders who train with Shawn have also qualified for an event at The Run for a Million.

“Under Shawn’s guidance, he misses absolutely nothing. It’s like he has eyes all the way around his head,” says Angie Ream, who qualified for the Rookie event at The Run for a Million. “He can be riding his own horse, helping multiple non-pros in the arena, and still pick up on when you’ve had an epiphany moment or when you are struggling with something.”

Ream, a lifetime Clark County resident who previously rode in mostly English style horse competitions, says Shawn can immediately assess when a rider is having trouble with a maneuver and often has a simple solution.

“There’s things I’ve struggled with for weeks, and he could fix it in five minutes. It’s like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” she says. “He is passionate about teaching us how to get inside a horse’s brain and understand why they do what they do. His horses want to do well for him. They will try their hardest for him, and he’s always teaching us how to be better horseman.”

Most importantly, along for the ride to Las Vegas will be “Spooks Gotta Spark,” also known as “Yellowstone.” Shawn had his eye on Yellowstone for quite some time and approached the owner of the buckskin stallion about riding him in The Run For a Million.

“I’ve always thought (Yellowstone) was a great one,” says Shawn. “I always knew he was special.”

At the Cactus Reining Classic in Arizona last March, Shawn and Yellowstone were the first draw in a field of more than 90 competitors. The duo won the competition, securing their place in The Run for a Million.

In announcing the win, Shawn says Yellowstone “has a big heart, a lot of talent.”

The Run for a Million will be hosted at the Southpoint Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, Nevada from Aug. 18-21. The first event was in 2019, in which Flarida finished fourth. The event was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the long hauls and specialized travel needs of the horses – the “athletes” – themselves, the Flaridas will continue to call Clark County home.

“We love Springfield,” says Michele. “We’ve done countless numbers of fieldtrips for preschools, elementary schools, senior citizens, and tons of 4-H stuff here and at the fairgrounds. We are proud of where we are from and proud that reining kind of grew from this place. We think it’s important to keep the heritage going.”
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Read more articles by Darci Jordan.

Lifelong Clark County resident Darci Jordan is a freelance writer and former staff writer/columnist for the Springfield News-Sun. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a bachelor of science degree in Agriculture Communications. She currently also serves as a writer for the Clark State Community College marketing department. She enjoys time with her family, horses and Ohio State football. Go Bucks!