Buttermilk is always good for a column subject. She thought I should tell you about the work involved at shows – in particular, aged events, and even more specifically, the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity. Given that she is smarter and more observant than me, and the keeper of the TV clicker, I agreed. I could make this the shortest column ever. Easily. It is a lot. But that is too easy, so…here it is.
The people who do this work, this team, the lopers and assistant trainers, are tired when they get there. They have been going to pre-works for a month. Or more. We know this because they bring us 400 dirty wraps before they even go see the stall nazis. They usually don’t need them till daylight either.
Aged-event showing demands every available minute of the 600 or so days before somebody drops their hand in Will Rogers Coliseum. There are no spare minutes.
Not one. Miss 5 percent and the horse is a month behind. I’m not saying this can’t be overcome; it has been. Better to avoid that pressure. But all that was rocking chair stuff compared to these three weeks.
This year, the weather was exceptionally nice; last year it was exceptionally nasty. No matter, it’s just something to be dealt with, then ignored. The intensity is a living thing. See it. Feel it. Touch it. It is an exhausting thing. The first go-round is not to be distracted from. Jokes aren’t funny, and about the only welcome thing is Starbucks. No one is mad at you, they’re just keeping their minds where their hands are.
They can sleep all they want when they are dead. Until then, there are horses to be fed, saddled, loped, worked, unsaddled, washed and ironed, delivered to the various treatment teams, stalls cleaned and then put up. Or the trailer fetched from the day hauler lot, horses loaded then driven home, sometimes in bad traffic, so they can do all of the above there. There’s even more pressure bringing them back in a timely way. Nightmares are made of this. There are pros and cons to both. In the end, I can assure you, no team is more rested than another.
Most teams are working their 2-year-olds, too. So counting heads, there are the trainer’s two show horses, other horses they have trained with catch riders on, the owner’s two show horses and the turnback horse. The sales are the last week, with sale horses needing works, demos, tries, all the regular care, plus the sale ring beauty treatment. Kinda guessing here, but the average is about eight head and several are at 20-plus. One or two will be at 30 head.
By any standard, this is a manure ton of horses. Never, not for one day, will these horses not be gotten out of their stalls and, at the very least, turned out a bit. Most will get loped and worked. Lopers and assistant trainers (even the legged-up ones) will be body sore by the end of the first go. The loping is endless and constant. At this age, the horses are full of themselves. Some require hours, then kept there. It is only over when they go to the herd. The question is not if lopers are made of steel, but of titanium.
There is only one way to be prepared for this effort – you have done it before. It is on- the-job training at its worst and finest. Lists are nice, but they would be encyclopedia- sized to cover what experience has taught. The experienced are smooth and unhurried, knowing exactly what time to do everything, exactly what time to do the next best thing. “We don’t need no stinkin’ watches,” either. The cycling of the back gate is the Big Ben of cutting. Watches lie, “The Gate” never. My favorite analogy of a winning program? A big diesel generator sitting there running. Be the load 10 amps or 10,000, it is there.
These horses are babies. For every one thing that goes right, there are a thousand
to go wrong. The horse must be Goldilocks – loped to perfection, muscle and sinew must be loose and ready. Brains must be loaded with knowledge, but not cluttered with chaos. Only properly prepared horses will make the finals, and even then, not all of them will. No slack allowed. Or expected.
Cornbread Thinks: You have no idea unless you have done it.