You won't often see Mandy McCutcheon get emotional after a big win.
The $2 Million National Reining Horse Association rider (the only non-pro in the million-dollar rider ranks) is accustomed to winning. She's spent her life working hard and competing even harder. The daughter of the legendary Tim McQuay and wife to international reining champ Tom McCutcheon, she's held to a high standard and doesn't often publicly show emotion. Most of us in the media know her for her intensity and laser focus.
But on Sunday, after the conclusion of the Kentucky Reining Cup, Mandy had tears in her eyes. It wasn't because she won the event (she didn't; she was second behind Shawn Flarida). It wasn't because she'd just reached the $2 Million Rider milestone (achieved on Friday night during the first round). I'm not even sure it as because she'd just made the team to compete at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy later this year.
It was all because of a handsome palomino horse she wasn't supposed to ride in the first place.
The Back-and-Forth Before
Leading up to the Kentucky Reining Cup, Mandy didn't know if she'd be in the running to make the team. Her dad and mom had purchased stallion Yellow Jersey last fall, with plans for Tim to ride the horse and hopefully make the team. They also hoped the flashy stallion by Wimpys Little Step would fill a place in their hearts that was left empty when they lost Gunner to complications associated with laminitis.
"We'd talk about who was going to ride Jersey," Mandy recalls. "At first, I was going to. Then my dad decided he wanted to. We kept going back and forth, so we went ahead and did the entry paperwork for both of us, so we could wait to make a final decision. We prepare for anything.
"One week before this event, as I was preparing for the non-pro finals at the National Reining Breeder's Classic, my dad called and told me I'd be riding Jersey. I told him that had better be his final answer; no more changing!"
Rides of a Lifetime
Mandy and Yellow Jersey placed second in both rounds of competition, marking a 224 in the first and a 225 in the second. I spoke to Mandy briefly after the first round on Friday night, noting how special that horse seems, and she confirmed saying, "I love him, too!" with a great big smile on her face. That smile was only bested by the smile after her second run, which clenched her spot on the team.
In the post-event press conference, when asked about what the horse means to her, Mandy showed just how special it was to ride this particular horse in this event.
"To be able to ride a horse like this, and for my parents to give me this opportunity is pretty generous," she said, smiling with tears in her eyes.
After the event, Mandy shares, "He's just such a special horse, who's led so many people to success. He can plus-half or plus-one every maneuver. He's made us all look good!"
The Road Ahead
The breeding business doesn't stop for big international events, so Yellow Jersey returned home to his job as a stud.
"He's been breeding quite a bit leading up to this, and we've had even more calls in the last few days," Mandy shares. "I can ride him, and they can collect him later that day; it doesn't effect him. It definitely helps that he stays here on the farm.
"The biggest thing is to keep him in shape," she continues. "He's a really broke horse that knows what to do. I only had to lope him for 10 minutes before I showed him this weekend. So I'll ride him and take him to a couple schooling shows, but he doesn't require a lot of maintenance.
"We use Soft-Ride Equine Comfort Boots when we trailer, because it minimizes the concussion on his feet and legs," she says. "It's a preventative measure for us. With the quality of horses we haul, we have to take great care of them at all times."
The one downside Mandy sees ahead is that her parents won't be able to join her in Normandy. They own and operate the Tulsa Reining Classic, which occurs at the same time as WEG. Mandy admits that it's disappointing and a little sad, but in her true tough self, she knows that they'll be supporting her in spirit. As well, she'll have her husband and teammate, Tom, and her kids with her on the trip.
"Tom can't whistle, but he definitely knows how to support me and help me," she shares.
Thanks to Soft-Ride Equine Comfort Boots for their sponsorship of our coverage of the Kentucky Reining Cup.