By KELSY TAYLOR
Web Editor and Feature Writer
The prestigious Breeder’s Invitational is currently being held at Expo Square in Tulsa. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1997 to develop a major cutting horse show and to promote the cutting horse industry.
Bob O’Bannon, the Executive Director of the Breeder’s Invitational, pointed out that this is a very unique show. “Competitors are invited by subscribing their stallions to the organization.” Colts and fillies of the stallions are then invited to come to the show when they are four years old. “The group we have here are, in fact, the best riders and horses in the world.”
The organization hopes to continue to develop the show and promote the stallion owners as much as possible. “From our point of view, the stallion owners are our financial backbone of the industry. The more that you support that, the more that everybody will benefit.”
Cutting horses are typically bred and selected specifically for the event. O’Bannon further described that “a trainer gets involved when the horse turns two years old and they just work, work, and work. Cutting horse trainers have a tremendous talent to fine tune and polish those horses so that when you see them out here, they can do what they do. The horse is doing most of that, the rider has part of it but the majority of it is the horse. With a well-trained horse, the rider doesn’t have to do anything.”
O’Bannon explained that, “cutting horses normally train over a period of years. Trainers typically start working on them when they are two years old and they don?t show until they are three years old.” When the horses are four years old, there are major events throughout the country that they can participate in. There are four, five and six-year old horses competing in the show this week.
“Typically, you want a horse that has cow sense. When you watch a cutting horse, the beautiful part of it is when the horse mirrors that cow perfectly anticipating every move. Every time the cow makes a move, the horse makes the same move at the same time. That natural ability is a fantastic quality. If the horse doesn’t have this quality bred into it, then you have to train it into the horse which is a whole lot harder,” mentioned O’Bannon.
Quarter Horses make up 98 percent of all cutting horses. “It is not a requirement but that is the breed that they normally are. There are paints out there and I have seen an Appaloosa or two,” recalled O’Bannon.
There are different classes in the competition. The Professional Class, also called an open class, is open to all riders. Many of the participants are professional riders but there are also amateurs that ride in this class.
The Nonprofessional Class has the same level of cutting but riders cannot have ever trained or ridden somebody else’s horse for a profit. Participants also have to own the horse that they are riding in this class.
The Amateur class is similar to the Nonprofessional Class but there is a limited purse. “In this industry, that’s where you start. As an amateur, once you win a certain amount of money, you have to move up into the Nonprofessional Class and then into the Open Class. You can actually compete up. If you are an Amateur or a Nonprofessional, you can compete in the Open Class if you want but you can’t compete down,” emphasized O’Bannon.
Cutting is an exciting event. The rider rides their horse into a herd of cattle, has a particular cow in mind and then will drive that cow out. “The cow tries very hard to get back in the herd and the horse keeps it from doing that. That is what cutting is all about,” exclaimed O’Bannon. When the horse gets close enough to the calf, the rider lowers the reigns and the rest is up to the horse. Each contestant has two and a half minutes to separate three calves from a herd. Judges determine scores based on the horse and rider’s ability to separate the calves.
The concepts of cutting originated from traditional ranches in the American west. Ranchers have to cut a cow out from the herd to attend to it for various reasons. The cow constantly attempts to rejoin the herd and it is the horse’s job to keep the cow separated. Once the skills of cutting were developed, ranchers began competing with one another to see who could separate a calf from a herd for the longest period of time. This eventually turned into a sport that would reach across the world. Cutting is now one of the fastest growing equine sports in the world.
This year, there are 1,000 competitors in the Breeder’s Invitational. This is a record number of entries for the organization and an increase of 50 percent from last year. There are 700 horses entered into the show and some of them will compete in multiple events. Bob O’Bannon said, “We are hoping Tulsa will fall in love with the Breeder’s Invitational and come out to the event. I’ve got my fingers crossed!”