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Why Yellowstone's Creator Paid Horse Owners $13k Each

Paramount Network's hit series Yellowstone is many things: an amazingly photographed treat for the eyes, an often tense, well-written drama, and a rare television vehicle for the great Kevin Costner, who stars as John Dutton, the owner of the sprawling Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, a fictional property nestled just north of its namesake geothermally active park. But aside from all of the conflicts between family members and squabbles with slimy land developers and government officials, it's also a fairly accurate portrait of life on a big ranch, and there's a reason for that. The series' co-creator, Taylor Sheridan, is a Texas native, and he actually owns two ranches himself. In a chat with Four Sixes Ranch, Taylor shared that his smaller ranch outside Jacksboro, Texas, is where his cattle operation is headquartered; he lives on his larger ranch in Weatherford, which is home to his horses. "I'm pretty deep into the whole horse deal," Sheridan says — and he's not kidding.

The filmmaker is a longtime member of the American Quarter Horse Association, and along with his wife Nicole, he regularly participates in reining and cutting competitions, which require competitors to demonstrate complete control over their horses (the "reining" part of the equation) and showcase the animals' ability to keep cows separate from the herd (the "cutting" part). Sheridan has featured the sport pretty heavily on Yellowstone, and one of its rising equine stars — National Cutting Horse Association champion Metallic Cat — even appeared as himself in a season 3 episode.

It was at just such an event in October 2020, that every competitor ended up being the recipient of an unexpected payday. Quarter Horse News reports that since the Sheridans were present at the event, someone git the idea to hang a banner promoting Yellowstone — just one of dozens of banners promoting various products and services — across the back gate of the arena during the Open Hackamore finals of the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity. It was a no-brainer bit of tie-in promotion that didn't quite go as planned.

A promotion for Yellowstone went awry during a competition

According to QHN, the yellow and black, glossy banner hadn't been present during previous stages of the competition, and the area in which it was hung was not an ideal one. During the reining competition, horses were required to basically run straight at the banner — which they were seeing for the first time — and come to a "sliding stop" right in front of it. Before too long, it became obvious that the banner was a pretty major distraction, as several of the horses involved in the competition tried to shy away when approaching it — or even turn in the opposite direction, which of course resulted in some pretty big, black check marks on the riders' score cards.

Sheridan quickly realized what was happening, and he personally took to the arena's PA system to address the crowd. "Paramount is not going to be happy with me," he joked. "It's clear the sign has affected the horse show, and we [have] to make it right. All the horses will receive a check for the winning purse." That amount of that purse: $13,244, which was paid to each of the competition's 19 contestants. 

Of course, it stands to reason that some of those contestants probably still weren't too psyched about the competition being screwed up by a sign promoting a TV series, but the cold, hard cash likely helped to ease their pain. On an odd final note, the horse that technically won the event, proving to have the steadiest nerves of the bunch, was named "Jittery." The red roan cruised to victory while its proud papa — none other than Metallic Cat himself, fresh off of filming his Yellowstone appearance — looked on.