Leaves are changing colour.
Tights, chunky sweaters, and bad memes about Pumpkin Spice Latte's are coming into rotation.
A time to reflect on change.
Also known as...
The season where you leave your house and it's freezing cold, and you come home and you're pouring sweat.
But none of this matters, because you are a crazy horse human, and you are likely here reading this post because you are a special breed of crazy horse human - you are a crazy performance horse human.
So for you, fall means much less of the above, and much more of:
Blankets to keep your horses from fuzzing up.
Long underwear is back in the barn chore rotation.
and, your cheque book is out, and your pen is at the ready because weekend shows are still chugging along strong, and aged events have begun.
Even if you are only on the sidelines watching, for crazy horse performance humans, fall means futurity season.
BUT, this is the With A Western Twist's Beginner's Guide to Cutting, so i'm not just going to leave you with that tidbit of the alphabet, i'm going to breakdown the futurity for ya'll. For many coming into the performance horse world, futurities can be slightly confusing. On the outside looking in, one may think that the biggest money and most prestige would go to the older horses. Kind of like grade school, unless you're a baby genius, you don't get scholarships in grade one, you receive them in grade twelve as you head into the great blue yonder of university. In cutting there are definitely avenues that celebrate older horses, and everyone respects the elder horses who have won hundreds of thousands, there's no doubt about that. However, it seems that we celebrate the baby geniuses much more. You may have heard the word "Futurity" and "Aged Event" before, and been confused.
Let me break it down for you:
There are three levels in aged events -
Futurity is for three year olds.
Derby is for four year olds.
Classic is for five and six year olds.
These three classes make up what is known as aged events in our sport, aged events basically signal the end of the weekend showing season and begin in late summer and roll through late fall.
So, a futurity class is only for three year olds.
This year, that would be any horse born in 2014. Remember that we have a January first birthday rule, which is why breeders aim to have babies born earlier in the year if possible. This is because if you had a baby born in September of 2014, and you wanted that horse to futurity, it would be up against horses 6 or more months older than it.
Dustin Gonnet won the 2016 Calgary Stampede Wrangler Open Futurity on RPL Cat N Around, owned by Ron Patton.
Now there are two types of futurities - known colloquially as "smalls" and "The Futurity."
"Smalls" or "A Small Futurity" is a futurity held in conjunction with an aged event. Depending on what small futurity you are talking about, you could see a ton of added money, and huge classes, whereas others don't have a ton of money up and classes remain small. It really depends on the particular show.
Then there is... "The Futurity" (otherwise known as The Great American Insurance Group NCHA World Championship Futurity Presented by Jerry Chevrolet.. but that's a mouthful.)
Pro-Tip: When you hear "The Futurity" it means people are talking about the big daddy of 'em all held in Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. What makes The Futurity special is that it is restricted to three year old cutting horses that have never been shown in judged competition. So, if you have shown in one of the small futurities we talked about above, you cannot show at The Futurity. When you walk to the herd at Will Rogers during The Futurity, that will be the first time that horse is judged in a sanctioned competition. The Futurity is massive, this year it is being held from November 15 - December 10. As noted on the NCHA website, they expect 1,800 entries this year in the Open, Non Pro and Amateur divisions. Think about it, that's 25 days of three year olds ONLY. Plus, The Futurity is a bit of a gauntlet, there is a first go and second go where an aggregate score, if high enough depending on numbers of entries, can get you through to the semi-finals, where you must duke it out to then head to the finals. That's tough competition.
Another point to note is that you pay into The Futurity, there is a payment schedule for entries that begins in October of their two year old year. So, as one can tell, The Futurity takes a lot of preparation and strategy from breeders, owners and trainers.
So why do some people choose to Small Futurity, where some choose to wait it out and go to The Futurity?
Well, there's many reasons. The Futurity is the most prestigious event in the cutting horse calendar. The NCHA Futurity was founded in 1962 and was the spot's first limited age event. Today the purse is approaching $4 million and is the world's richest indoor horse event. "The World Championship Futurity showcases the sport's emerging talent and provides an inside look at the next generation of great horses to share the stage in one of the world's most lucrative equine sports." ~ NCHA
Matt Gaines winning the NCHA Futurity, aboard Second Spot, owned by Gary and Shannon Barker.
