The headlines from the major National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA)-sanctioned shows across the country contained a myriad of the hottest competitors, but in the Open division, the names of Cool N Hot and Hashtags became synonymous with success.
As the NCHA tallied points throughout the season after each stallion marked high score after high score, it reminded those keeping track of what they already knew — the two horses, a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old, were neck and neck for Open Horse of The Year honors.
“It’s quite an honor,” Kobie Wood said. “We had no plans to pursue this at the beginning of the year. Usually, this happens to a guy with eight to 10 horses, not one!”
Wood and Paula shared the stallion throughout the year, topping the Open and the Non-Pro division time and time again.
“He’s told me that he was a good horse all the time,” said Wood, who after watching Paula succeed with Cool N Hot after very little time together realized their flashy stallion was the “real deal.” “Every show got better and better, and it was one of those things where everything came together. We had the right bunch of cows, had the right help, had the right people loping my horse and had the right boys sitting with me when we were watching cows.”
With a successful show season to reminisce about, despite some harrowing health concerns, it wasn’t hard for Wood to find a few favored moments from the show pen, as well.
“I think the big highlight was at the Bonanza Cutting. I won it [with Cool N Hot], and then Paula turned around and won on him, back-to-back, within three days of each other.”
The next stop was the NCHA Super Stakes, which Wood called one of the biggest moments of the year. It was there that Wood and his stallion marked a 227 — the highest score he’d ever marked in the Will Rogers Coliseum on a 4-year-old — to claim the Open Championship.
Shortly afterward, a health scare put Wood in the hospital. Getting over that hurdle was the best part of 2018 for Wood, an Equi-Stat Elite $5 Million Rider.
“Well, I pulled through my heart surgery. That was the highlight,” he said with a laugh.
While Wood was out of commission due to surgery, Sean Flynn catch-rode for his fellow trainer, maintaining the horse’s momentum in the pen.
“I’ve always liked Sean’s horses. He’s never catch-rode for me before, but I was never in this position,” explained Wood, who approached Flynn about taking over Cool N Hot’s reins in Abilene. Flynn offered to ride the horse for free, an offer Wood wouldn’t accept.
Flynn first partnered with the stallion before Wood’s heart attack in the Derby Open finals at the Cotton Stakes in West Monroe, Louisiana. After Wood went into the hospital, Flynn continued on to the Breeder’s Invitational, where the duo claimed the Derby Open Reserve Championship.
“I just knew it fit, and he didn’t try to change my horse,” Wood said Flynn, who has amassed nearly $3 million in earnings. “He just tried to find out what made my horse tick. We had a good deal, and he did quite well.”
When the doctor gave Wood the OK to climb back in the saddle, he admitted to feeling some apprehension about “jerking something loose in there,” which he handled by “not pushing it too hard.” His easy approach led to another victory when Wood returned to the show pen at the Brazos Bash, and tied with Beau Galyean and Rollz Royce for the 4-Year-Old Open Championship.
“After that, me and my wife started talking and I told her, ‘If I don’t try to go do it, I won’t know.’ And we tried, and we did it,” he said of chasing the Open Horse of the Year award.
Wood, who 22 years ago rode Meradas Little Sue (Freckles Merada x Docs Hickory Sue x Doc’s Hickory) to the 1996 Open Horse of Year title, had no doubts as to what Cool N Hot was capable of in the arena.
“I thought he was a contender for any cutting in the world if everything fell right. Here’s the real stuff on it — you go down there to the Futurity, and you’ve got to face 600 horses. First thing I look at is if he can be one horse out of 240 to make the second go. I said, yeah, he can do that,” Wood explained. “[Then], can he be in the top 20 of those 140 horses? And I said, yeah, he can do that. Well, can he be in the top 20 in the finals? And I said yeah, he can be a top 20 horse, and then you’ve got to beat 20 horses after that, so you’ve got to step it up.”
According to Wood, Cool N Hot is a talented individual and a very strong competitor.
“I think people got behind him and really liked him, and I think we showed him a little above,” Wood explained of the stallion, who has amassed $281,179 in lifetime earnings. “His power, his style and his grace are what set him apart. He didn’t work for just me; he worked for Paula, for Flynn, for everyone I put on him, which shows me he’s a real versatile horse.”
Cool N Hot raised the bar in the show pen, dueling it out against tough cattle with a “sense of style” that emphasized his strength, reach and stop as a cutter. While the stallion has a “big heart,” according to Wood, he’s ornery on the ground and the kind of horse who takes quite a bit of riding before a show.
Paula takes her time loping him, bringing him down nice and slow. Wood, on the other hand, has a tried-and-true system — 10 circles one way and 10 circles the other before getting to work.
“I just go play with him at home. He’s already trained, so I put him in a bind and just show him how to get out of it,” Wood explained of the stallion’s upkeep regimen.
Cool N Hot receiving the 2018 NCHA Open Horse of Year award held special meaning for Wood since it was the first Open Horse of the Year title he won on one of his own horses. But while the couple’s names are on the award this year, Wood emphasized that there were a lot of people who contributed to making the honor a reality, especially Flynn, John Wold, Clay Johnson, Casey Green and Lloyd Cox.
“And thanks to my wife, Paula, and John and Armando Guevara for helping me get it accomplished, and Dr. Ricky for keeping him healthy,” Wood added.
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