Showing a horse in the famed Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum at Fort Worth, TX, is the holy grail of experiences for most cutting horse competitors. It’s a tradition that goes back some 54 years to 1967. Not only does the coliseum have legendary status, it’s an arena cutters’ love for the way it allows them to work cows.
Built in 1936, its design was ahead of its time. But it has not been without its faults. One of the greatest frustrations for riders has been the use of one gate to let in both the cows and competitors. This meant everyone was locked in the arena until each set had been completed which took approximately 90 minutes. It made a long day even longer and came with the danger of riders missing their run if they missed the gate.
But recently, that all changed. At the NCHA Metallic Cat Summer Cutting Spectacular, held July 18th-August 8th, the NCHA did some homework and rediscovered an almost forgotten feature among cutters of the coliseum. The ingenious design of the arena has always included a “hidden” side door.
NCHA Director of Shows, Shianne Megel, was the driving force behind making this entrance work for cutting shows.
“The alternative entrance had been discussed previously but was largely regarded as a myth. Shianne took the initiative to find out where it was and did what was needed to make it usable during the event,” said Callie McCarthy, NCHA Manager of Marketing and Communications.
“It was a daunting venture with the logistics of putting it in place and working with the facility to make it happen, but in the end, we think it was a huge success for the event and a valued resource for our competitors,” she added.
“…this change was out of necessity. The summer show entries were up more than 30 percent, and we were obligated to find new ways to help accelerate the show’s pace and better serve our exhibitors,” said McCarthy.
There were many details to work out, but with the cooperation of Bronc Willoughby, Tatum Rice, Ora Diehl, Jay Winborn and the NCHA Cattle Committee and Executive Committee, Megel was able to make it possible.
While the side entrance had never been used for a horse show, Kevin Kemp, Will Rogers Memorial Center Assistant Facilities & Public Events Director, said that the City of Fort Worth (which owns the facility) actually used the littleknown entrance regularly.
“It is very likely many, if not most folks, did not know the entrance was there, even though we use this for other events a couple of times each year. I’m sure folks heard about it, but never actually saw it in use. We have not stopped using it.”
“It was originally used as an access point to the ice rink for public open skating and hockey games.” Yes, there is an ice floor in that arena, he confirmed.
Christopher Roden, the Will Rogers Memorial Center Acting Operations Manager, is responsible for how events are executed. He said Will Rogers is made for pieces to come out. He said the piece that was removed for the new entrance used to come out all the time for the circus. They call it the elephant ramp because, when the circus was in town, that is where children would mount the elephants to ride them.
To prepare the new entrance for cutting shows, the dirt has to be pulled off the arena wall and the seating area in that spot dismantled and removed.
“It is a giant puzzle. Since this access point is already there and was designed to come out, other than removal and reinstallation, there were no changes necessary. We did have several discussions on the operation of the new entrance. We want to make sure it is safe for the animals and the people,” Kemp said.
The NCHA worked with Kiser Arena Specialists to ensure the footing allowed safe passage over the steep grade of the ramp. Priefert panels and gates were used to ensure that horses would be routed properly through the new entrance. Rubber mats, and conveyor belt materials were added for safety as horses entered through the concourse and sidewalk bollards (posts) had to be removed.
The new entrance was well received. It improved the whole flow of the show, saving riders both time and stress. There was a buzz about it at the show and many people were overwhelmingly positive about it on social media.
Kylie Knight Rice, accomplished non-pro and wife to Futurity champ Tatum Rice said, “The new entrance was game changing for both people and horses in so many ways. Turn back horses could easily be taken in and out to eat or get a drink or some much needed rest. The show horses were given the option to stay in the arena as long as they needed to cool off before heading back into the heat of the summer. The freedom to come and go made the days shorter and better for everyone!”
“Competitors were able to come and go as best suited their schedules, which improved traffic patterns between coliseum, flag arena, practice pen, and a reduced wait time at the wash racks at the end of the set. Many competitors, owners, and lopers have shared with us the reduced stress they all had without worrying about missing the gate for their sets,” said McCarthy.
Selina Formston Flynn, wife of multiple triple crown event champion, Eddie Flynn, said, “[The new entry] was great, better for the horses, less stress on everyone trying to make the gate. And it went smoothly because of the people minding it. Now if we could just have a little coffee/water/ snack stand on the way in and out we would all feel like royalty!”
She also mentioned the importance of someone always being there to manage the gate especially when it gets congested. The NCHA said safety is their number one priority.
“…we will be making accommodations for inclement weather and the potential for increased pedestrian traffic for shows like the Futurity.”
“Since we will be using this ramp more frequently, we will be looking at the structure to see if there are any additions that will make the process easier. That is a process we can do in-house. Other than that, nothing further will be required,” Kemp said.
The NCHA will use the ramp at all Triple Crown events going forward. To help with any congestion at the side door, the NCHA also plans to allow riders to use the original back gate if needed.