Imagine if the Fort Worth Futurity was cancelled for the past two years because of COVID? While the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives in so many ways, the cutting horse industry in the US has come through it relatively unscathed. But that unthinkable scenario was a reality for cutters in Australia.
“It has been very difficult on our industry. In particular, the trainers felt the pinch because quite a few owners decided to put their horses on hold. It reduced cash flow for the trainers and some trainers had different relationships with customers. Some felt the harshness of Covid more than others. We’re starting to get back in the game again now,” NCHA Australia’s Manager, JP Chevalier, said.
With the cancellation of the two Futurities in 2020 and 2021, the NCHA Australia was forced to refund the entries. Fortunately, most of the sponsors rolled over to the next Futurity. To make up for some of the lost earning capacity, the NCHA is offering $100,000 to the winner at the 2022 Futurity, up 25% on 2019.
Australia has the second biggest cutting industry after the United States. With a population of 25.7 million people, just a few million less than Texas, the country has a similar-sized landmass to the continental US.
The NCHA Australia is an affiliate of the National Cutting Horse Association in the States. It has been operating for 50 years. From humble beginnings in 1974 at the Moonbi Showgrounds and a prize purse of $10,000, the first Futurity ran for three days featuring 25 competitors. Today, it has grown to a 13-day show with 500 competitors held at Tamworth, New South Wales (NSW) in June.
Recently appointed to lead the NCHA Australia in November 2021, Chevalier, has a plan to stay long term. While Chevalier’s background is in sports management, running skiing and cycling competitions and resorts, he has a passion for cutting and has shown cutters himself. His goal is to get a good understanding of what the members want. He said it’s important to respect the long time competitors and the grassroots membership base.
While the long shutdowns in Australia due to Covid have been challenging, the industry has been resilient.
“[After Covid] It’s surprising, the numbers from all of the affiliates, they are seeing some really good shows. People are starting to travel. People are excited. There’s a sense of relief and getting to do what we love. In cutting, it’s a competitive reunion. It’s good to see people come together again,” Chevalier said.
Cutting horse trainer and camp drafter Hugh Miles said that after the 2020 Futurity was canceled, some owners brought their horses home while others could afford to leave them in training. Miles said there are horses going into their five and six year old year that have hardly been shown, making it tough for clients to justify the costs of training.
To help trainers and owners get back on track, a number of make-up shows have been organized. One such event is called the 4Cyte Autumn Spectacular at Scone, NSW, that will host a futurity class for four year olds, a derby for five year olds and a classic class for six, seven and eight year olds.
Besides lack of opportunities to win money, trainers have faced the mental challenge of getting or keeping their horses show ready, unable to know when to have them at their peak for the judges.
“The hardest part has been being motivated and training horses and not knowing that you’re going to be able to go do anything with them. You get ready to [show and then it gets canceled] and you get deflated. Even though we’ve had time, the horses are green because you think “What’s the point of working them if you can’t go show?”” Miles said.
Despite these uncertainties, the cutting horse industry as a whole has been relatively stable and in some areas has seen massive growth such as horse prices. “The NCHA has been solid for the last decade. [Member] numbers have been the same year in and year out. We’ve seen very little movement of new and or those that are getting out of the sport,” Chevalier said.
“The AQHA (Australian Quarter Horse Association) has seen a little bit of growth. Which is great to see. People see the value in the horses has gone up. Sales have gone up in price so people want to register their horses because it adds value,” Chevalier added.
To help grow the Association, Chevalier hopes to get more money added and better incentives.He plans on conducting surveys and developing a solid plan forward with member input.
Chevalier said because Australia has a hugely popular event called Campdrafting, (similar to reined cow horse) many cutting horses end up in that sport. This serves as a crucial secondary market for trained cutting horses, helping trainers, owners and breeders. If they have a horse that won’t make it as an open cutter, it could possibly excel in campdrafting.
“Campdrafting is way bigger than cutting will ever be in Australia,” Miles said.
The NCHA Australia has 1050 members, while the National Campdraft Council of Australia has more than 17,000 members in its combined associations.
“Anybody can do campdrafting. It’s not specialized like cutting. Anyone can compete on the same level. You also don’t need 200-300 cattle to train a camp drafter. Once you buy a trained camp drafter you can get away with not even needing to work cows on them until right before the camp draft. A cutter needs to see cows all the time to be good,” Miles said.
Miles said people have focussed more on breeding their horses because they haven’t been able to show, “Hoping that by the time those foals get going, everything is back to normal.”
Cutting sires are in great demand for breeding to Australian Stock Horse mares in a bid to create premium campdrafting horses.
Many US studs have been imported such as Acres Destiny, Dually Cool, Cat N A Hat, and Proud Lil Pepto and some, like
Highbrow CD, have traveled to Australia for the breeding season there from September to November. Metallic Cat, Smooth Talkin Style, Metallic Rebel and Stevie Rey Vons are sought-after bloodlines in Australia but Miles said owners don’t just breed for cutting. They always breed for a possible second career in campdrafting. Australians look for a clean throat latch, good withers and the ability to run at speed. Demand for frozen semen is extremely high for BadBoonaRising, popular for his color and size. In 2019, 13 out of 20 horses in the Futurity final were sired via frozen semen by USA stallions according to the Quarter Horse News.
Just like in the US, horse prices have gone through the roof in Australia. Cattle and property (ranch) sales have been doing very well. At the 2021 Nutrien Equine Classic Sale in Tamworth, the premier performance horse sale in the country, the top price was $170,000, with the sale grossing $10.7 million, shattering all previous records. The 2022 sale is currently underway and prices look to be even stronger with the top two year old Yaven Champagne Romance going for a record $260,000. The filly was owned by John and Jenn Corbett and trained by Hugh Miles. After just a day and half of the 5-day sale, the auction is already grossing $5.7 million in sales and set to surpass 2021’s historic results.
By Sophia Skeith
Brought to you by Dual Reyish