Milestones are meant to be celebrated! NCHA Australia recently celebrated 50 years of cutting at the 2022 NCHA 4Cyte Futurity! On June 10th the Association held a fantastic evening showcasing memorabilia, launching a book called A Good Hand by Gail Ritchie and 11 of Australia’s cutting legends walked to the herd in an event that was more packed than the Futurity finals.
“I’m just so proud of what we have achieved in Australia in 50 years… We’ve had the best of coaching and some very good horses brought to Australia and were able to breed to those great stallions in the United States… We don’t have the depth of competition but the top [horses and riders] would mix with the best in the States now. That’s quite an accomplishment to achieve in 50 years for Australia,” said Lori Mackay, who rode in the Legends event.
The other 10 riders in the SDP Buffalo Ranch Legends Cutting held at Tamworth, NSW, the country music capital of Australia included John Mitchell, Graham Amos, Todd Graham, Roger Wagner, Ian Francis, Craig Emerton, Joe Davis, Scott Graham, Rob Hodgman and Frank Green.
“It’s great to be recognized. It was good that they recognized all [11 riders]. They’ve been at it a long time and done well,” said Amos.
“There was specific criteria to be in the Legends cutting. You had to be in the Hall of Fame and you had to be old. Next year we celebrate 50 years of the Futurity and I’ve been to 49 of them,” said Mackay.
Mackay competed on a 24 year old gelding named Jacks Envy Oak. “He’s a pretty iconic old gelding in our cutting world…. He’s in the Hall of Fame himself. Jack and I put in a pretty good run and we didn’t look like we shouldn’t be in that event. And that’s what I was so nervous about!”
US-based trainer John Mitchell hadn’t been home to Australia in four years so he was planning a trip to see family. When the NCHA Australia asked him to be there it worked out perfectly.
“It was neat to be in [the Legends Cutting], I don’t know that I’m supposed to be in that category but they asked me to show in it. Lori and Kim did a great job putting it together.”
Mitchell said the sport in Australia keeps getting better and more and more people are focused just on the cutting.
“It’s amazing. The gap between Australia and America used to be huge. Now they’re riding the same horses that we’re riding now. The frozen semen has changed the game,” Mitchell said.
“It was very flattering to be invited. They’re a really talented group of trainers,” Ian Francis said of walking to the herd in the Legends cutting.
Ian Francis has won the NCHA Futurity three times, he has been reserve four times. He has many cow horse futurity titles and has also won a number of reining futurities. In fact, most of the riders in the Legends cutting have won the Australian Futurity.
Todd Graham has won the most NCHA Futurity titles with a record 7. He also won the event that night on MetallicToy marking a 228.
The origin of the sport in Australia was another main focus of the celebrations. Greg Lougher, Lori Mackay’s father, is remembered as the man who brought the art of the vaqueros to Australia from California.
Mackay’s sister Gail Ritchie, a former NCHA Open Futurity Champion herself, wrote the book that features Lougher and his massive contribution to cow horses and cutting in Australia. The Lougher family moved to Australia in 1967 and established the Clover Leaf Quarter Horse Stud. Mackay and Ritchie assisted their father in giving Quarter Horse riding demonstrations, promoting and competing in Quarter Horse shows and getting breeding programs started. From there, Lougher’s influence spread.
Legend Graham Amos, who could be described as the Buster Welch of Australia was rodeoing in the late 1960’s when he saw Greg Lougher give a cutting demonstration. Lougher was by far the best in Australia when it came to working cattle and Amos was hooked. Lougher became his mentor.
Amos, who grew up on a dairy farm, spent his whole life on the back of a horse. He has competed in almost every single NCHA Futurity ever held. The only two he missed, aside from the last three years of his retirement, were when he was training in the United States in 2005/06. Amos competed in the NCHA Futurity in the Will Rogers for both those years. Lougher passed the baton to Amos who has done the same with John Mitchell, Geoffrey Sheehan and Roger Wagner to name a few.
After a childhood spent in the saddle showing in western pleasure, English and cutting, John Mitchell decided early on that dropping the reins was the sport for him. Mitchell began riding horses for Winderadeen, a large quarter horse breeder in New South Wales. Afterwards, Mitchell went to work for Amos to learn how to train cutters.
He has been training for the Slate River Ranch in Weatherford, TX for approximately 24 years. He won the Australian Futurity in 1998 and he won the United States NCHA Futurity in 2021. The connections between past, present and future in the sport of cutting were almost tangible for Mitchell at the event.
“It’s something to celebrate. It’s a milestone. But for me just to see the people I got to see was great. But there were people that showed back when I was there [I was able to see].”
Mackay feels the same dedication to passing on her wisdom and experience, of a lifetime in the saddle.
“I want to make sure everybody can gain the knowledge I’ve been able to learn. I don’t want to see it lost; I want to see it go on. I love giving. I’ll go as long as I can… I get such a kick out of the achievements we, the NCHA, accomplish,” said Mackay.
Inducted into both the ARCHA and the NCHA Halls of Fame, Mackay holds numerous positions with the NCHA including Vice President, Chairman of the Youth and Chairman of Finance.
Mackay is thrilled to say that entries are booming and the shows are having to be extended because of the growing numbers. They include a snaffle bit class at the Futurity to bring in not only camp drafters but other two-handed riders like the english riders.
The NCHA is bringing Lindy Burch over to teach a clinic for the Youth next year.
Not only has the sport grown, but it’s changed a lot over the years, said Amos.
“At first if you kept it out of the herd you usually won a cutting. Then it evolved up from making a [semicircle] around the herd to holding a straight line, to holding the cow in the middle third to get you to the pay window,” he said.
“[Then the trend became putting] a style on the horses where they really stopped hard and turned around hard. It just kept getting better and better. Horses got better breeding and riders got a better opportunity to learn. All the social media and availability of videos, you can watch anything in the world and see what the best are doing and that helps. Where the end of it is, I don’t know,” Amos said.
Amos looks back on his time in the sport and said the ability to develop a partnership with the horse and doing well together is his most cherished accomplishment.
“[The horse] believing in you and you believing in him. That’s a great reward,” he said.
As for Mitchell’s favorite memory: “When I look back on it, I think of how great a sport it is. On the other side of the world it’s the same family sport. It’s amazing. It’s truly what gave me a chance to get to [where I am today]… Overall they are an amazing group of people and just a wonderful thing to be a part of. And more and more as you get older, you see it.”
“[The NCHA Australia] has a very bright future. I see it just really improving in the last 10 years. The 25 years I’ve been gone, everybody just keeps getting better,” said Mitchell.
Francis, who has been training horses since the 1970s, made an observation that a lot of the Legends had started out in the AQHA Youth classes. He said that gave them a really solid base in horsemanship before they became cutting horse trainers.
“This is a whole group of guys that didn’t start [off right away in the cutting].”
Quarter horses, cow horses, reining, cutting, the paths all lead from the same source. It’s a fact, no doubt, that would have made Greg Lougher proud of his legacy.
By Sophia Skeith