In a crowded coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, spectators watch as Brandon Westfall enters a herd of cattle on his homegrown futurity horse, Fiddle and Steel, to compete for the 2020 National Cutting Horse Association’s (NCHA) Non-Pro Futurity Championships, the most prestigious event in the cutting horse world. Brandon portrays confidence and perfection, but very few know the years of preparation that have gone into the making of this run. The sport of cutting is no easy feat and something that many describe as more of an art than a competition. It’s an event that requires horse and rider to become one, preventing a cow from getting back to the herd using only body language to guide the horse. It calls for extreme athletic ability, focus and trust by both horse and rider. A cutting horse needs to have an innate ability to read a cow and anticipate their every move, while a rider needs to remain cool and calm, melting into their horse’s twists and turns. Brandon walks slowly into the herd ready for battle with the best turn-back help a cutter could have. Russ Westfall, Brandon’s father and a $3.5 million NCHA Hall of Fame rider, is on one side helping to keep his son calm by whispering words of encouragement intertwined with a little cowboy-style sarcasm to keep the mood light. All while Morgan Cromer, Brandon’s stand-in big sister who has over $3.9 million in NCHA earnings, sits on the other side helping to flush out the fresh cattle, so Brandon can show the world what Fiddle and Steel is made of. As the starting buzzer sounds, it’s hard not to reflect back to how this journey began over 30 years ago, leading up to this critical two and half minutes in time.
There is a unique sense of home and familiarity when stepping foot on the Westfall Ranch. It’s something special that is hard to put into words. That feeling is the result of two people’s love for each other and their love for horses. In their 24 years of marriage, Russ and Janet Westfall have built a life of which most people could only dream. The couple met in the early 1990s at a horse show not too long after Russ had started training cutting horses. By 1997, the two were married and living on a ranch they purchased in Los Olivos, California. This is where Russ’ business would flourish, and the Westfalls would become the powerhouse couple the cutting horse world has grown to love.
Between the two of them, Russ and Janet have over $4.8 million in NCHA earnings. Along with countless show titles and awards, they have both been inducted into the NCHA’s Hall of Fame. Their office and barn are filled with memorabilia that Janet has collected over the years from all of the different events they have been to and horses they have raised and shown. It’s hard not to stare in awe at all that they have accomplished, especially after watching them together working horses and carrying on like they have done since the very beginning, continuing to relish in the American dream.
PHOTO BY DREW STOECKLEIN
Every parent dreams their child will share their passions. Luckily for the Westfalls, those dreams have come true. Not only has Brandon shared in their love for horses since the day he was born, but he has gone on to be successful at the same cutting horse shows that they once dominated themselves. Russ says, “I’m really proud of him, and I’m glad he loves what I love. It’s pretty awesome to watch him win the Futurity two years in a row on horses we raised and trained that are also out of mares that we trained. He shows phenomenal. He’s very into the important details. He studies it, and it’s awesome to watch.”
Brandon started riding when he was 4 years old, and by the time he was 8 or 9, he was already showing cutting horses and rapidly moving up the ranks. This would be quite impressive for an average kid of Brandon’s age; however, when you are the son of two NCHA Hall of Fame riders, it seems quite natural. Brandon recalls, “My first real cutting horse that I showed was Smartest Peanut Yet; I learned the most from him. He taught me what a good horse felt like, and he taught me to love the sport.” Since then, Brandon hasn’t been short on talented cutting horses to ride, and even though his father claims Brandon doesn’t listen to him for advice in the cutting pen, his son’s successes beg to differ. Brandon’s list of accomplishments is quickly catching up to both his parents’, with close to $780,000 in NCHA earnings, two NCHA Non-Pro Futurity Championships and many other titles and awards that most 21-year-old riders could only dream of winning. These accomplishments weren’t achieved by luck; they took hard work, dedication and mentorship from two of the best teachers in the business — his parents.
