Gary Ray is a big believer in saddling up for the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity.
The Throckmorton cowboy first competed in the sport’s most prestigious show in 1970, the same year that the legendary Doc O’Lena and high-profile rider Shorty Freeman won the open division title. Since then, Ray has missed competing in the Futurity only twice and one of those times was because he helped judge the event.
One reason Ray, 62, continues to enter the Futurity is because it serves as a superb training ground for a promising horse. The Futurity traditionally features the sport’s most promising debuting 3-year-olds who have gone though hour upon hour of training for the big event.
“A horse needs to go through the Futurity to make sure he’s developed for the rest of his life,” Ray said. “If a horse misses the Futurity, it misses out on being taken through all of the pre works and the practices to great ready. Horses just need to go through the Futurity to grow up.”
Ray is in Fort Worth this week for in the NCHA World Championship Futurity. While competing in the first round Tuesday night, Ray and a stallion named Little Star Dually turned in a respectable score of 216.5 at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
The duo will advance to the open division second round, which begins Wednesday morning and runs through Friday. If Ray and Little Star Dually can turn in at least a 216.5 in Round 2, they probably will advance to the semifinals, which is scheduled for Dec. 13. And a semifinals score of 216.5 probably will be enough to advance to the finals, which is Dec. 14.
Ray is a former Futurity open division finalist and he’s hoping to be among the field of finalists this year. After turning in the 216, Ray is optimistic about competing on Little Star Dually, which is owned by Gary and Lynda Paxton of Mangum, Okla.
“He’s got a lot of try and a big heart,” Ray said. “He’s a pretty physical horse. He gets pretty low to the ground when he’s working a cow.”
Ray and Little Star Dually competed within the last bunch of cattle Tuesday, which was the closing day of the first round. A field of 609 horses competed in Round 1 over six days and Ray said it was advantageous to compete very near the end.
“I feel like the good Lord blessed me by putting me in the very last bunch,” he said. “When I rode this horse in here last Wednesday, it was apparent that he had not grown up yet. He was immature. But since then, I had a chance to ride him a lot outside and in the alleys around here and that really helped me to know what he was thinking.”
By contrast, Ray received a no score when he and a filly named Spooky Janie competed in the first bunch of the first round Thursday morning. He said they might have fared better if they had been slotted to compete later in the round.
“I had almost a week’s advantage with [Little Star Dually] than I did with my other horse [Spooky Jane],” Ray said. “If [Spooky Jane] also could have drawn up later, I think I could have gotten her more mentally ready.”