On June 10 this year, Australian trainer Todd Graham created cutting horse history. He became the first and only rider to win six Futurities! The legendary Buster Welch has won five in the US and while Todd has won Australian NCHA Futurities, it’s an astonishing feat to win six of any title no matter which country or what sport! Think Roger Federer who is the only player to have won the Australian Open and Wimbledon at least 6 times (Wimbledon is actually 8) or even the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps won the same event just four times, to show how difficult it is to claim multiple victories in one event.
Last out in the final, Todd rode Duplicity owned by Lloyd Nielson. He marked a 223 to scoot past leader Linda MacCallum’s 219 to win.
“Any Futurity win is good and this last one was special. The guy that owned the mare has been a mate of mine since we were kids,” said Todd.
“We cut the first two cows we knew [were fresh] and we were putting a pretty decent run together…It just felt like it was building. We went back to cut the rerun…and I wasn’t fussed on that. It was kind of numb and wasn’t going to do too much and as I stepped into the herd, out behind me came this other cow…I again knew it was fresh but I didn’t know if it was any good. Anyway I took a risk and cut it and it was ok, it wasn’t great but it was good enough to finish on without a mistake.”
“Every Futurity I’ve won, you know, as you’re coming along you can feel it building. It’s a big thing I learnt probably years ago, you got to build on your run. You won’t win it in the first 20 seconds.”
“Yeh it was a great feeling, to prove to yourself you could still do it and to do it for Lloyd,” he said.
Todd and his wife Jackie were in the States this month looking at horses and cutting facilities. Jackie was also competing in the International Non Pro Cutting Challenge at the El Rancho Futurity in California.
After 25 years running his own training business and working for the public, Todd relocated to Goondiwindi, Queensland to work full time for Andrea McCosker, a wealthy cotton grower and owner of SDM Quarter Horses. Andrea took over the reins from her mother Sue who died a few years ago. Sue had started a breeding program centered around One Time Royalty which stands at Oswood Stallion Station in Texas.
“We were looking for a change just to get away from the grind of working for ourselves and managing all that and it just seemed like a good challenge,” said Todd Graham.
The change couldn’t have come at a better time, with much of Queensland and all of New South Wales suffering one of the worst droughts on record.
“You’re buying horse feed, cow feed, you know paying staff, whereas now, we don’t have any of those worries, so that’s good, “ he said.
It’s been 3 years of well below average rainfalls. Feed costs have more than trebled and hay has had to be shipped from 20 hours away at a cost of $7,000.
“Bare, there’s no grass, it’s just dirt. If you drive around New South Wales or even around our place at Goondiwindi, it’s just dirt, there’s no grass. It’s desperate. It’s just really desperate. There’s towns running out of water, it’s affected the whole country,” said Todd.
While it’s been an adjustment going from boss to employee, Todd said he is excited about establishing SDM Quarter Horses as a major, if not the major, cutting horse and camp draft breeding enterprise with a proven show record.
“She [Andrea] is committed to seeing the Royalties go through and be competitive and sought after” which he said, they look like they will be in the next 12 months. “They’ll suit the camp draft market, they’ll suit the cutters and it’s good to be a part of all that, the developing of that, the promotion of all that.”
Todd and Jackie visited cutting ranches around Weatherford, TX, like the architect-designed Rocking P Ranch owned by Bobby Patton, Slate River and Winston Hansma’s to get ideas for developing their facilities at Goondiwindi.
“We’re building indoor arenas and barns and all that. There’s a lot of horse facilities there but not set up to train cutting horses so we’re redoing the whole thing.”
While building costs are much higher in Australia, a standard indoor arena with no walls costs $120,000, Todd said Andrea plans on creating a show piece.
“We will build one [arena] big enough to hopefully hold a show in it, some competition, some pre-works. Probably put 40 stalls in it, horse walker, try and put it all under one roof. Also want to put in some rehab facilities, state-of-the-art type stuff. Andrea’s pretty committed to it, if she does anything, she does it right.”
Todd said the breeding adds a new challenge for him as he explained his new goal for SDM Quarter Horses: “I don’t really want to you know go along and just cruise along, I’d like to, I’ve always wanted to be the best so you kind of want to do that too. You know when people want to buy a horse, they ring (call) us, when people want to breed a mare they ring us, when people want a job, they ring us,” he envisioned.
