Meet the Candidates

Election Day is fast approaching! Learn more about the National Cutting Horse Association’s (NCHA) chosen candidates for vice president this year, as well as their opinions on important issues affecting cutting today.

The NCHA has selected Ora Diehl, of Ruskin, Florida, and Kirby Smith, of Grand Island, Nebraska, as the NCHA vice presidential candidates for the 2019-2020 term. Quarter Horse News (QHN) asked them what you want to know, and here’s what they said.

QHN: How did you first become involved with cutting horses, and why do you choose to stay involved in the sport?

Ora Diehl: We visited a county fair in Tampa, Florida, where the Gold Coast Cutting Horse Association was producing a cutting in the livestock pavilion. This was an association that was a grassroots group that specialized in family, fun and the love of the cutting horse. After watching in the grandstands, it was clear we had no clue as to why or what was going on.

We reached out to someone in the stands who was making these crazy hooting/yipping sounds at different times to explain to us what was taking place. We became addicted to this game and the family atmosphere we encountered. Growing in knowledge and passion has kept our family firmly planted in the cutting horse family and world. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to not be involved in the sport. I choose to stay.

Kirby Smith: We purchased our first cutting horse in 2000; we purchased a 15-year-old gelding for my son to start following roping steers. When we got the papers, he was a son of Doc’s Hickory, and we looked up his earnings and found out that he had won $15,000 and was a cutting horse.

After chasing a few steers, we went to town and bought the Western Horseman book on cutting and a few months later, I entered the 2000 NCHA Days cutting in the Rookie class and participated in my first cutting. Since then, we have driven a million miles and have had some of the greatest experiences and met some of the greatest people in my lifetime.

QHN: What is your professional/business background, and how has it prepared you to perform the duties of the NCHA vice president?

Diehl: My banking career has honed my skills in documenting and procedural fact-finding. My love for numbers helps with my accounting discipline. Balancing books — yours, mine, it makes no difference — you have one goal in mind, and that is to BALANCE.

After I was married and stepped into the role of chief “fix it, no matter what it takes,” it became clear my years of banking and balancing were a tremendous gift. Auditing books, recognizing fraud, understanding protocol, implementing and staying on budget, and pushing for performance in the workplace has become a daily routine.

Running multiple businesses has taught me to listen first, then react. Knee-jerk reactions usually have haunting results. Vetting, proving and fact-finding has been a strong point in my decision-making.

Smith: I am a feedlot nutritionist working with major cattle feeding organizations. In my business, we are asked to evaluate and implement programs and constantly challenge for better outcomes. My strength is working with people to develop solutions.

“Do what’s right!” This is the mission statement of the group I work with, and it has served us all well. I believe the NCHA is a service business, with its customers being the membership. I believe that we need to provide our members with a positive cutter-friendly experience so they can enjoy the cutting horse.

QHN: Why are you running for vice president and why should NCHA members elect you?

Diehl: I am seeking the office to simply give back. My goal is to LISTEN to our membership’s opinions/concerns. The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply. By encouraging communication and allowing members to experience owning solutions/ideas ultimately brings value to our association.

We need to engage the membership to participate, and produce facts on new ground and old ground. Once fully vetted, we must communicate the findings to restore integrity and ignite pride for our cutting horse. Being raised by a family that believed and taught that your word is your bond is what I have to give to each member.

Smith: I’m running for the future of our sport for my children and grandchildren. Four years ago, when my first grandchild was born, my daughter in-law told me how excited she was for my grandson to have the same experiences as my son and she had as youth cutters. I told her I was concerned how NCHA cutting would look 10 years down the road.

I hope I can help the NCHA so it is a fun, family sport like my children had the opportunity to participate in. I am an NCHA member that believes we — the members — can make a difference. I would like to help to strengthen the NCHA and support the NCHA for future generations.

QHN: How would you like to see the NCHA’s newly hired executive director work with the Executive Committee (EC) to improve the association?

Diehl: Running a tight ship and knowing your circle. Make sure everybody in your boat is rowing and not drilling holes when you’re not looking. The EC has made an excellent choice in their hiring, now its time for ALL of our association to roll up our sleeves and participate as a TEAM.

Smith: The future of the National Cutting Horse Association is bright. The EC has put together a great new team — Kirk Slaughter, executive director; Shianne Megel, director of show management; and Todd Barden, director of marketing. This team will bring new and exciting leadership and ideas to the NCHA. I believe this group of people along with the elected officials and directors of the NCHA are on the threshold of propelling the NCHA to GREAT things.