Simply put, it's the dream, but it's a tough dream, and takes a damn good horse, and for all the stars to align at the same time no matter what class you are riding in. NCHA Eight Million Dollar trainer, Matt Gaines, won the NCHA Futurity in 2016 on Second Spot, he remarked that he was starting to think he was never going to achieve the accolade. It's that tough and many, many times you see great horses, and great riders, get wiped out during the first round. However, it's that prestigious, and perhaps that addictive, that you see more people opt to take a shot at it.
The small futurities, however, can be just as competitive depending on where you are. Because they are known as "smalls" people may see them as easier, but that is most definitely not the case. For many, The Futurity is too far away, not financially feasible, not on their radar for that year or their horse. For us in Canada, to take a horse down to The Futurity is a major decision when we have many great small futurities around us at wonderful facilities and big payouts. Plus there's some strategy as well, if you have a really strong and confident horse and you start showing them earlier in the year, you may put some serious earnings on a horse before they turn four, whereas it's counterparts may not see earnings until their four year old year and beyond.
Basically an accurate description of a futurity prospect.
So, let's talk those little baby unicorns known as Futurity horses...
It begins way before they are even born because, as discussed above, it takes some planning and a lot of training for a baby unicorn to become a futurity unicorn. It probably starts with a breeder, who pairs up a mare with a stallion and hopes the cross produces something truly great. Every year thousands of babies are born and their destiny is show horse before they even hit the ground. So, as that baby grows up the owner has to determine the journey it will take. Which method will they use to halter break and handle their baby? Which trainer will get their baby as a long yearling, or early two year old? Will they train it themselves? Are they capable? Then that trainer, whoever that may be, has two years, sometimes not even, to take that baby from un-started to being able to walk into a herd of cattle, cut a cow, and drop their hand. It's pretty amazing really. Yes, that paragraph lightly hovers around why some people do not believe in the aged event and futurity process and system, but I'm not touching on that today my sweet angels.
So when people talk about "Futurity Season", they are generally talking about late summer and predominantly fall. The season where cutting horses (and many other performance horses for that matter) are being primed, prepped and prepared for futurities. Most people will take their futurity prospects to what is known as "pre-works", these are events held - on either a big or small scale - that simulate shows where people can come and test out their three year olds.
Now, we get to what this particular blog series is all about... beginner's. Hi friends, welcome to my corner of the world, stay awhile. Showing a three year old is a whole other ball game than showing your weekend warrior horse that doesn't care when your spur accidentally jabs him as he's whirling around. These are fractious, young horses that need constant guidance and direction in, and outside of, the show pen. For many non-professional riders, they leave their three year old horses in the hands of gifted trainers and only step on to practice one or twice, and then show them. It takes a special horse to be able to be shown by both an open rider, and a non-professional (or amateur) rider, simultaneously.
So, that's probably why when you go to your trainer, feeling like Matt Gaines after a particularly spectacular winning run in the 2,000 Limit Rider, and you say "I want a futurity horse to show next year." They may blink back at you and say, "maybe let's try a step up novice horse." When you reply, indigently, "No, I want to show aged events! I'm ready for Will Rogers, I'm ready for Texas! I will settle for nothing less" They will, more than likely say, "Okay, let's find you a solid 5 or 6 year old to show in the classic, but I'll have to show it too. Prepare to spend a lot of money, don't complain if you don't pick up a cheque." Listen to your trainer, if you have a good one, they'll let you know when you're ready to show a futurity horse, it may take some time, and it may take even longer for you to find success in the futurity show pen. When I watch my favourite open and non-pro/amateur futurity riders, I always think that they seem like total mental ninjas out there. They never let any stress, nerves, anxiety, really anything show. They are able to seamlessly gauge how to show their horse, when to send it, when to not. They are the real unicorns in the equation. It's admirable, and it's personally where I want to be one day in the very, very distant future.
That's, generally, how the big bad world of cutting works out there, you take your time, you learn on those weekend warriors for a reason. Because one day, you may just be walking to the herd at Will Rogers on an un-shown three year old, and you're gonna want to be ready.