With fond memories of ranching and roping years ago, Bill Meyers has always enjoyed horses. He always wanted to try cutting and had Florida trainer, Ted Sokol recommended to him. Meyers met Sokol at a cutting show who put him on a horse. He then went to Sokol’s ranch for a lesson and officially caught the cutting bug two years ago.
The orange glow of first light warmed the horizon. The morning dew spoke of a clear, fresh day as a gentle breeze cooled the sweat on the magnificent thoroughbreds limbering out along the famous track. Conditions were perfect for preparing an unknown Derby champion.
It was two days before the 144th Kentucky Derby and morning practice had brought Churchill Downs to life. Those eager to get a close up look at the 20 horses running in the nation’s most popular horse race were milling along the track.
A mix of two years olds getting used to the track were being trotted out slowly by their jockeys while the three and four year olds were stretching out at a faster pace against the inside rail. Some horses rested at the outer railing in groups of two and three, so close you could touch their hindquarters or pet their nose. They all looked invigorated, happy to be out exercising in the crisp morning air.
As though heeding a call to join the fray, a chestnut horse standing right by us suddenly slid into a canter as the rider lifted out of her saddle pad, their pair moved so gracefully, Beau Galyean remarked “it’s like dropping in on a wave”. The athleticism, the balance, the power of this horse was breathtaking. Who was this horse? Non other than the event favorite, Justify!
Two presenters filled the gargantuan TV screen above the track to discuss the contenders, of particular interest was the import from Ireland, Mendelssohn who made his appearance later in the morning surrounded by a large entourage. The Irish horse had just come out of quarantine, and despite the fanfare looked a little uneasy having worked up quite a sweat. But by the end of the session, the second-placed favorite was appearing more settled and its paces more impressive.
Other horses making tongues wag amongst the group of cutters was Audible, who in comparison to Justify’s effortless movements, required quite a bit of urging via his jockey’s whip to get moving. While this initially put us off, we later found out, Audible was not a morning horse!
Cutters Hit Kentucky
Our group consisted of Matt and Tara Gaines, Beau and Ashley Galyean, Duncan Steele-Park and myself, with the trip hosted and organized by Gabe Reynolds and Lauren Minshall who live and train cutting horses not far from Louisville.
For many in the group, it was their first time ever to attend a horse race. Lauren grew up around thoroughbreds in Canada where her parents and grandparents bred race horses. Her step grandmother, Barb Minshall is a current well known trainer at Woodbine, Toronto. Lauren’s knowledge of the industry is extensive as was her patience answering our never ending questions.
Exploring Keeneland, Lexington
With our first impressions made, we headed out to Lexington for a broader look at the industry. Lauren took us to Keeneland, another renowned race course and the nation’s top auction house for thoroughbreds.
It’s a beautiful, tree-filled facility where many trainers work their horses, Barb included over the winter months leading up the Derby.
We visited with her and some of her racers, one of which had won a race on the Wednesday at Churchill Downs. Interestingly, these leggy horses with a reputation for being flighty and hot tempered were anything but as they were led quietly around and stood in their stalls.
The doorways had nothing but a simple crossed plastic-covered chain to keep the horses in, giving them more air and helping them to feel less hemmed in.
They appeared soft-natured and curious, keen for a pat. One playful two year old stallion had a large pink teddy bear hanging from its doorway to nuzzle. Matt Gaines couldn’t resist and got some close-up cuddle action himself. We also met Barb’s gelding, Admiralty Pier, that was racing on Derby Day in an earlier event.
Posing with American Pharaoh
From there, we drove to the esteemed Ashford Stud, owned by Coolmore Stud, the world’s largest breeder of race horses. The stately driveway lined with hundred year old trees, led onto an array of beautiful stone stables, offices and breeding facilities that over looked rolling hills carpeted with the famous lush green grass of Kentucky.
Our tour guide took us straight to the main stud stable which housed non other than American Pharaoh. Featuring a soaring cathedral ceiling, the stables held four massive stalls lined with varnished timber, filled with an overabundance of straw to soften the floor. Brass name plates announced the owner of each stall. Declaration of War was getting his daily grooming via vacuum as we entered and Uncle Mo was enjoying some downtime. A groom brought the great American Pharaoh out into the courtyard where we got a closer look and a photo with the 2015 Triple Crown Champion.