QHN: The new leveling system discussed at the 2018 NCHA Convention and trialed at shows like the Cotton Stakes and The Ike Derby & Classic is attracting a lot of attention. What is your opinion of the proposed system and how would you like to see the NCHA proceed with it?

Diehl: The NCHA is one of the last associations to adopt a leveling system. Barrel racing, the AQHA [American Quarter Horse Association], NRCHA [National Reined Cow Horse Association] and team roping all have flourished since adopting some kind of leveling system.

The facts tell me that our current system is failing to gain new players in our sport, or even maintain our numbers. The proof tells me that the two limited-age shows that leveled entries were up. I truly feel that we must start somewhere.

As other associations started their process of change to leveling, changes were made as vetting took place. As to how would I like to see the NCHA proceed with the leveling proposal, I personally think that the general membership should have a historical vote on this change. We, the NCHA membership, must agree to change our system as a whole.

Smith: I believe there is a great direction for the NCHA in the class leveling structure for aged events giving more people a place to show their horses, as our mission statement suggests, with their peers. When all the details are worked out, this will be a positive step for NCHA-produced events.

If all objections have to be met before an idea can move forward then that idea is dead in the water. Let’s look at these changes and make positive suggestions to make them successful and strengthen our sport.

QHN: Building membership and increasing participation within the NCHA are important topics on the association’s agenda. What ideas do you have to address this issue?

Diehl: I am passionate to bring back members that have removed their presence. I have learned through the “NCHA Past Memories” Facebook page that members love reminiscing. The past, today and future are a theme I would like to use in a challenge to our affiliates. Groups that consist of a past member, a present member and a future member can register to be tracked for an affiliate of the year award. History restored, present acknowledged and future mentored.

Smith: I am a weekend cutter that believes this is still the backbone of our sport. I think we can streamline the process of producing shows across the nation to meet the needs of our members.

QHN: What is one innovative idea you would bring to the NCHA if elected?

Diehl: I have already heard new, cutting-edge, ingenious, leading-edge ideas that are on the minds of our members. In just the short time of putting my name in the hat for vice president, many members have reached out to express their ideas/solutions.

I have no doubt that as long as I remain approachable and listen, and bring members’ ideas to the table, it will help start the engine to ignite and restore our real passion — the cutting horse. If elected, I will bring members’ ideas/solutions to the boardroom table as they are told to me for the EC to consider.

Smith: I think we need to look hard at other cutting organizations and see what they are doing to meet the needs of their members, and that we need to strive to make it easier to produce shows and to relax the guidelines so that each area or affiliate can produce shows that work for them. By reducing the regulations, we will encourage more shows and get more people involved.

QHN: Do you believe the NCHA does an adequate job of addressing the needs of its membership overall, or do you feel the organization makes decisions that favor special interest groups (ex: aged event competitors, non-pros, professionals, etc.)? If you feel a problem exists, how would you address it?

Diehl: In my opinion, if the NCHA was doing an adequate job of addressing the needs of its membership, our decline in membership and show entries would not be at the forefront. As an officer, I feel that identifying the needs of members, prioritizing them and designing an action plan to accomplish them is priority.

Smith: No, I do not believe that all the members’ needs are always being addressed.  There is never an answer that will satisfy all. The best solution is to listen to all concerns and make a decision based on the good of all.

QHN: The NCHA continues to struggle with members’ perceptions. What ideas do you have to give the association’s members more peace of mind?

Diehl: So many members think that the association is “run by a select few, for a select few.” This perception needs to be changed. How can this happen? By communication to the membership on a regular basis with transparency of the actions of the association. We must gain the trust of the membership again and show them that we are looking out for the best interest of the association as a whole and not just a select few.

For years, I have been told that THEY don’t care. So, I asked myself, “Who is THEY?”  THEY refers to the powers that be. You know … the folks at “Old Bailey,” the staff, the EC, the officers.

Yes, yes, yes, we have had folks that have been paid and volunteered their services to do a duty of serving the membership that was inadequate. Yes, we have pushed for change and eventually see it later than sooner. Strong leadership has been on the burner, but at a simmering setting.

We, the NCHA members, elect the “THEY.” THE NCHA IS YOU! My BEST idea for our members is to get involved in any capacity you can volunteer your time. I put my hands to work and asked to volunteer; THEY allowed me to help. I invite you, tell you, that our membership is such a diverse group. WE, the NCHA, can move our association into the future with endless possibilities.

