The National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) has selected four members who have made “outstanding and unusual contributions” to the NCHA Members Hall of Fame.
CW “Bubba” Cascio, Frank Merrill, Alice Walton and Bronc Willoughby are the newest members to join the exclusive assembly of the NCHA, each judged to have exemplified the requisite requirements.
As outlined in the NCHA rulebook, an inductee should exhibit moral character, sportsmanship and fairness, and devote time and effort into bettering the NCHA.
With current NCHA membership at nearly 12,000, rising from the crowd to contribute in meaningful ways to the stately association is no simple feat.
The selection process includes a nomination procedure. An “appropriate” number of nomination letters, according to the rulebook, are required for a candidate to be considered by the selection committee.
The four inductees will be honored at the NCHA Hall of Fame Gala during the NCHA Convention, which is still scheduled for May 30 in Fort Worth, Texas. They’ll be honored again at the NCHA Futurity finals in December.
CW “Bubba” Cascio
Horses and CW “Bubba” Cascio are nearly inseparable parts of one whole. The 87-year-old is known for his legacy in the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Racing industry, but Cascio was also on the ground floor of the cutting horse industry.
“I enjoyed the cutting horses and the race horses. I was lucky to be in with the people that I needed to be with in both places,” Cascio said.
Cascio rode his first cutting horse under the guidance of Matlock Rose, He remembers his teacher fondly.
“It was quite an experience, you know. I hauled mostly with Matlock and we went to the biggest shows,” Cascio said. “I tried to walk like him, I tried to talk like him. He was a great influence on my life.”
Cascio has been hailed as an early pioneer of the NCHA, and he won the most “major cuttings” in the shortest period of time, according to Cascio and wife Judy, beating out mentor Rose and Buster Welch. Rose and Welch won 11 stock shows between them, while Cascio recalled winning 15.
Major cuttings were held at stock shows and state fairs in the 1940s through the 1960s. The 1950s were Cascio’s heyday in the cutting pen.
One of Cascio’s most iconic mounts was Royal Jazzy (Royal King x Jazmau x Little Jazz), a mare that had the competition throwing in the towel before the cutting began.
“When he would pull up [to cuttings] with Royal Jazzy, people would say, ‘well, that’s it,’” Judy recounted.
Cascio and Royal Jazzy went on to win six stock shows and rodeos, later making it to the NCHA Top 10 in 1961 and 1962, earning an NCHA silver and bronze award in 1963.
His cutting record stopped after 1969, as Casico pursued Quarter Horse racing, training household names such as Dash For Cash. But Cascio never forgot the cutting people.
“I love the people in the cutting horse [industry]. More of my kind, getting down to [business]. I didn’t like all the politicians in the racing. Cutters were the real-deal people,” Cascio said.
Induction will mark Cascio’s most recent honor. He is already a part of the AQHA Hall of Fame, Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Texas Racing Hall of Fame
Frank Merrill, an active NCHA member, has spent more than five decades in the equine industry.
“I’ve been a member since 1968 and it’s been a large part of my life,” Merrill said, “I’ve been heavily involved not only as a showman but as a breeder and owner. I’ve raised my whole family in this business and my whole family are members of NCHA and participate as trainers and showmen themselves.”
A Freemont, Michigan, native now living in Poolville, Texas, Merrill’s involvement is backed up by his hefty résumé. Past president of the American Quarter Horse Association, NCHA executive committee member, NCHA competition committee chair, NCHA Foundation trustee and Quarter Horse Newscolumnist are just a few of Merrill’s many titles.
“I think some of the most meaningful work that I’ve found doing this is being involved in the resurrection or renaissance of the NCHA Foundation,” Merrill said. “We’ve accomplished a great deal in a very short period of time and our youth scholarship program is in the best posture it’s ever been.”
Merrill has also been on the NCHA’s Hall of Fame selection committee. He recalls always searching for members who have made a sizable impact on the organization. Never once, Merrill said, did it occur to him that hewould be invited into the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always been thinking, ‘who are we missing [in the Hall of Fame]? Is there anyone we’re leaving behind?’” Merrill said. “I had responsibility to make sure that the right people are put in the Members Hall of Fame.
“When Ron Pietrafeso called me and told me, I couldn’t believe it. I was caught totally off guard,” Merrill said. “[My family] eats, breathes and sleeps NCHA and all the good it stands for. All the relationships, all the horses we’ve been fortunate [enough] to own and show. It’s really our lives.”
