Originally from Butte, Montana, and now making his home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, 53-year-old barrel racing futurity trainer Mark Bugni has carved out his place in the barrel industry with methodical training and a no-bones-about-it attitude.
In 2021 and 2022, Bugni and futurity standout gelding JL Roc Lost A Soc (JL Sirocco x Reddy To Reboud x Red) earned more than $400,000 together, picking up futurity wins at the Ruby Buckle, Royal Crown and Greg Olson Futurity.
With a well-traveled equine background and talents including racehorse care, horse shoeing and a little bit of team roping, what’s the backstory on Bugni?
The Full Story:
Who is Mark Bugni?
Born to parents with “regular jobs,” Bugni and his siblings spent their adolescence at the local saddle club in Butte. Bugni recalled being led around on a horse as a toddler and taken into the fold of riders there as he grew up.
In his teenage years, Bugni competed in the local 4-H club, garnering “plenty of trophies and ribbons.”
“From high school, my brother Dan had taken off and tried to be a racehorse jockey,” Bugni said. “He convinced me to come to the racetrack in Miles City, Montana, and cleaned stalled and exercised horses. I never did any jockeying, but I worked for this guy Bob Johnson for about four years. I learned a lot about taking care of horse’s legs and conditioning them.”
From the racetrack, Bugni went back home and broke colts for a living, riding in local gymkhanas and playdays. He team roped a bit too, but found the crowd wasn’t his cup of tea.
“I drifted more into the barrel racing, read some Sharon Camarillo books and did a private clinic with Judy Myllymaki,” Bugni said. “From there I started playing more going around the barrels.”
Not one to leave his livelihood to chance, Bugni worked in the hotel and grocery industries for the next 15 years, picking up an education at the Montana State Horseshoeing school in 2001 in his early 30’s.
He got his big break in the early 2000s when the Hoovestals called him wanted to start taking racehorses and turning them in to barrel horses.
In 2008, Bugni moved from Montana looking for somewhere with friendlier horse training weather and landed in Texas. In 2011, he finally dropped his hotel side gig and began training full time.
Horses that made Mark Bugni
While Bugni has had several influential horses in his career, like JL Roc Lost A Soc, two stand out in his mind as the ones that kicked off his career.
Mircle Money Spender
Mircle Money Spender is a 1998 gelding sired by Blitz Em Brown and out of Bunnys Feature (by Special Feature). Called “Newt” by Bugni, Mircle Money Spender was purchased for him to train by a friend, and the two ended up finding success in the Northern United States.
“He was the first horse that made me think I could do well in the futurity business,” Bugni said. “He was my first taste of the futurity side of the industry. I took him to a few futurities and he was successful and clocked really good against some good rodeo horses at the time.”
MNV Let Me Run
Bugni’s second “horse that made me” was MNV Let Me Run. The 2000 gelding was sired by Pure D Dash and out of Dash Ta Fame mare Jodys Irish Miss.
“The first horse that allowed me to make a transition in my life—moving from North Dakota down to Texas—was MNV Let Me Run, and we called him “Tigger,”” Bugni said. “One summer in Montana, he won me $30,000 just doing local jackpots and NBHA shows. He won me five saddles, lots of buckles, and put enough money in my bank account to where I could move down South. And I did.”
Other horses that brought Bugni from racehorse trainer to full-blown futurity regular was gelding BB French Moon Bug (PC Frenchman x Lindseys Six Moons x Marthas Six Moons).
“He was my kick-off futurity colt down South,” Bugni said. “I just kept stabbing at the futurity thing. In 2012 I had I R A Grand Victory that won two $100,000 slot races for me. She was my icebreaker to win an actual title.”
Following I R A Grand Victory (CEO x Pure Victory Dash x Pure D Dash) was a stint (no pun intended) of Eddie Stinson-sired horses.
“BT Buddy Stinson won one round in the juvenile in December, and then in the spring he won the BBR Futurity, the Old Fort Days Futurity, the Fizzbomb Classic and placed at several others. Won a total of $116,000 with me. He was my most consistent futurity winner up until that point.”
Bugni purchased Dirty Dan Stinson (Eddie Stinson x Miss Lano Jewell x Easy Lano) for his mom, but when they decided the horse was too much for her he sold him to Tillar Murray, who went to the NFR with him the next year.
Bugni began his winning partnership with breeder Jill Lane in 2009, from which some of his top earning horses have come from including JL Roc Lost A Soc.
What’s Bugni’s ideal barrel horse?
Other stallions high on Bugni’s list are JL Sirroco and Jill Lane’s “sleeping giant” stallion JL Reddy To Charm.
“I had that horse’s first colt to hit the arena and his name was JL I Am Reddy and I sold him to Sissy Winn,” Bugni said. “He got hurt and he was out for about a year until they got him sound but she just actually just won her first pro rodeo with him down in Huntsville, Texas. Once people catch on to that stud I think it’s going to go crazy. Those horses have a real natural anchor-dropping inside hind leg, and it really pulls them to a nice tight finish. They rate really square and really balanced, so they’re really natural rodeo horses.”
Bugni’s training style
Marked by a quiet riding style, Bugni prioritizes keeping a smaller training program where he can ride a client horse anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. He does all the cleaning and saddling himself, saying it helps him build trust with his horses and cues him into anything that may be wrong.
As for those who ride after him, Bugni says kids or good riders without a lot of barrel experience excel because they don’t overwork or drill the horse.
“Somebody who is an adult or has tried to train, they want to do way more than my horses need,” Bugni said. “They want to drill on them, they want to bridle them up… but if a kid just gets on there and guides them a little bit, it’s beautiful.”
With the momentum of accomplished horses at his back, Bugni is currently building his training facility in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He plans to have it completed in the fall of 2023 and will begin taking a few more training horses to continue hauling up and down the futurity trail. BRM