Well, that's it, that's all folks....
The Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity wraps up today and with the final cutter entering the herd, it will signal the end of show season in Canada. For some cutters, they will head down across the border to more small futurities, pre-works and then maybe even the big daddy of them all, The NCHA Futurity, held every year in Fort Worth, Texas. Other cutters, who have hauled all year long will also head down to Fort Worth, but they will instead take their place among the other top 15 riders who have made it back to the World Championships in their respective classes.
After getting off of our Derby horse this year at Calgary, and realizing that she did not make it back to the Open finals, I was admittedly a little sad. As I was pulling off her wraps, and loosening her cinch, I thought about all the other competitors that brought horses to Calgary and had felt the same thing. As I got back on her to cool her out, I couldn't shake the nagging voice in my head that was telling me, "she doesn't know the score." She had made it through two clean runs, she doesn't know what a "go round" is, nor what a "finals" is. The only reason she could have "known" that she didn't make it through (I know, I am anthropomorphizing her, but for the sake of explanation...) was if she could read my own feelings. Anyone that knows horses, knows they are in tuned to their riders, and their feelings. So, I tried to pick my attitude up a little bit, and got to thinking about what the judges, the crowd, and the other trainers and riders don't know about every horse that walks to the herd. Just as our horses don't know the score of their runs, the judges also don't "know" the score of our horses. Meaning, they don't know the history of the horse before it walks to the herd. You aren't allowed to walk in front of the judges before your horses turn in the herd to tell them a synopsis of training. You can't say, "He was a tough two year old that we thought we'd never get broke", you can't say, "She was lame most of her three year old year and it's incredible she's even here."You can't say, "This horse is more like a three year old, and it's amazing she even made it through two runs."
Similarly, you can't tell the judges, or anyone watching, how hard everyone involved in that horse has worked to get them there. You can't show them progress videos, you can't show them how good they look now, you certainly can't show bank account statements. Unfortunately sometimes, that's just not how it works, the only thing you get to do is get your horse ready, and walk your horse to the herd, and show your horse the best you can, and to the best of their ability. So many times in cutting we see horses that have come so far, but they still don't stack up against their competition. We see lameness success stories, and we see owners with tears in their eyes watching their horses walk to the herd. My heart just breaks every single time those horses don't make it through to the finals, I know that's the reality of our sport, but it sometimes doesn't make it any easier. On that note, you aren't allowed to tell those pesky judges, "But I love this horse, I love all his try, and his heart, and his cow. He deserves to be in the finals because of it." They aren't going to give you extra points for love, no matter how hard you will it to be true. So what if the run isn't actually clean? What if you get a lower score than you expected? What if all three cows you choose run you wall to wall and you aren't able to really show your horses ability? What if your horse has a mis-step, a bobble, a slip, and it costs them? What if your horse misses the cow? What if, those damn cows, run you over? What if you walk out of the herd before time has expired? What if your horse quits, or runs off, and that's the first time it's ever happened?
Just like above, there are no re-runs, no re-tries, and no reviews in cutting in cases like that. You can't stop before you leave the pen and say, "Yeah... But..." no matter how much you want too. Hopefully you have a circle of people around you, trainers, lopers, friends and family, that you can say the "Yeah.. But..." too, trust me, they will listen a lot better than the judges will. Finally, just like the judges not knowing the score on your horses, they don't know the score on the riders either. They don't know that she took twenty years off from cutting, and is just getting back to the sport she used to love so much. They don't know this is her first age event ever. They don't know his wife died, and she was the central part of their operation, and this is his first show back. They don't know how hard you've worked for it, until your hands have become so callused from bridle reins, and your mind constantly replays your runs. They don't know this is the only three year old in your barn that made it.
They don't know the heart break, the heart ache or the heart you have.
So, just like how your horses don't know the score, maybe you don't always need to know the score either. All you can do is show your horse, that's all you get, is two minutes and thirty seconds, and in that time frame, anything can happen. It can be your fault, it can be your horses fault, maybe it's your helps fault, and maybe.. it's nobodies fault.. it just is. Sometimes run come together, and you watch someone and you say, "I have never in my life seen that horse work so good". Other times you say, "That's a truly great horse, and that was an absolutely terrible run." In a sickly comforting way to those of us that didn't have the show, the series or the year we wanted, these types of things happen all the time. So, to conclude the 2016 show season, congratulate yourselves, your horses, your help, and everyone that was involved in your "team" this year. No matter the score, the highs and the lows, you were out there, and you deserved to be, so did your ponies. Give them some extra love, they worked for it.