This month, the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity starts in Fort Worth, Texas. It is one more very big deal, the pivot point of our world. It is the first time these 3-, coming 4-year-old horses have a hand dropped in real competition, in front of real judges.
In rough numbers, the first go takes six days, with seven sets a day. For each set, we open the gate for 15 horses, about $5 million worth, or whatever an owner wants to say. They are unproven; the potential is unknown. Then add $40,000 worth of cattle. An hour and 15 minutes later, we take the $40,000 worth of cattle out and $500,000 worth of horses walk out. Value has evaporated. For some, it has dropped to 17 cents a pound. Others have soared in value, one or two with the potential of hundreds of thousands, along with fame and glory. It is the biggest dice roll in the cutting horse industry.
Anyone who says they know who will win the Futurity before it starts, or even after the semifinals, is an overconfident, egotistical liar of the first order. Calculated, educated guesses can be made, but it is still a guess. To win this one, uncountable things must go right, starting five years earlier, when two sets of DNA hooked up. Next, 340 days of gestation, followed by around 720 more days until training starts, and about 600 more days ’til the first go. That is 143,424,000 seconds. Anybody who has been around horses knows what can happen to a horse in even one second.
And all before the show even starts. A body cannot calculate what must go right while the other things don’t go wrong in the two and one-half minutes we are allowed. It shouldn’t be that difficult. The horse only has to be good on six cows, outstanding on three and perfect on the last three.
Back to those 600 days – after a saddle is first thrown over one, it will be a rare day when one isn’t. There is a lot to learn, most on purpose, some by happenstance. A horse does not get cow smart not hanging around cows. A horse does not just become an athlete. He must be taught how to stop, turn and travel with a saddle and rider. Doing so at the correct time is helpful, too.
Horses, as a whole, are highly intelligent. Today’s cutting horse is of the Mensa class. Finding the key to that hard drive, that learning department, is what makes winners. It’s about building trust and a bond – having the good hands to send the signal just right and just in time. It cannot be rushed and time cannot be wasted. Every minute under saddle must be a quality minute.
Horses are babies for a long time. They have growth spurts and growing pains. They must get every single thing they need and nothing they don’t – enough feed to build and strengthen muscles and bone, but no excess, useless, joint-stressing fat. They need rest and recuperation. They need lopers, the people who spend more time with them than anyone and who know in a glance if something is off. There is a lot of “Goldilocks” in cutting. To win, everything must be “just right.”
There are colleges that wish they had athletic programs like this. Not every horse that shows up comes from a Taj Mahal outfit, but they don’t need to. Plenty of teams of husband/wife, boy/girl, father/son, or some combination thereof, provide this through long, hard hours and ingenuity. The Futurity has been won more than once by teams like this. The magic is God-given talent and hard work. Many times, the winner was not much noticed or predicted. After all, only about 40 people have won over 52 years.
My own observation, using my ever-so-sharp hindsight, is the winner showed up “different.” There was a certain business-like approach, a special kind of calmness. No emotional highs and lows. There are always riders and programs that have this feel. The finals will have several of these teams. Some, to this day, cannot believe they won. It feels like a dream, which it is.
Being around these people is a privilege. Watching them go about their business is an education in itself. You want to know how to take care of a show horse? You come here. You want to show your kid how others work? Bring them. You want to see what happens when the best horses in the world are turned over to the best trainers in the world and shown in the best place in the world? You come here. This month. Right now.
Cornbread Thinks: It is here that you need to be.
You can reach Cornbread (Jimmy Bankston) at [email protected]