It’s has been 35 years since Lindy Burch won the World Championship Futurity open division title for the National Cutting Horse Association.
It’s cutting horse’s most coveted belt buckle, and Burch became the first woman to win it.
She was 29 at the time and living in California when she accomplished the rare feat aboard Mis Royal Mahogany. She also was the only woman who qualified for the open finals at the 1980 Futurity.
On Thursday night at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, Burch, 64, who lives near Weatherford, served notice that she might just end up in the finals at the 2015 Futurity. She and a bright filly named Salsa Style turned in a respectable prelim score of 217.
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Veteran Roy Carter and Peptos Scootin Man led all open riders Thursday with a 219.
Thursday was the first of five days of runs in the open division first round. After marking a 217, Burch is expected to advance to next week’s second round. At that point, she hopes to advance to the Dec. 11 semifinals. If she makes it that far, she will attempt to earn a berth in the Dec. 12 final round, which serves as the first jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown Series.
The open division winner will receive a $200,000 prize.
There were many, many competitions that I was in at that time and I was the only woman in the competition.
Lindy Burch, on breaking gender barriers in the top class of cutting horse.
When Burch won the Futurity title 35 years ago, the sport was dominated by credentialed male competitors such as Buster Welch and Matlock Rose.
But Burch broke the gender barrier by winning the sport’s most prestigious show, and she’s often compared to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
“I love the comparison — I think it’s good,” Burch said. “But I don’t think I’m anywhere in his class with what Jackie Robinson had to put up with, of course. But there were many, many competitions that I was in at that time and I was the only woman in the competition. Now, you go to a show and there will be more than one woman. There might be several.”
The victory gave others hope.
“I think it opened a lot of doors for people who felt like someone new could win it, and let alone a woman from California,” Burch said. “It was pretty odd to have all that. I think it made the sport more accessible to more people. There are some great lady hands today who are working hard who are at the top of their game.
“I think it opened the door so other women could do the same thing.”
29 Age for Lindy Burch when she won the prestigious Futurity in 1980.
Five years after Burch won the Futurity, Kathy Daughn claimed the show’s open division title aboard The Gemnist. Daughn is the only woman who has won the Futurity twice. She also clinched the title in 2000 aboard Royal Fletch.
Today, many women compete in the non-pro and amateur classes. But Burch and Daughn are among a handful of higher profile female riders who thrive in the open division.
When a rider competes only in the open division, the competitor also trains horses for the public. The open division mostly is dominated by pro riders, although riders of non-pro and amateur status can step up and try their hand in the open division.
Burch said one reason women shy away from being solely an open division trainer/rider is it is very challenging to both run a horse-training operation and successfully ride in the shows at the same time.
“The lifestyle is hard, and it’s very hard to have a family and do all of the family things you want to do,” said Burch, who is single. “Traditionally, the man has the career and the women take care of the family for the most part. I think it’s hard for a woman to have to give all that up and compete in the open arena and train horses every single day.”
The Futurity features the sport’s most promising, debuting 3-year-old horses. Burch said she was somewhat apprehensive about showing Salsa Style for the first time, though she’s saddled up for the show for many years.
“Being the first day, I was a little anxious and wanted to do a good job,” Burch said.
“I wasn’t trying to blast them out of the arena, but I just wanted to do a good job, a nice work.”
I kept having to go down my list and was about on Plan F when it came my time.
Burch on seeing other riders cut the cattle she wanted during Thursday’s first round.
When she competed Tuesday, Burch had to overcome some odds Thursday turning in a good score. She was slotted to compete near the end of the seventh bunch. When a rider is drawn to compete later in a bunch, it’s sometimes more challenging to find the cattle to work that would help generate a good score.
“The people in front of me kept cutting the cattle that I wanted,” Burch said. “I kept having to go down my list and was about on Plan F when it came my time. I had moved long past Plan A, B and C. But my help was good and calmed me down.”
After entering the herd, Burch cut three helpful cows during the 2 1/2 -minute run that would help her earn a fine opening round score.
“He’s a horse that really wants to please,” Burch said. “He reads a cow really good. He’s certainly athletic enough. But the important thing to me is he thinks about a cow really strongly.”