Phillip Ralls has four reserve buckles, but at the 2023 World’s Greatest Horseman, he finally took home the coveted Champion title aboard Call Me Mitch.
By Kate Bradley Byars
There are years when the World’s Greatest Horseman event is electric, some years when it is shocking, but on February 18, the event had a heartbeat and it synced up with Phillip Ralls and the roan stallion Call Me Mitch. The pieces came together for Ralls—solid herd work, rein work and steer stopping runs that put him in striking distance of claiming the title that has eluded him four times, when he left the pen with the reserve buckle. However, his fence work draw of 14, of 16 riders, allowed Ralls the chance to make the run that could not be beat. And, he was not.
“He told me this morning that ‘nobody is going to take this from me,’ and they didn’t,” said Ralls’ wife, Teresa. “This is a dream for our family!”
Ralls, who in 2012 hand-selected a 2011 roan Metallic Cat colt out of Miss Hickory Hill (by Docs Hickory) for client Estelle Roitblat to have as a National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity® prospect. The Paso Robles, California, horseman guided “Mitch,” bred by James Eakin, through a career that saw the pair claim top titles like the National Stock Horse Association World’s Richest Horse, the NRCHA Derby Two-Rein Spectacular Champion, the Magnificent 7 Champion, several Open Bridle championships, third at The Run For A Million Cow Horse Challenge and two Reserve Champion finishes in the World’s Greatest Horseman. It’s quite a resume, but it was not complete.
He is a dream horse, according to Ralls, and the 2023 Western Bloodstock / High Brow Cat / Hashtags World’s Greatest Horseman, held at the Kalpowar Quarter Horses Celebration of Champions saw the late Roitblat’s dream come true.
“It started with Estelle Roitblat wanting to buy him and this has been a dream of Estelle and Harry, and it’s been hard to get here, but this is a dream come true, for sure,” Ralls said. “More than anything for me, I felt like if I could put him in a good place and all the pieces came together, he is a horse that deserves this title. But there are a lot of great horses here; everybody here is amazing. I love this event and being able to come here, but [winning] this is pretty magical.”
Two months prior to the event, Mitch was in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the breeding farm in order to ship to clients in Australia. With only two months to prepare the stallion, Ralls said that he was surprised that Mitch felt “stronger, faster and more explosive” than before.
“From the time we started [preparing] this year, it just felt right,” Ralls said. “My whole crew supporting us is amazing and helped us so much; it was absolutely a team effort. I told Teresa, no matter what happens we live by the sword and die by the sword and this horse owes me nothing. Competition is fierce. I know that nobody is going to let me have [the win] so you have to come guns a-blazing every time and show to the best of your ability.”
In the preliminaries, the pair tied for third place in the herd work with a 222.5, bringing them into the Finals where the herd work kicked Saturday off in the John Justin Arena. This time, Ralls marked a 224 to earn the high score, followed by Chris Dawson on Holy Cow Performance Horses’ Reyzinette (Dual Rey x Sheza Shinette x Shining Spark) with a 221. The pair followed that high to the steer stopping to mark a 226, and then a 224.5 in the rein work.
Heading into fence work, Ralls needed to mark a 219 to clinch the win. Instead of safetying up, he and Mitch left it in the Will Rogers Coliseum’s dirt, marking a 227.5 amid a crowd that was on its feet, cheering—and many shed a tear—when the realization that the longtime bridesmaid’s time to take the win had come.
“I was just trying to stay calm, not come with too much adrenaline even though it is the moment I had dreamt about my whole life,” he said. “This is, in my mind, the biggest event there is and I was trying to stay focused. I knew what I needed to do but I also know there is no way to plan a score in the fence work. You have to make sure you’re in the moment, present and putting your horse in the best situation as possible.
“When I got that first turn, I felt good about it. That second turn, the cow popped off at an angle I wanted, and I knew I had to keep horse showing but I knew I had a chance. When I circled that first way and the cow set up and I could switch where I wanted to, I knew we had it. I’ve dreamt about that my whole life.”
Ralls added a World’s Greatest title to the family’s growing pile. His father, Ron Ralls, is a two-time World’s Greatest Horseman Champion and Ron’s wife, Patty Ralls, captured the Art of the Cowgirl World’s Greatest Horsewoman title in 2020.
“I am so proud of him, he’s earned this. There is no question they won, no one gave him this title. They won it,” Ron said.
Along with the bragging rights and the weight lifted from his shoulders when he took that win, Ralls and owners Estelle Roitblat Living Trust took home the $150,000 check with a final composite of 902 (H:224/S:226/R:224.5/C:227), the highest composite score to ever be marked in the World’s Greatest Horseman competition.