Some comebacks are years in the making. They’re carefully choreographed, plotted and mapped out well in advance.
James Vangilder’s return to cutting wasn’t like that. It was an accident.
The Weatherford, Texas, resident, who on Friday took the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association (PCCHA) Derby Non-Pro with CDs Kual Gun, won more than a million dollars from 2001-08 during first run at the sport. However, he found himself back in the stands after selling all of his bloodstock at a dispersal in 2009 to spend more time with his family.
Although Vangilder wasn’t riding, daughter Grace Vangilder kept the family in the sport — winning the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Amateur Rider of the Year award. However, when Grace got too busy with college to ride and show her horses, Vangilder found himself with a pen of nice show horses that didn’t have anything to do. He also had trainer Matt Gaines on hand to help him get back into the game.
“I had been riding at the barn and I just decided maybe I could go show again. It was never my intention [to return to showing],” said Vangilder, who in 2016 showed for the first time in several years. “I would never have done it had it not been kind of an accident. But because we already had the facility, already had Matt [Gaines], already had the horses and she couldn’t do it, I just stepped in and did.”
On Friday, Vangilder made and won his first non-pro finals since he returned to the sport when he and CDs Kual Gun marked a 224 in the PCCHA Derby Non-Pro. Although the win was exciting, Vangilder was most satisfied that he and the gelding were on the same page and put in a good series of runs. Getting there took time, effort and guidance from his trainer, Gaines.
Vangilder did make the Unlimited Amateur finals with CDs Kual Gun at this year’s National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Super Stakes, but thought he and the horse could do better.
“It’s been a process. We started working on this right after the Super Stakes. I’ve been getting better at the practice pen at home with him but then [when] we got to the show I didn’t really follow through, I guess, and ride him like I was at home,” Vangilder said. “And, here, I finally figured out I’m just gonna have to really ride him and use my feet more aggressively and, when I did, it just all worked.”
Vangilder’s first act in cutting was a doozy. He entered the show ring in 2001, winning more than $1.1 million riding horses owned by his Rock Creek Cutting Horses before taking a break from showing in 2008. He won numerous aged-event titles with a string of horses that included $609,000-earner Quintan Blue and $389,000-earner Pet Squirrel.
Quintan Blue went on to become an Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Producer, as did another Rock Creek stablemate that Vangilder showed, Poosmal.
“I’m still getting back to where I think I was before [the time off],” Vangilder said. “It’s kind of difficult to know where that was, because I’ve aged 10 years since that time. And, at my age now , I just physically can’t do some of the things that I was able to do then, I guess. I don’t ride quite as well, and I’m not my reflexes aren’t quite as quick.
“So, I’m working every day and I’m trying to improve and get as good as I can be and I’m not there yet, but I feel like I still have a ways to go to get where I feel like I’m doing the best I can.”
In addition to Vangilder’s recent success at the PCCHA Derby with CDs Kual Gun, he also won the Unlimited Amateur Championship at this year’s Bonanza Cutting with Royal Red High Brow. He found success at several aged events last year, winning more than $116,000 with a number of top placings.
The win in Las Vegas pushed CDs Kual Gun’s lifetime record to more than $50,000. He is one of six money-earning full siblings out of Kual Gun, a 2003 daughter of Playgun and out of Dual Kual (by Dual Pep). The mare, who earned more than $105,000 in the show pen, has an Equi-Stat produce record of more than $295,000.
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