While these stallions are retired from racing and live in “luxury”, they face the arduous task of 3 live crosses a day, seven days a week. Even for the most virile, it’s a tall order. The going rate for American Pharaoh is $125,000 a service, guaranteed to a foal on the ground. With 160 mares to cross each breeding season, I would say those boys earn every cent!
Derby Day Arrives
Fast forward to Derby Day, cowboy hats, boots and buckles were swapped for fedora’s, bow ties and even the odd cigar (or two). The ladies donned some larger than life hats and spring inspired dresses and hit the track. The people watching is just as fascinating as the horses, where anything goes from crazy hats, gaudy suits and killer heels to the most refined millinery and haute couture outfits of the well-heeled and/or famous.
Yes. Unexpectedly. It. Rained. All. Day. Needless to say, it was a great excuse to stay close to the bar and sample a Mint Julep or Oaks Lily (or three or four…).
Another factor to take into account, the wet track. As each race took place, the track got sloppier and sloppier, till come Derby time, it was a mud bath! You could almost see the odds changing in the lead up to the race as horses with experience in the wet improved and others got longer. All except Justify, the horse that never raced as a two horse year old remained the firm favorite!
For most of two days, the group got an A for participation when it came to betting but an F for success when it came to winnings. But it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit, Tara and Matt were so full of awe, they stood out in the drenching rain to watch the Derby race at the rail, keen to feel the thundering hooves of those splendid athletes striving for immortality.
It’s a simple concept: first past the post, but what an exciting flutter of emotions it creates when you have a vested interest in how it ends! With a half mile to go, Justify passed Promises Fulfilled, and looking comfortable and totally in control, took the lead and sprinted home. Whopping and hollering like mad men, we were all going off but it soon became evident who picked the winner as Beau crowed triumphantly! It was a great moment, a great day, a great experience! Thanks to Gabe and Lauren for being such great hosts and so generous with their knowledge and thanks to Beau for letting us feel successful by association!
Now what are we going to wear next year? Did anyone mention this is addictive?
By Bailey Bryan
He could have had his pick of glamorous ladies, he could have been the master of the rose ceremony, he could have been a reality TV star, but Gabe Reynolds is more interested in training and showing cutting horses.
Between modeling assignments, TV scouts and cutting clients, it seems the Kentucky based trainer is in high demand. But with a growing list of wins to his name, four time Mercuria Finalist, NCHA Ltd Reserve Champion, and Augusta Classic Challenge Reserve Champion, Gabe’s focus is squarely on his training career.
With his dashing good looks, unassuming manner and Aussie charm, this cutter has got a little more boot cut than the rest of us, filling in for Blake Shelton as a Wrangler jean model and starring in a Wrangler commercial along with George Straight! The opportunity presented itself when Gabe was training for Barbra Brooks in Tennessee.
“There was a bunch of celebrities that came out to Barbra’s ranch for the CMA shoot and for some reason or another Blake Shelton didn’t show up and they asked if I’d fill in for him as I was about his size,” Reynolds said. “A few months later I was in a western store and saw a picture of me.”
Reynolds later got a call asking if he’d come out to audition for the Wrangler commercial in California, which he originally said no to, but later they called again to offer him the role if he’d say yes right then.
“It was really neat,” Reynolds said. “I went out there and was picked up in a black limo and got full rock star treatment.”
As it turns out, Wrangler wasn’t the only one with an eye for Reynolds, he was also recently asked at a cutting event by scouters to participate in the popular reality tv show, The Bachelor.
“I was walking around the coliseum and they happened to sit next to me,” Reynolds said. “They got to whispering and they told me they wanted someone who rode horses and I told them I didn’t really know about that.”
Reynolds said he never really paid much attention to the show, but went back later and watched a few episodes and said afterwards that ‘it seemed a quick way to embarrass yourself.’
Although well-known as a handsome cutter, Gabe’s hardly an eligible bachelor, with a serious live-in girlfriend and business partner Lauren Minshall (sorry ladies).
Reynolds says on a more serious note he’d love to make a final in Fort Worth.
“I really feel like I’m knocking at the door in Fort Worth,” Reynolds said. “I keep making semi-final after semi-final, but am trying to stay consistent and train the best horses I can train and we’ve got some good horses this year.”
