Journal on the Road

Heritage on Display at the Champions Cup

November 26, 2011

Former champions of the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity compete in the Champions Cup in a celebration of the sport.

By Larri Jo Starkey

Buster Welch rides through the herd November 26 at the Champions Cup.

Buster Welch rides through the herd November 26 at the Champions Cup. (Journal photo) For more photos, scroll to the slide show below.

What started as a celebration of the 50th National Cutting Horse Association Futurity turned into a whole lot more.

History, heritage and some pretty fancy cutting were all on display November 26 during the Neiman Marcus Champions Cup in Fort Worth, Texas.

“It was an electric night for everybody,” said cutting trainer Jody Galyean, one of the competitors who earned the right to compete.

For the 50th anniversary of the futurity, NCHA invited all the riders who had won the futurity to return for a celebration competition.

“The only way to get to compete in this event is to have won the ultimate cutting horse event,” said Jeff Hooper, NCHA executive director.

Thirty-one riders accepted the invitation and started finding horses and preparing to show off their skills again, divided into three age groups: under 50, 50-65 and 66-and-up.

Jody earned his invitation in 1986, when he won the futurity with Royal Silver King. For the Champions Cup, Jody rode Auspicious Cat, owned by Dos Cats Partners, and was helped in the arena by his sons, Beau and Wesley, both futurity winners themselves, his daughter, Christina, and his dad, Kenneth.

“This was a great night for the cutting horse sport, a great fun night for everybody,” Jody said after posting a 230 to take the win in the 50-65 group. “It was a special night for me to have my family and my dad and everybody down there helping me. It was a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

A sold-out crowd started standing in line an hour before the cutting started in the Will Rogers Coliseum, and when the cheering started about four horses into the competition, it didn’t stop.

Four horses in was when Austin Shepard rode in on High Brow CD, owned by Chris Thiboudeaux. Austin won in 2007 on High Brow CD, and the horse hasn’t lost much of a step while he has been in the breeding shed. Just like in 2007, the sorrel stallion’s hard stops and fancy footwork brought loud “booms” of appreciation from the audience and pulled a 230 out of the judges.

“It was a neat opportunity,” Austin said. “It’s the only time I would show him. He’s obviously still a great horse, but he doesn’t have anything to prove. It’s his colts now. What a great horse. I ride a lot of really nice horses, but he may be the only great one I’ve ever ridden.”

One of Austin’s really nice horses is Bet Hesa Cat, owned by the Bet Hesa Cat syndicate and ridden for the Champions Cup by American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Buster Welch.

Many of the former champions received loud applause when they started riding; many received standing ovations when they finished; but only Buster received a loud standing ovation before he even reached the herd.

“(This event is) one of the neatest things I’ve ever been involved in,” Austin said. “It was a lot of fun to show my horse, and it was just as much fun to watch Buster show my other horse.

“I’ve got a program from the ‘85 Derby when I was 8 years old, and I walked around here and got autographs, and Buster’s was one of (the autographs).”

Buster won the first futurity, as well as four more, and his history had 8-year-olds and up still vying for his signature and the chance to have a photo made with him.

And while Buster won the first two futurities, the co-champion of the third, Dennis Funderburgh on Zan Sun in 1964, picked up the 2011 win in the 66-and-up age division.

Dennis rode Peppys Shorty Nino, owned by Larry and Alice Irvin, a horse bred by Dennis’ daughter-in-law and one that he started. His solid run pulled a 223 from the judges, a score that would have been more than good enough to win in many years.

“This is a good horse,” Dennis said. “I sold him to these people about three years ago. They’ve done real well with him. I just wanted to borrow him for this.

“I always start me a 3-year-old (for the futurity), but I’m bad about selling them.”

For more photos from the Champions Cup competition, see the Journal slide show below. Click on each photo to read about it. Look for more photos in the January issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.

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