Always on the lookout for new mares and bloodlines to import, Todd said so far they’ve bred to some Metallic Cats, and Smooth Talking Style. They also currently have a few horses in training with Lloyd Cox.
With camp drafting the biggest market in Australia, the horses also need to be good at running. Camp drafting is an Australian sport that includes a snaffle bit component before riders then guide the cow in a figure eight at speed. It has many similarities to cow horses in the States.
“They are really starting to source them now [from the cutting industry] because of the training that we do on them, they’ve got a great foundation…so they can get on them a lot earlier now than they used to 10 years ago.”
“They need to be soft in a snaffle, they need to rate a cow at speed without getting too hot and be able to run a tight circle.”
But if you think Todd is slowing down in the show pen, think again. Ever ambitious, he said he’d love to also have success in the States. He said Lloyd has a good 3-year-old for the Futurity.
“I said to him the other day if it’s good enough for him to show it, he should show it, but if not I’d like to come do it.”
“It’s more personal pressure because you’ve done it at home and you want to come over here and do it again, not necessarily win but just be there and be competitive,” he added.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Todd. He dominated in Australia in the mid 90s when he won his first 3 futurities in a row in 1995, 96 and 97 when Roger Wagner and John Mitchell were on his turn back team. He won again in 2002 but then went 12 long years before returning as Futurity Champion in 2015 and again this year.
While he was still making finals and placing over that 12 year gap, he said he wasn’t able to put it all together, a time when he was going through a divorce.
Now married to Jackie, Todd said being happy helped him get that winning finesse back.
“When you’re content and you’re happy, that’s when your mind’s a bit clearer and you can do the right things and get your focus on what you need to do…I guess your mind’s clearer and more comfortable, you do the right thing, you cut the right cow at the right time.”
“You need that support…it’s long hours, it’s demanding, you know the pressures and all that sort of thing but Jackie’s always there…when you need her and that’s a huge help.”
They are a winning team. Jackie herself won the Non Pro Futurity this year.
Todd Graham is Australia’s top money earner in the sport with $2.4-million. While you may think it doesn’t compare to the top US trainers like Phil Rapp, Matt Gaines and Lloyd Cox at $9 and $8-million, the prize money offered and the number of cutting shows is far lower. The Futurity pays $75,000 to win and trainers there typically take home a smaller percentage. Todd said the first Futurity he won in 1995 paid $17,000.
“I’ve showed a lot of horses to win $2.4 million,” Todd Graham said.
Todd said cutting has changed a lot in that time, becoming far more technical.
“The mare I won it [1995 Futurity] on was cowy and a little wild and was a little out there and now you can’t do that. You get stung for a small miss or a big miss… the judging’s changed heaps and that’s changed how the horses work…you can’t expose them as much as you used to,” he explained.
Todd said winning is not more difficult now, just different.
“Winning is always difficult, I wouldn’t say it’s any better, I wouldn’t say the cutting is any better now. The horse training’s changed a lot, there’s a lot more control, sometimes it’s a little more bland. Not all horses are bland but the majority of them, it’s taken a lot of style out of them,” he said a little wistfully of the way cutting used to be.
So what’s his secret? Todd said it’s a combination of his mental preparation and a natural talent for the sport.
“Sometimes it just happens, but most of the time you’ve got to make it happen. You’ve got to clear your mind about what you’re doing…here’s my job tonight and this is what I need to do and sort of clear your mind so you can remember the cows and think about how you’re going to work your horse and do all those little things right,” said Todd Graham.
“I’m pretty lucky I’ve got a good feel for a horse and a good feel for a cow…I probably haven’t had to work at the basic stuff. But I guess I’ve developed over the years, my timing is pretty good on a horse and I’ve tried to relate that to the cow. Don’t worry when I was younger I made plenty of mistakes…so you’ve got to wait to the next show and do it again. And that made me get smarter when I show and I guess I’ve got this thing that apparently I don’t look flustered when I’m in there. I can be really nervous but I don’t look like that. I guess I’m lucky in that department and lucky that I found something that I was good at,” said Todd.
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