Watch more CHTO videos of Gabe HERE.
Cows look all the same yeh? I mean seriously how does one black cow look different to the next, especially when they are the same size, sex and state of health? And then how the hell do you remember 30 of them and on top of that you have to keep track of which ones have been worked or not? Arrrgh!!!! Yes cutting is certainly a mind game!
You might have a great horse, you might be a great at riding a cutting horse and even confident making cuts, but do you go into the arena knowing which cows you are going to cut?
Do you leave watching cows up to your trainer, or your herd-help? Or do you just hope that the right cow offers itself up in the herd?
Until you take full responsibility for the cows you pick, then you are really just competing on a wing and prayer. The time always comes when you have to step up and own the whole process of showing if you want to progress in the sport.
If you don’t know what makes a good cow to cut, that’s ok. The first step in the process is just to start observing them. It’s amazing how much you can learn by watching and asking questions.
If you don’t know how to differentiate the cows in a herd, especially when you have a bunch of black angus, check out our video with Gabe Reynolds and Cullen Chartier in Video Categories under Showing, then go to Herd Work , who give excellent explanations on how to do exactly that.
For many, the biggest challenge is memorizing the herd. It’s a skill the best competitors have certainly mastered. There are many things you can do to help you remember. Some are lifestyle, long-term habits you can form (which have many other benefits) and others are tips you can apply straight away.
Write it down
One of the simplest things you can do immediately is to write down every cow in the herd with a description. Writing something down instantly helps you to recall it. To make it even more effective, draw a picture of each cow and exaggerate their main descriptive feature/s. You don’t have to be an artist, this is purely for your recall. Another trick is to give each cow a crazy, unusual name about one its features that will help you remember it.
Let’s get to the lifestyle tips that will improve your memory. (Ok get the groaning and eye-rolling over with – but yes it does requires some effort!)
- Eat Right. The foods you eat – and don’t eat – play a crucial role in your memory. (That means cutting back on those burgers and baked potatoes at the Coliseum and maybe throw in a salad not drowned in ranch. Gluten is also widely linked to brain fog.)
- Exercise. …(Ok you’re good here – loping for hours definitely counts)
- Stop Multitasking. …(That means getting off that iphone while you watch those cows!)
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep. …(That means putting down the phone and going to sleep!)
- Play Brain Games. …(more on this below)
- Master a New Skill. …(Insert fun here! How about taking up whittling or playing the spoons?)
- Try Mnemonic Devices. (that’s a fancy word for memory tools – more on that below)
Invest at least 20 minutes a day playing various brain games, but no more than five to seven minutes on a specific task. When you spend longer amounts of time on one task, the benefits weaken (according to studies). A great online source for boosting your memory is Luminosity.com. Another is BrainHQ.com, both sites have been developed by scientists and offer some games for free.
Don’t be put off by the high-tech sound of these tools. Essentially, they are handy tricks and techniques you can use to help organize information to make recalling it much easier. Examples are:
- Acronyms (such as PUG for “pick up grapes”)
- Visualizations (such as imagining a tooth to remember your dentist’s appointment)
- Rhymes (if you need to remember a name, for instance, think “Shirley’s hair is curly)
- Chunking, which is breaking up information into smaller “chunks” (such as organizing numbers into the format of a phone number)
This is probably one of the best techniques for cutting. It’s a method used by two-time USA Memory Champion, Ron White. Click HERE to read a blog post he wrote about using a system of mental maps. You can easily apply this to memorizing cows. In fact you will be amazed at the amount of knowledge you will be able to store.
Make sure you get some sun. Vitamin D helps the part of the brain that forms new memories. Research has shown up to 85% of the American public may be Vitamin D deficient. In older adults, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally fit.
But be like Goldilocks, not too much sun and not too little, just the right amount. Of course this means getting sun exposure without wearing sunblock. It varies between skin type, time of day and the season, but an average of 15 minutes a day of sun exposure is very good for the brain and the body to ensure you get enough vitamin D. Just use your common sense and the second you start to feel uncomfortable in the sun, then cover up.
What do you do to help remember those cows? Do you have any tips or a system for keeping track of the herd? Enter your comments below!