From the outside, one would assume that Brandon’s next move as a young rising star would be to start training cutting horses like his father. But the younger Westfall is quick to correct you, stating that “Everyone always asks me that, but I’m actually in the process of getting my real estate license. I don’t want to ride horses for a living. I want to do it for fun.” These are wise words coming from a 21-year-old. Words that make us remember it’s all for the love of the horse, and words that we know his parents will be forever proud.
Brandon Westfall started riding when he was 4 years old, and by the time he was 8 or 9, he was already showing cutting horses and rapidly moving up the ranks. Brandon’s list of accomplishments includes close to $780,000 in NCHA earnings, two NCHA Non-Pro Futurity Championships and many other titles and awards.
2017 Red Roan Stallion
Barn Name: Fiddle; by Metallic Cat and out of the Westfall’s Homebred Mare Lil Bit Reckless by CD Royal
Raised by: the Westfalls and trained by Russ Westfall
Ridden by: Brandon Westfall
Fiddle's Platinum: Platinum Performance® CJ
“(Brandon and Fiddle) have won some big cuttings, but when they won the Futurity last year, that run they had in the finals was good enough to win any cutting anywhere — open, non-pro, no matter what.”
— Russ Westfall, $3.5 million NCHA Hall of Fame Rider
In our modern day and age, it is hard to find traditional families that still do things together, like sitting down to a family dinner or simply watching television together. Most will say they just don’t have the time. That is not the case for the Westfalls. They do many things together, including riding their horses. Russ and Janet rode and showed together when they first started dating in the 90s, and now 30 years later, they ride and show together with Brandon. Brandon explains, “We have about 40 to 45 horses at the ranch right now and out of those, we probably ride about 25 of them every day. The rest are broodmares and babies.” He goes on, “I ride with my parents every day, and if we are getting ready for a show, then we might ride all day every day in the weeks leading up to the show.” This strong family bond is what makes the western way of life so special and is a custom the Westfalls don’t ever take for granted.
Though they are an obviously tight-knit family of three, the Westfalls are also the first to open their doors and treat anyone who lives or works on their ranch like family. One such family member who isn’t a blood relation is Morgan Cromer. Morgan started working for the Westfalls before Brandon was born, riding horses and learning the ways of the cutting horse world. Russ explains, “She was a neighbor kid of a customer of mine. She would come up with them to ride when she was 11 or 12 years old. Then, when she turned 16, she came to work for us in the summers. She worked a couple of summers before she graduated and then the day after she graduated high school, she was at our place.” Morgan worked for the Westfalls for about six years and even though she has now gone on to train horses on her own and compete against the Westfalls in the arena, she is still considered part of the family, and they joke that she is “Brandon’s big sister.” She has been there for Brandon since the beginning, giving him advice and helping him as any big sister would do. Brandon explains, “When she’s there, I feel like I can always go to her. If I’m fighting my head about something or I’m unsure, she’s usually got the answer. It doesn’t matter what it is; it could be how a horse is working or a cow or even life in general. I can go to her and either know what I need to do or feel better about it after talking to her.”
“CD Royal was a really great horse. I’ve had some really great ones, but he was one of our favorite great horses.”
— Russ Westfall, $3.5 million NCHA Hall of Fame Rider
CD Royal is 23 years old, living his best retired life in Granbury, Texas, on the current Westfall Ranch. In his competitive cutting horse career, he won over $201,000 with Russ as his pilot, and his offspring currently have over $3 million in earnings.
