For Geoffrey Sheehan, it was stepping into an unknown world.
He was only 16 when he moved to the United States from his native Australia 12 years ago. He had competed in a cattle-working sport called camp drafting when he lived Down Under.
When he came up to the U.S., he began working for cutting horse trainer Graham Amos. That also was a big step, because he’d never competed in cutting horse competitions in Australia.
But Sheehan liked the sport and decided to make it his livelihood. Today, he lives near Lipan and he’s a professional cutting horse rider.
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Sheehan, 28, and a 6-year-old stallion named Cat Belue advanced Monday night to the finals in the Classic/Challenge open division at the National Cutting Horse Association Super Stakes.
The duo made the cut after turning in a semifinals score of 218 at Will Rogers Coliseum.
The final round, which features 5- and 6-year-old horses that are in their second and third years of competition and mainly ridden by pro riders, is scheduled for Friday.
Sheehan said he thrives on teaching a cutting horse to make all of the right moves.
“It’s the training horses that I really like, and then you get to come and show what you’ve trained,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to try to get a horse to do it right every time.
“It’s challenging to make everything fit every time and to teach a horse to read a cow good and to move good.”
Sheehan wasn’t the one who trained Cat Belue to compete in cutting horse shows. The horse was first taught to hold cows at bay by veteran Grant Setnicka.
However, Cat Belue’s owner, Charles Burger, who lives in Chatsworth, Ga., opted to hire Sheehan to ride Cat Belue at the Super Stakes.
Prior to competing in the high-profile NCHA show, Sheehan had only ridden Cat Belue a handful of times.
“I probably only worked their horse [in the practice pen] five times before I competed here in the first round,” Sheehan said. “Grant has trained a really good horse. He’s won a lot on the horse and he deserves all of the credit. This horse was trained to death. When I watched Grant show him, I always thought he was a really cool horse.”
Sheehan and Cat Belue turned in scores of 216 in both Round 1 and Round 2. But during the semifinals, they were two points higher.
Sheehan said the cows were tougher in the first two rounds, but they were much better in terms of helping horses earn a higher score during Monday’s semifinals.
“These cows are not running over everyone,” Sheehan said. “These cows honor you a lot more. The cows that we’ve previously worked, they would trick you and run over you. But these cows will stay off of you.”
Cat Belue proved that he could handle the adverse cattle during his first two runs before being allowed to work some better cattle during the semifinals.
“This horse is really smart about a cow — he’s super smart,” Sheehan said. “He’s a real low-moving horse with a cool look and he has a lot of eye appeal.”
When Sheehan and Cat Belue competed in Monday’s semifinals, no previous scores counted. With that in mind, he said he opted to take a somewhat conservative approach.
“I tried to be smart enough and safe enough not to cut cows that were too challenging,” he said. “But, at the same time, when you cut good cows, this is a horse who can do a lot.”