Each spring, breeders around the country anxiously await the arrivals of their foals. It’s already started the southern states, with some lucky owners proudly posting pictures of newborn foals taking their first wobbly steps.
Most mares have a few more months to go up north, where winter hasn’t yet released its grip. A few weeks ago, much of the northern United States was below zero and, although things are starting to thaw in many areas now, in the northernmost states there’s always a threat of temperatures crashing again as late as March. That’s why many in the region, including cutting horse breeder Cary Aasness, foal their mares in April or May.
A world champion auctioneer, Aasness grew up and still lives in Northwest Minnesota. Even though his hometown, Dalton, is more than 1,000 miles north of Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, Aasness loves the cutting horse and aims to breed good ones.
As he tends to his mares this year, he can’t help but think back to the foal born on his property that took his family to the epicenter of the cutting horse world: the 2023 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Open finals.
The colt’s name was Shimmy Shake, and two months ago the homebred horse took the Aasness family on the adventure of a lifetime — and proved to breeders everywhere that broodmares don’t know their zip codes and a good horse can come from anywhere.
All you need is a dedicated student of the game, quality horses and a dream.
“As a man of faith and I give the glory to God, because he had this thing planned a long time ago,” Aasness said. “And, I consider it a blessing and a gift.”
Shimmy Shake, who Aasness calls “Shimmy,” got his name when he was about a week old. The son of EquiStat Elite $7 Million Sire Stevie Rey Von and out of Sugar Chex Dually was unusually nimble and athletic.
“I looked at him and he danced around the mare a little bit, and he come back and looked at me and then he kind of got down on all fours and set his hindquarters back and moved his front end — and he shimmied and shaked,” said Aasness, who’d never had a foal move quite like that.
Aasness grew up around livestock. His father had a dairy farm, but his grandfather, Raymond Umlauf, who introduced him to horses. He’d go to his grandfather’s farm as a boy, thinking one day he’d like to have nice horses like him. He tried to get his father into horses, and when that didn’t work, he bought his own horse after he graduated high school.
“I would sit there in the stalls as a young boy and just watch those horses, just dreaming someday that maybe I’d have one like grandpa. And he taught me all about the horses and how to handle them, being around them and all that type of stuff when I was young,” he said. “Of course, I fell in love with it.”
He first got into show horses through his membership in the American Quarter Horse Association, showing team penning. Though he enjoyed team penning, his job — he’s a world champion auctioneer and has an auctioneering and real estate company, United Country Real Estate — kept him so busy he wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to it as he would have liked in order to be as competitive as he wanted.
Cutting proved to be a good outlet. It had the thrill of horses working cattle and was exciting an exciting sport. Although Aasness has competed in cutting, he was able to funnel his competitive energy into owning cutting horses. But, he didn’t want to buy a good cutting horse, Aasness wanted to raise one.
“Not go out and buy that horse, but this to say, ‘Hey, can I raise that product, and really can go out and compete against all those other big ones?’.”
Quality Over Quantity
Early on, Aasness was urged to keep a small number of good mares. Don’t go for numbers, he was told, go for quality. He has tried to do that, which is why he bought daughters of EquiStat $1 Million Dam Bueno Chex Dually (by Dual Pep) for his broodmare band. He bought Shimmy Shake’s mother, Sugar Chex Dually, as a yearling in 2005. The mare by Smart Sugar Badger won $90,836 in the cutting pen and, including Shimmy Shake, has foaled five money-winning performers in the EquiStat database. All bred by Aasness, they have so far banked a cumulative $48,903 and counting.
While Sugar Chex Dually unfortunately passed away in 2023, Aasness still has her maternal half-sister, TR Dualin Chex (TR Dual Rey x Bueno Chex Dually).
“When we started doing this, we knew we had a couple of really good mares. Sugar Chex [Dually} was really a good mare. When she was good, she was good and really dynamic. She just wasn’t consistent,” Aasness explained. “Well, when this little baby [Shimmy Shake] came along, and I started working with it up until its 2-year-old year, I recognized how easy this horse was to work with, and how talented and how quick it would grab things and how athletic it was.”
At 2, Shimmy Shake was sent to Blake Perry to begin his formal training, and was later transferred to Cass Tatum to prepare for the NCHA Futurity. They’d taken other homebred horses to the event before, including other foals out of Sugar Chex Dually. However, none of them were as successful as Shimmy Shake would end up being. It’s a testament to the difficulty of the challenge, Aasness said.
“You not only need a good horse and a good trainer — you need those two components, number one — but, then you got to prove that horse is trained and then you got to have the cows be just right,” Aasness said. “You’ve got to have that timing be just right and then you got to have everything fall together.
“There there’s some luck in it, too, because, man, you look on down the board and those horses get stronger and tougher.”
Even as a youngster, Sugar Chex Dually’s Stevie Rey Von son, Shimmy, seemed to have that something extra.
“A horse [can have] a natural ability to draw you as a judge and draw you with that charisma and draw that cow and have a cool look with all the talent and ability they have all combined together,” Aasness said. “He just had that. I mean, he’s pretty, but then he had that natural charisma.”
Shimmy’s training progressed and he was entered in the NCHA Futurity. Although the family considered going down to Fort Worth for the first round, Aasness made a conscious decision to stay home. He, his son and grandson were unloading hay when Tatum and Shimmy walked to the herd for the first time, and didn’t know how they fared until his wife, Anita, walked outside to tell them.
“We were about halfway done unloading — unloading some square bales as a matter of fact,” he said. “And, she said, ‘A 220.’”
It took a minute to sink in. Then, a solid score in the second round meant they were going to the semifinals.
“It’s such a blessing to make the semis, too,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement around there when you can make the semis.”
Aasness and Anita went to Fort Worth to watch Shimmy mark a 219 in the semifinals. It was a long wait until the end of the semifinals, but when the dust cleared the score was enough to make the cut to head to the NCHA Futurity Open finals.
“You appreciate the horse and you appreciate the good run and appreciate what’s taking place. And, you understand that the blessings that are there when the magic does happen, so to speak. But, it was such a relief, when you say, ‘We made it! Man, we’re going to finals,’” he said. “Isn’t that every dream of somebody, especially for somebody like us, because we never have bought a horse, other than the two mares that we started with and then a couple others that we kind of started with to fiddle with.”
Shimmy Shake’s NCHA Open Finals
In the NCHA Futurity Open finals, Tatum and Shimmy Shake put in a good effort to mark a 214.5. It earned them a fourteenth place finish, earning $37,398 in purse money plus additional closed incentives. The showing was about more than the place or the money, though. It was about the realization of a dream that a horse born on a farm in Northwest Minnesota could make it to the brightest lights in the cutting horse industry on the night it counted.
“Honestly, I’ve never ever known that this would come to fruition. You dream about it, you kind of work toward it — but, you never know if it’s going to come to fruition,” Aasness said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from — I mean, you can still do it, it [just] might make it a little bit harder, and not as convenient.”
He also sees it as a win for breeders in small towns around the country.
“Small town people can do things,” he said. “Doesn’t matter where you’re from, you know, just don’t give up. Keep working, keep having dreams.”