The Westfalls claim that they weren’t looking to get into the breeding business, but a game-changing stallion seemed to find them anyway. While Janet was pregnant with Brandon, a client asked Russ to take in a 2-year-old bay stallion and try to sell him. It was a hectic time, as the couple was remodeling their house on the property while living out of the ranch’s office. Hesitantly, Russ agreed to take in the stallion since they needed the extra income with a baby on the way. But after the horse arrived, Russ realized how much he liked the stud. He was very well built, athletic and had the right pedigree to cross on some of the popular cutting horse lines. “I bought him, and Janet thought I had lost my mind,” Russ recalls. “We didn't have a house to live in. We had a microwave, a hot pan and a coffee maker. That was it.” The stallion’s name was CD Royal and with his purchase, Russ made a promise to Janet that the stallion would pay for their ranch renovations. Russ sums it saying, “And he did. A few times over.”
Fast forward to today and CD Royal is 23 years old, living his best retired life in Granbury, Texas, on the current Westfall Ranch. In his competitive cutting horse career, he won over $201,000 with Russ as his pilot, and his offspring currently have over $3 million in earnings. Russ recalls, “CD Royal was a really great horse. I’ve had some really great ones, but he was one of our favorite great horses.” The Westfalls still have multiple offspring by their beloved stallion in their lineup, and they also have a few of his daughters that have already proven themselves in the arena and are now making great broodmares.
One such mare is Lil Bit Reckless. When asked about this homegrown mare by their legendary stallion, Russ says, “She was just a phenomenal athlete, a phenomenal mover. She had a cool way of doing it — big stopper, big low leap across the cow and just smart. When you went to show her, you didn’t feel like there was a cow in the herd you couldn’t hold, and that’s a great feeling as a showman. Sometimes, you feel like certain horses can’t work a fast cow or a bad cow. But with her, it didn’t matter.” Russ trained and rode Reckless, as she was known around the barn, to over $230,000 in lifetime earnings, making her the top-earning mare bred and trained by the Westfalls. Naturally, when she was ready to retire from the arena, she was a great addition to the Westfall’s broodmare band, immediately taking their breeding program to the next level.
Fiddle and Steel isn’t the first winner to be born and raised on the Westfall Ranch. Here is a list of some of the most successful horses raised by the Westfalls from 1997 until now along with their recorded NCHA earnings:
Fiddle and Steel is the second foal out of Lil Bit Reckless, and from day one, the Westfalls knew that he was something special. Fiddle, as he is more affectionately known, is by the legendary sire Metallic Cat, whose offspring have won over $4 million in cutting, reining and reined cow horse events. The Westfalls believed that Reckless would cross well with Metallic Cat, and they especially liked the diversity of talent in his offspring. But even they didn’t realize what a perfect stallion choice they had made. “The first time I saw my dad work Fiddle in the round pen, I knew he was a freak of nature,” Brandon recalls. “He was making these moves that no horse should be making at that young of an age.” From then on, he and Brandon just seemed to connect on a higher level. Russ tells the story, “I trained Fiddle and I always really liked him and got along with him, but he had something special with Brandon that I can’t explain. They just had a connection.”
The beautiful red roan stallion has proven to be the best of both his parents with his innate athletic ability, extraordinary cow sense and tough as nails personality. “Fiddle is just a really fast-footed, cowy, athletic, mature cutting horse,” Russ describes. “Even though he’s only 4 years old, he acts like a seasoned show horse when you get him in the arena. He is just all business, and that’s what makes him special.” All of these qualities make him a good cutting horse, but what makes him stand-out from the rest is his larger than life stop. Russ continues, “His stop is so hard. One of his greatest features. He is so strong. He can get in and out of predicaments just because of his strength.”
The connection between Fiddle and Brandon runs deep as the duo continues to succeed with their confident demeanor and impeccable style. Maybe it’s the fact that both horse and rider come from generations of champions or maybe it’s that they were both trained by Russ. Either way, the pair remains unstoppable. “They have won some big cuttings, but when they won the Futurity last year, that run they had in the finals was good enough what,” Russ proudly states. Together they have already won over $160,000 in their first year of showing and Fiddle was just named the 2021 NCHA Non-Pro Horse of Year. A huge accomplishment measured by a series of cutting horse events across the West Coast and even though the season isn’t fully complete, there is no team even remotely close enough to catch them going into the last events of the season. Brandon humbly adds, “I just want to thank everyone that has helped me get to this point: my parents, Morgan Cromer, Tim Smith, Clint Allen and Boyd Rice. They have helped me the most — whether it’s turning back for me or giving me advice. They are always there for me.”