Smith: Yes, we struggle with a negative perception at times. The solution is we have a NEW executive director, a NEW director of shows and a NEW director of marketing. Let’s get behind these leaders and support them and help them strengthen this organization.

QHN: Do you feel the NCHA does an adequate job of disseminating information to its members and media outlets in a professional and timely manner? If you feel a problem exists, how would you address it?

Diehl: As I see it, we are in an instant information society. Publishing articles of the Futurity winner 24 hours after history has been made is not acceptable. Performing interviews and turning the story around in an hour is instant information that our society is demanding.

We need to do a better job being in the public’s eye, and maybe embrace outside media outlets and invite them to cover our events. Having a press area so that interviews can be performed and used to promote our sport is just one idea.

Smith: Rumors run wild and information is, at times, spotty. The solution to this issue is we have a NEW executive director, a NEW director of shows and a NEW director of marketing. Let’s get behind these leaders and support them and help them strengthen this organization.

QHN: What have been the most positive rule changes you feel the association has made in the past few years, and why?

Diehl: The expense of owning and showing a cutting horse is LARGE. For the masses, I believe the family rule has been a step in the right direction for our association to deflect some of the expensive costs that owning/showing a cutting horse can have on our members. The drug enforcement rules pertaining to our horses have been monumental, as well.

Smith: There have been many rules put in place with the hope of increasing participation (family horse rule). We must always evaluate and respond to change, and keep the best interest of the whole NCHA in mind with any rule change.

QHN: Are there any rules you would like to see addressed in the future?

Diehl: Weekend showing should be held on Saturday and Sunday. Limited-age classes should be held prior to Saturday or only held after a full slate of weekend classes finish on Sunday. This gives the weekend cutter a timeframe to be ready to show.

Weekend means weekend! Also, late fees and penalties to enter the major Triple Crown events are too expensive, and therefore restrictive on show entry growth.

Smith: In my opinion, there are too many rules, too many exceptions. Relaxing regulation and increasing the opportunity for each area or producer to tailor shows to meet their customers’ needs will increase participation.

Diehl, 59, was horseback before she was a teenager and, after a hiatus, was reunited with horses in 1991. She started cutting 25 years ago and has become a successful owner, breeder and rider ($436,185), with 2005 stallion Dealnwithacoolcat topping her list of proudest achievements in the industry. The Lonnie and Barbara Allsup-bred horse garnered $49,873 with Diehl and her son, Curry, who trains for Dunn Diehl Farms. With her husband, Frank, she boasts an Equi-Stat owner record of $1.7 million and $670,000-plus as a breeder.

Outside of cutting, Diehl worked 15 years in the banking industry before spending 27 years farming, ranching, running a tomato packing facility and developing Synbiont Global with Frank. She also enjoys crafts, reading and traveling in her spare time. She and her husband share a blended family, including sons Dean, Doug, Curry and J. Cody, along with three daughters-in-law, 10 grandchildren, one great-grandson and “Memaw,” who is 93.

Smith, 58, was raised by a ranching family in southwest Missouri among racing Quarter Horses. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri before moving on to the University of Nebraska to attain his master’s in nutrition. He has spent the last 35 years in Nebraska and raised two sons — Grant and Sid — with his wife, Kim.

Along with serving as a director for Region 3 for nine years and as vice president of the Cutting Horse Association of Nebraska, Smith sits on the NCHA’s Competition and Non-Pro committees. He also served two terms on the Amateur Committee. As a competitor, Smith said his most memorable cutting achievements include finishing in the top 10 of the $2,000 Limit Rider standings and winning the $20,000 Non-Pro at the NCHA Western Nationals. His lifetime earnings, according to Equi-Stat, total $58,108.

Smith shares cutting and raising horses with his family. And with two partners as Platte Valley Cutters LLC, he produces three weekend shows each year in Kearney, Nebraska. He also enjoys upland game hunting, barbecues and spending time with his children and grandchildren.

Ballots with background information on the candidates were reportedly sent by third-party election provider Simply Voting via email and mailed to all current NCHA members in early April. Members were given the option to either vote online or by written ballot. Voting was set to close at 11:59 p.m. on May 10 — a full 12 days earlier than last year’s election. All ballots, whether electronic or paper, must be returned by the deadline.

President-elect Ron Pietrafeso, of Elbert, Colorado, will assume the responsibility of his presidency during the NCHA Convention, scheduled for May 31-June 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. Current Vice President Steve Norris will become president-elect at that time, while the winner of the vice presidential election will take on his or her new role.