Pristine beaches, tropical jungles and exotic wildlife spring to mind at the mention of Costa Rica. But it may surprise you to know this popular tourist destination is home to a budding cutting horse community.
In fact, trainer César Meneses has big plans to fly his horse to Fort Worth and drop his hand in the Will Rogers Coliseum at the NCHA Futurity this fall.
He started cutting eight years ago and spent time in the United States riding with Kenny Knowlton, a horse trainer and AQHA International Committee member and Ascencion Banuelos.
“Ever since I was able to see…the Futurity, I knew that one day I would get to compete there. I know it’s very difficult, I work every day for that, I get up early and go to bed late, I have good days and many regular ones with my filly…” Meneses said.
“It’s an uphill battle to get the horse to the Futurity. It’s hard, there’s the language barrier, but overall, no matter what the outcome is…it will be worth it and that’s the win,” Meneses said.
The performance horse industry in Costa Rica is recognized by the AQHA as an affiliate through the organization Asociación de Criadores de Caballo de Campo y Deportivo (ACRICAMDE). The Association offers most western disciplines and has approximately 500 members; about 20 of them are cutters.
In Costa Rica, riders regularly ship semen over to breed their mares with top US cutting horse stallions such as Smooth Talkin Style, High Brow Cat and Kit Kat Sugar. They also have mares bred to Bet Hesa Cat, Boon Too Suen and Rockin W currently.
Years ago, Meneses bought a mare out of Oklahoma and shipped her to Costa Rica and then bred her at home. They used to import horses but with prices going through the roof since Covid, most owners there are now breeding them.
According to ACRICAMDE president Carlos Rodriguez, “Sometimes we think we are in the baby steps. But we are not. When we go to different countries with more horses, we realize that we have been using the right rules and right horses. And we have been very successful here in Costa Rica.”
Rodriguez is a full time trainer with a barn of over 25 horses ranging in disciplines. He has traveled back and forth to the United States for a few years to expand on his knowledge. “I became a professional horseman two years ago and that helped me to learn how important it is to help other people at the shows. They don’t know the rules or patterns so that’s what I’ve been doing most of the time,” Rodriguez said.
With entry fees at $50, the ultimate prize is the honor of winning the year end buckle.
“We are not competing for money here. We compete because we like it. You earn points and at the end of the year you earn a buckle…that’s the biggest prize. The prize money is not enough to pay for everything,” Rodriguez said.
They average around 20 entries per show and put on competitions about once a month as long as they have a judge. The classes include the Open and Amateur and they added a class called potro or the colt class for horses aged three to five years old.
In the colt class, the rider can use a snaffle and two hands. During the peak of COVID, cutting was brought to a stand still. ACRICAMDE began to make videos for people to help them work the flag and start colts to promote the horses and disciplines.
The fledgling industry’s biggest challenge is finding judges. They used to have five AQHA judges but they chose not to keep up with the qualification. They currently use judges from Costa Rica who aren’t riders or AQHA approved. One option is to fly judges in from another country but that is expensive and unsustainable.
Rodriguez said that he can judge but his customers want their horses shown, making it impossible to do both.
Rodriguez said, “We have been trying to do cutting, cow horse, reining and ranch riding so we can use the judge for different things so you can get more entries and pay the judge.”
This became difficult for any one judge to be expert enough in all disciplines. So now they mainly focus on cutting shows, Rodriguez said.
The other obstacle they face is having enough turn-back riders. Most of the people are showing and don’t have the time to help.
“We have to learn to deal with that. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of everything. We have to do clinics with ourselves and practice and try to teach our help… It’s hard but we are growing and we have to do it.”
Fortunately, they have no problems finding cattle.
“We can find cattle anywhere!…Everyone has cows and they’re willing to give us cows,” Rodriguez said.
“We use Brahmans [crossed with European breeds]. You just have to make sure you settle the cows very good. We don’t use pure bred but [Brahmans are] what you get the most of here. The crosses work pretty good.”
“We have a lot of arenas here. Most of them are outdoors but we have some indoors. We have no problems with facilities,” he added.
Despite the challenges Rodriguez said,“the cutting is still growing. It’s going up and up.”
ACRICAMDE does hold two shows a year that are accredited with the AQHA.
“I only intend to convince myself that if it is possible…that day [I show at the Futurity] will be special in my life, my family and friends know that I have fought to be there, the result will not mark anything in me but the process will, God knows what he has for me that day,” Meneses resolved.