Knowing that Fiddle is still a stallion himself, the question remains if he will continue on the Westfall’s legacy of champions with babies of his own. When questioned on the subject, Russ answers, “We will see what happens. He and Brandon are still having a lot of fun showing, but we want Fiddle to go out in style and be remembered for how good he is in the arena. For now, we are just enjoying the ride.” The good news is that they still have the option to breed Fiddle if they decide to, and his dam, Lil Bit Reckless, is also still putting amazing babies on the ground. Fiddle has two full siblings in the oven waiting to make their appearance this coming spring. Russ jokes, “Lightning doesn’t always strike in the same spot twice but it’d be awesome if they were similar to him. But you never know.” Contrary to what Russ believes, seeing the Westfalls’ track record, history may just repeat itself in a few short years.
“I'm really proud of him, and I'm glad he loves what I love. It's pretty awesome to watch him win the Futurity two years in a row on horses we raised and trained that are also out of mares that we trained.”
— Russ Westfall, $3.5 million NCHA Hall of Fame Rider says of his son Brandon
Back to that special moment at the 2020 NCHA Non-Pro Futurity Finals. The crowd whoops and hollers for Brandon and Fiddle as they dance across the pen with one cow in front of them waiting for the final buzzer to sound. In this instant, the Westfalls are sitting on top of the world as their life’s work is celebrated right before their eyes. They have spent years training the generations of champions that have put Fiddle in this place to be a star at the biggest annual event in the industry. Their son has worked, learned and rode his entire life to pilot this elite horse in this moment. While the Westfalls have a great deal to be proud of in both their son as well as their homegrown red roan stallion, the best part of this entire story is that it is just the beginning. Russ and Janet have no plans of slowing down any time soon, and Brandon is just getting started. He and Fiddle have already proven themselves in the arena, and there’s no telling what they might do next. Reading between the lines, this likely won’t be the last we see of this legendary team. In the words of Brandon Westfall, “You are only as good as your next big win.”
The Westfall Ranch has been a Platinum Client Since the Very Beginning
The original Westfall Ranch was in the heart of Los Olivos, California, right around the corner from Dr. Doug Herthel’s Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, where Platinum Performance® was first founded and formulated in 1996. Considering the town is so small and news travels fast, it is not surprising that the Westfalls learned about Platinum very early on and have been Platinum clients since the very beginning.
“I don’t really remember when we started feeding it,” Russ recalls. “Our vet and close friend, Dr. Van Snow, recommended it for us; he really believed in the product. From the beginning, the horses just really liked it, and they did really well on it. All of their hair coats were slicker, and I felt like my horses were just healthier overall.”
Twenty-five years later, the Westfalls still keep all of their horses on one of the three foundational formulas. CD Royal, their 23-year-old stallion, has been on the Platinum Performance® Equine since he was 2 years old and all of the horses they are competing on, including Fiddle and Steel, are on Platinum Performance® CJ to support their joints during all those hard stops and fast turns they make as athletic cutting horses.
Because the Westfalls started using Platinum before their son was born, Brandon is one of our unique Platinum clients who has been feeding the products since day one, eating the human granular in his cereal before he can even remember. Brandon concludes, “It’s just always been something we’ve used in our program. It’s always worked, and I really don’t know any other way.”
“From the beginning, the horses just really liked it, and they did really well on it. All of their hair coats were slicker, and I felt like my horses were just healthier overall.”
— Russ Westfall, $3.5 million NCHA Hall of Fame Rider says of using Platinum Performance®
by Lindsey Stornetta,