Cutter at Challenger Series event in Fulton, New York. -- Photo by Hill Top Photography.

Gamble Pays off for Intrepid New York State Cutters

An enthusiastic group of cutters in the Northeast did what some thought was impossible earlier this month when they brought a National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA)-sanctioned event back to New York State.

The Challenger Series event, held July 8-9 at Carousel Farm in Fulton, New York, was the first held in the Empire State in roughly a decade. Sixty-three entries, including many newcomers, participated in the event, delighting show producer Amber Roberts.

“I’m just excited about it, because it was like the ‘Field of Dreams,’” she said, referencing the 1989 baseball-themed hit movie. “If you build it, they will come.”

Roberts put on the event through her Upstate Cow Productions with the help of the newly formed Rubbin Nickels Cutters and Cow Horse Club.

“I just wanted to take that effort and see where we’re at here in the Northeast,” Roberts said.

She knew they wouldn’t have the entries to support a regular NCHA-sanctioned show, but thought the more flexible format of the association’s new Challenger Series might work for the New York market.

Introduced last year, the Challenger Series drops many restrictions traditionally required of NCHA show producers. It allows them to offer any combination of NCHA-approved classes in any order, and they don’t need to use NCHA-certified judges, videographers or secretaries.

“We barely had an Open class. Our Open paid a spot and our Non-Pro paid a spot on both days. Our NCHA $2,000 Limit Rider paid three spots both days,” Roberts explained. “I mean, that’s what we have up here.”

In addition, Challenger Series events can have entry fees lower than the cattle charges. Any class can be jackpot-only, or offer $1-$199 in added money. The approval fee is $200 for an added-money event and $100 for one without.

NCHA Executive Director Chuck Smith said the Challenger Series is designed to be a less expensive and less intimidating way for people to get involved in the sport.

“The hunger to cut is everywhere,” he said. “[Producers] just need the format, the recognition program and the economic structure to be able to put them on.”

Smith said the NCHA plans to release the Challenger Series top 15 standings, which are separate from the top 15 NCHA World Standings, for each of the association’s regions in the near future. It also plans to give out year-end awards.

“We want the public to know that NCHA is very interested in making our association available to members everywhere and that we are continually searching for better ways for beginners to start and be a welcome part of us,” Smith said.

Through the Challenger Series format, Roberts charged $35-$110 for the Fulton show and broke even. Given the market and the competition from local team sorting competitions, it was important to keep the entry fees low, Roberts said.

“We’re trying to make the entry fees reasonable, because the sorting is so cheap here and they can win money doing the sorting,” she said. “So, if we tried to price ourselves with what’s in Texas or Oklahoma, or even in Missouri or Kentucky, the majority of the individuals aren’t going to come try this.”

The biggest class, the $2,000 Limit Rider, was won by Ray Dart, of Smethport, Pennsylvania. His daughter-in-law, Katie Dart, shared the Non-Pro Co-Championship with Tammy Schmidt. Katie Dart’s daughter, Lanie Dart, 6, won the walk-trot class.

“We’ve been going to different cutting events in West Virginia, Ohio, a couple of them in Pennsylvania. So, when we were looking for a show to go to, we saw one in New York State pop up on the NCHA website for the weekend events,” said Katie Dart, a second-grade teacher. “That was a lot closer to home for us, so we just hitched up and went.”

The Fulton show was about three and a half hours away from the Darts’ home in northwestern Pennsylvania. Typically they have to drive at least eight hours to reach the nearest cuttings.

“It’s a pretty cool prospect for us if they’re going to start having some shows a little more north, or a little closer to us,” Dart said. “We could go to more shows, or it makes it possible for us to go to more shows.”

To sweeten the pot, the Fulton show gave out an NCHA trophy for the $2,000 Limit Rider. Champions received bottles of spirits donated by Clayton Distillery, a local micro-distillery.

“I felt like if they came and they felt appreciated and they had fun, they would come again,” Roberts said.

Other sponsors included Cannon Quarter Horses, Cutter Classic and the stallion Reydioactive.

NCHA Hall of Famer Joel Cohen volunteered for herd help and turnback duty and the show judge, Toddy Pitard, stayed after the show to watch videos of the runs with competitors and give them advice on how to improve their scores.

“There were a lot of 60s, but at least they got to go home understanding why they got a 60 and what they could do so they could score better,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who plans to host another Challenger Series event Sept. 30-Oct. 1, was thrilled with the success of the July show. It not only brought cutting back for the enthusiasts who missed it, but introduced newcomers to the sport, she said.

“We probably at one point on Saturday had more people come out to watch their friends give it a try and cheer their friends on then there were cows,” she said, laughing. “It was fun.”