Cornbread Thinks: Different We Have to Be

The John Deere Limited Open finals are tonight. I am predicting the Will Rogers Coliseum to be maybe one-third full. This is nothing short of a shame on us. They are the best two sets of cattle to showcase cutting to the public. It has a high entertainment factor. It is the right length of time. It provides a time period to educate. Actually two time slots, the herd settling. We are wasting this.

In the last 10 years or so, I have hosted many guests who had zero cutting exposure. My approach is different (of course). Explaining the industry and time period from 1865 to 1885 is important. Twenty short years. Those years changed the world.

The cutting horse is the tool used to turn 30 million head of wildness into a renewable resource. Fire branding’s earliest known use is 8,000 years ago. The snaffle bit 6,000 years ago. We have been at this a long time.

Explaining the whys of the whats. We do nothing in this business without a reason. A reason that came about from thousands of years of doing. Our rules go back to those wild herds of cattle numbering in the thousands. The herd boss of 1870, whose word was the unquestioned law of the round-ups, is the herd settler of today.

When people understand why something is important then they can do the sums. Why chasing a cow into a herd of 25,000 head of cattle, which could cost a man his life and waste precious time and dollars, becomes a five-point penalty.

We have opportunities to showcase to the public, but we don’t have much of the engaging entertainment we need. We get confused about what is entertaining to people. Especially the people we desperately need to grow our sport. Our emphasis has and still is targeting people who might buy a horse. Consequently, nearly all the income of the National Cutting Horse Association is based on somebody buying a horse. Entry fees, 8 percent weekend show fees, stallion subscriptions, the state money, our sponsors and advertisers are pretty incestuous. They are us. There is a lot of right-pocket-to-left-pocket economics going on.

If we are ever going to attract unrelated and large dollar sponsors, we must have people paying attention to our sport who will never own a horse. How many NASCAR fans will ever, or even want to, own a racecar team? It’s the same with basketball, football, baseball and such. Right off, we have to entertain people with something other than a horse working. The good news is we are already good at that. We are funny, very funny. We get lots of practice sitting around and entertaining each other.

People love how we describe cows, history, stories about people or getting to know the personalities. Personalities are us. People are all different, with likes and dislikes in their interests. Our presentations need to be much broader in subjects. We need to show how we get a pony to the pen. We could spend months on lopers. Not doing all this during the cow change is irresponsible and neglectful.

In the world of electronic marketing, we can reach billions of people for fractions of a cent per 10,000 people. Our problem is only having a horse working to show them. We must grab them by their DNA, their interests, then educate them with entertainment. Grab someone’s attention long enough to get a rope on ’em. We need interesting “stuff.” We got that stuff. I know…I take pictures of it.

Since I walked in the door, I have thought cutting is a spectator sport. Plenty of sports have become things in that time. NASCAR and professional bull riding are two. I often hear, “We need to do something about the cow change; we need a band.” Nope, not even. It is our single biggest asset to building a fan base. A band is the worst thing we could do.

If we are going to spend the majority of our assets on selling horses, then we have to realize our growth is capped and cutting will never be anything but a cyclical business dependent on the U.S. economy. Our percent of growth will remain pretty flat. Or we could start building a real fan base, attract big dollar sponsors and really grow. We have to make this decision.

Cornbread Thinks: We should think hard about this.