With a show record nearing half a million in earnings, according to Equi-Stat, and spanning nearly three decades, Merrill certainly knows his way around a cutting pen. According to Merrill, cutting horses are a “common denominator” for his family, and he considers his NCHA peers family, too.
“They’re really like our family. The closest friendships we have … it’s a lot more than competition. It’s so much greater than that in our lives,” Merrill said.
Alice Walton has been an owner and breeder of cutting horses since the age of 13 and enjoyed the cutting pen for 24 years. Walton’s Rocking W Ranch boasts an Equi-Stat Elite total of more than $5 million in the breeding business and more than $3 million on the ownership side of things.
Retiring with an Equi-Stat record of $343,543, it’s fair to say Walton made the most of her time in the show pen, too.
“While I may have hung up my spurs, I’ll always be a cowgirl. This Hall of Fame honor holds a special place in my heart — an honor I am so fortunate to share with my ranch family who grew with me, challenged me and supported me in the cutting horse world since I was 13 years old,” Walton said in a statement.
Walton, who posted her first check to Equi-Stat in 1986, exclusively rode horses owned by her ranch, Walton’s Rocking W Ranch in Millsap, Texas.
Some of her largest victories included a third-place finish in the 1998 NCHA Summer Spectacular Classic Challenge Amateur with Scatter Hickory (High Brow Hickory x Smart Tari Lena x Smart Little Lena) and making the finals at the 2002 NCHA Summer Spectacular Derby Non-Pro with arguably the best-named-horse — Walsmart (Smart Mate x Maba Lena x Doc O’Lena).
Two NCHA Futurity Non-Pro Finals appearances, in 2003 and 2004, marked the beginning of Walton competing less in the show pen, eventually ending her show career in 2010.
In the breeding barn, Walton’s equine maternal line was greatly influenced by the 1980 mare Boon San Sally (Boon Bar x Hula Stopa x Hula San), a producer of more than $1 million in offspring. Walton’s Rockin W Ranch bred Boon San Sally to High Brow Cat and the resulting filly was Boon San Kitty, a mare who in turn produced the 2009 NCHA Futurity Open Champion Rockin W (by Dual Rey).
Walton dispersed the last of her cutting horses and ranch land in 2015, citing the need to focus on other projects.
“The NCHA plays a tremendous role in bringing great horses and people together. The cutting horse community represents the best of how we look after each other, something we need now more than ever,” Walton said.
An active NCHA competitor for nearly four decades, Bronc Willoughby revels in the hard work his career-of-choice entails.
“My dad trained horses and I rode my first cutting horse when I was 4. I’ve been doing it off and on ever since,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby’s love of the cutting horse only grew stronger after going to work for Tom Lyons in 1976. Now an Equi-Stat Elite earner of more than $1 million, Willoughby has been thoroughly involved with the government structure of NCHA, including president in 2008-09.
He has been a director for the NCHA for, “I’m going to guess, 30 years.” He served on the executive committee for six years in the 1990s.
“And I just finished up six more years,” he said.
When pressed on his motivation to stay involved, Willoughby matter-of-factly stated he can’t leave something alone if he thinks it can be improved.
“All I’ve ever wanted for NCHA is for it to be better than I left compared to when I started,” Willoughby said.
That motivation followed Willoughby from the NCHA office to the Will Rogers Coliseum, where he made at least six appearances in the NCHA Super Stakes Derby Open finals, mostly in the mid-1980s and 1990s.
Willoughby also garnered an NCHA Summer Spectacular Derby Open Reserve Championship with Gold Doc Bar (Doc’s Gold Mine x Sweet Flair x Pop Up) in 1984, and a top-10 finish in the NCHA Futurity Open with Little Gunolena (Playgun x Panolas Little Lena x Smart Little Lena) in 2002.
“The NCHA, for me it’s all about family and friends. My job for 40-some-odd years now that I’ve been a professional horse trainer, I guess it’s a job, but it’s not really a job,” Willoughby reflected.
“It’s a lifestyle. If you want something, no matter if that’s to be a futurity finalist or in the top 10 in the world, whatever it might be as a horse trainer, it’s a lot of sweat, lot of work, lot of effort. There’s lots of setbacks, but when you do make it there and things do you right, it’s about as good as it can be.”
Willoughby wanted to thank his wife Patti for her support throughout the years.
“I wouldn’t have made it any place in my career without her.”
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