This past year was a beyond-wildest-dreams kind of season for our reining-horse breeding program: we became the first owner to achieve the three simultaneous honors of Leading Sire, Leading Dam, and overall Leading Breeder in the sport. Our stallion, Gunners Special Nite, also crossed the $2 Million mark in offspring earnings. The Leading Dam award was a bittersweet posthumous honor for our mare Tari’s Modern Design; her offspring currently showing are her last. Her sons Modern Gun and Absolute Gunner contributed to Turnabout’s Leading Breeder award, as did offspring of our other wonderful mares. The vast majority of these successful offspring are horses we bred, raised and sold—some as yearlings, some as two-year-olds or as trained, show-aged horses. Together they won over $500,000 in 2018, and it’s a beautiful thing to see them doing so well for so many people.
The awards were presented last week at the National Reining Horse Association’s annual convention in Oklahoma City. And this show jumper from New England still finds it rather a novelty to be surrounded by so many cowboy hats and polished alligator boots—a fact which only added to the surreal quality of the moment.
Here are my remarks on this occasion, as delivered at the NRHA convention (Gunners Special Nite’s barn name, also known to many in the sport, is “Bailey”):
I come from the jumper world, and I’ve been lucky to own actually more than one horse that you’d have to call a horse of a lifetime. (And I don’t use that term lightly.) There were two that I rode and showed myself; and one for another rider that won an Olympic gold medal.
But no horse has ever given me an experience anything like what Gunners Special Nite has brought into my life.
He is such an extraordinary horse, and what he did with Tom at the World Equestrian Games—that run that was so athletic and so pure, really to me the epitome of what reining can be at its best—that was one of my most treasured moments as a horse owner. To see a horse who’s so happy to do his job and able to do it at such a high level of skill and make it look effortless; to have him paired with just the right rider and see everything come together in really a magical way on the international stage—after that I felt I’d already had probably more than my fair share of good fortune in this sport.
And then beyond that, to see how his offspring have carried on so many of Bailey’s exceptional qualities, and to hear from so many people how happy they are with his offspring and how much they enjoy them—that’s a realm of experience that’s new to me as a horse owner. I’ve never owned a breeding stallion before him, and I’m really in awe of everything that’s unfolded here.
Watching his offspring show has connected me with the reining community in a great way. You all are such a welcoming and warm community to begin with, and I felt that right away when I started to get involved in the sport. And then following Bailey’s offspring and cheering for them has created this whole other realm of shared experience and shared aspirations with all these people out there—and I enjoy that very much. Reiners really know how to cheer each other on and have a good time.
I also want to say that in my life I’ve had some injuries and other challenging experiences that have shifted my priorities and my views on competition. That’s not to say my competitive drive is gone. It’s more that the difference between winning and not winning can sometimes feel kind of arbitrary—just how things play out in a given moment. So you have the result and the manner of getting to the result, and that’s what has the most meaning for me these days.
Something I feel really good about with Bailey’s offspring is that a very high percentage of them seem to be inheriting his great mind. Of course I’m thrilled they’re winning so much. And I also feel good about how they’re winning. And that is with really solid, high-quality runs that make you think, “Yeah, I’d like to ride that one.” Because when horses are very willing to do their job, it makes the riders’ and trainers’ lives better, and it makes the horses’ own lives better, too.
The legendary show jumper Bill Steinkraus said, “The horse will have the last word in any case, so we must try to ensure through skill, tact, and moderation that this last word is ‘yes.'” And so getting to that yes is of course much easier with a horse with a cooperative mindset. It’s our job as horsemen to cultivate that; but it sure helps when you have a horse that’s inclined to work with you.
And that feeling of real connection with a horse is to me the most intrinsically worthwhile part of what we do in any equestrian discipline. So I feel good that so many of Bailey’s offspring are giving people those kinds of experiences.
Now, I have to say that I am not one to neglect giving credit to the ladies. So I want to acknowledge our own fabulous mares and all the others out there who have helped to produce these successful offspring.
I could go on at length about my love for our girls, but I’ll just say that when I visit the ranch I’m prone to disappearing for long stretches, and Tom and Mandy always know to look for me out in the pasture with the mares and foals, or if not there, with the yearling fillies. Hanging out with the girls never gets old.
Of course a huge part of Turnabout Farm’s success in the reining world is that I’ve hitched my wagon to such great people. Tom and Mandy McCutcheon are not only dear friends who have been there for me throughout the great times and the challenging ones. They’re also, of course, just amazing horsemen and really wonderful to work with.
Conventional wisdom says not to mix business and friendship, but with Tom and Mandy, I never worry about that at all. We have this kind of relationship where we go out of our way to take care of each other, and it just works in a natural way.
We have mutual respect as horsemen and as people; we care for each other despite our imperfections; we’re always able to talk and come to agreement on whatever we’re doing; we forgive each other our mistakes; and we take genuine pleasure in each other’s successes and our successes together, or just in having the chance to help each other. And really, when I think about this relationship—what more could you ask?
We’ve known each other a long time now, since Cade was I think four years old, practicing his reining patterns on his stick horse. Cade couldn’t be here, but Carlee’s here, and Tim and Colleen are over there with Mandy and Tom. And I just want to say to you all: I’m very glad that my whim of deciding I wanted to learn to ride a reining horse led me to you.
I want to say thank you the reining community for believing in Bailey and our breeding program. And thank you to the whole team at Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses and everyone out there who’s worked hard to get these horses to the winners circle. I’m honored to be on this journey with all of you, and I wish everyone a lot of good times still to come.
Feature photo, by Chelsea Schneider, shows Mandy, Tom, and Carlee McCutcheon and me with the trophies for $2 Million Sire, Leading Sire, and Leading Dam.