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The King is Gone – Hagans Sugarman 1997-2024

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Emily Cullins and “Hagan” at age 26 in September 2023.  Photo: AllHoursPhotography

Considered to be Andrea Fappani’s breakthrough horse, Hagans Sugarman was the first horse Fappani won the NHRA futurity with in 2000 in the Intermediate Open Division.  After that, he became an all around show horse, a rodeo queen horse, and above all, a family horse. Thank you to Sarah Mapp Cullins for his tribute.

By Sarah Mapp Cullins

It was a beautiful Saturday in December when I first met him.  It had rained the week before and the ground was wet and puddled in areas, he was standing in the cross ties saddled and ready to go, which made me wonder how much they had ridden him before I got there. His bay coat was slick, his tail braided.  His tail set was a little high and his face a little plain, but you don’t look at their faces while you ride, so I pushed back the small amount of disappointment that crept into my mind.

We headed out to the arena and I watched the trainer ride him.  I don’t remember feeling one way or another about how he went for her.  He seemed quiet and that suited me.  When she was done, I asked a few questions about his buttons and climbed on. At the most I rode him for 10 minutes, but it only took 10 seconds to know that this was my horse.  Walk, jog, lope, lead change, stop it all felt right.  He was an accomplished reiner and reined cow horse, but I didn’t slide him or spin him or chase down a cow.  I rode him over to the cows, he looked and that was about it. I asked little sister if she wanted to ride him, and she somewhat reluctantly took him for a test ride.  She didn’t really like him. She thought that he was too slow, but if I liked him, I should buy him.

To be fair her main mount at this time was a solid broke gymkhana horse that did nothing slowly.   I knew by the way he felt under me that he was the one.  As a child I would color bay horses and in my imagination, I was herding cattle and riding the range.  When I got older it was a bay reining horse that I dreamed of. As an adult that same bay horse filled my head with all sorts of events and cowgirl dreams.  So, when the trainer asked me what I wanted to do with him, I said whatever I felt like.  She didn’t seem to appreciate that and said I should not trail ride him; she didn’t want to be responsible if I fell off and got hurt and I shouldn’t rope on him.  I knew she was wrong and that whatever I asked he would do.

So we left the ranch and talked about him and horses in general on the way home.  That night I talked it over with my husband, then called and made an offer on him.  It was accepted but the next day they changed their minds.   I was pretty broken hearted about that.  I had seen him for less than an hour and I was crushed that I would not be bringing him home.  Fast forward a month and I got a call from the horse trainer asking me if I still wanted him for the original price I had offered.  I said yes and went and picked him up that weekend.

We immediately started going to the local sortings with little sister on her big red horse; until an injury put her horse on the bench, so I let her ride mine for the rest of the season.  She won the series and a buckle.  I took him back for the fall series and did the same, winning my first buckle in over 20 years. The months in between she needed a horse to compete on at the 4H State Classic, so she took him to a show and they qualified to compete for the all around, including hunter under saddle; on a 20 year old horse that had never had an English saddle on before. She would end up winning multiple championship class awards including Reserve Champion Hunter Under Saddle.  This in June and 115-degree weather on a horse that decided it was a good time to grow an Alaskan winter coat. We do not have stall lights and he took full advantage. The team went back to State Classic a total of 3 times.  The last year they won Reserve High Point English, High Point Western, High Point Ranch and Reserve Overall.  We never tried jumping him or she would have had a shot at the Overall.

That first year we had him. little sister started using him for rodeo queen competitions and as a flag horse at the rodeos.  That horse loved rodeos.  He carried the American and California State flags at whatever speed the arena director wanted.  He would then stand quietly in the center for the prayer and the national anthem.  He liked to stand outside the arena with his head up high looking over the fence and watching the bucking stock.  He pushed 100’s of cattle over the years and flew down the track at the Salinas Rodeo. As much as I loved riding him, I loved watching him.

Sarah Cullins and Hagan

Now you may think I lost my horse to the kid, but really, we shared him.  I camped on him, trail rode him, sorted on him, showed him some and although I didn’t rope any cattle, I threw ropes at the dummies in the ranch classes. He swam in the ocean and loved to wade in the pond at our house.  In 2023 he went to several rodeos, many trail rides and a had a bunch of photoshoots.

I did not know when I bought him that he was famous. You should Google him; he’s had a pretty incredible life.   In 2000 he was the NRHA Futurity Intermediate Open Champion and went on to earn over $60,000 in reining and reined cow horse. Little sister is very proud of adding to his LTE with $210 won at the 2018 and 2019 San Bernardino County Fair.

He had an illustrious Amateur and Youth career before I got him at 20 years old, ready to retire.  But as it turns out he was just ready for a career change. Almost every place we went someone knew him from his previous life and would have a story about him. I used to be surprised how anyone could recognize an unassuming bay quarter horse.  After I got to know him, I realized he was unforgettable. A former Miss Rodeo California called him The King of Horses.  She was right and I know that I will never sit on another one like him.  He died yesterday after a brief illness and my heart is once again broken.  I know we were lucky to have known and loved him.

Rest easy my friend; your work here is done.

Hagans Sugarman 1997-2024

Photo credit: Red Ivy Photography

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