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First-day jitters as cutting horse Futurity begins 24-day run

Bo Warren rides Lil Buffalo Dancer to a score of 213.5 in the NCHA Cutting Horse Futurity at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, November 17, 2016. The Futurity, the first jewel of the cutting horse Triple Crown, began its 24-day run.
Bo Warren rides Lil Buffalo Dancer to a score of 213.5 in the NCHA Cutting Horse Futurity at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, November 17, 2016. The Futurity, the first jewel of the cutting horse Triple Crown, began its 24-day run. Special to the Star-Telegram

There’s an old saying that’s echoed throughout the opening round of the National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity: You don’t know until you drop your hand down.

The Futurity is the NCHA’s most prestigious show, featuring the sport’s most promising debuting 3-year-old horses. But riders are uncertain how well a horse will perform until the horse competes for the first time at the Futurity.

That means a rider will separate a lone cow from the herd, will drop the reins and then hopes the horse will hold the cow at bay. The act of dropping the reins is called “putting your hand down.” Once a rider determines the horse is focused on the cow, he drops his hand, allowing the reins to become loose, and stations his hand on the horse’s mane in front of the saddle horn as the horse works the cow.

At the Futurity, riders are relieved when they turn the horse loose and the animal both prevents the cow from returning to the herd and stays in synchronization with the cow as the cow darts to and fro.

One rider who was relieved that his horse panned out during the Futurity’s opening day was three-time open division champion rider Ronnie Rice. Rice and a stallion named Lethal Weapon I were the first duo to make a 2  1/2 -minute run Thursday as the Futurity began its 24-day run at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.

Rice and Lethal Weapon I turned in an above average preliminary round score of 217 under the bright lights at the world’s most famous cutting horse arena.

Asked about being the first to rider compete, Rice said: “It didn’t bother me too much. You have to draw somewhere. That draw was the least of my problems.”

Rice said Lethal Weapon I has performed well while training for the Futurity over the past year. He was unsure how the young stallion would perform, however.

“You never know until you get here,” Rice said. “I’ve had some horses that were real good, but they didn’t work good the first time [they were shown at the Futurity]. You don’t know until you drop your hand down.”

The open first round is scheduled through Tuesday. The first round will feature a field of 628 horses entered in the open division, which is dominated mostly by pro riders such as Rice. He won the Futurity in 1998 and 2001 and shared the title with his great nephew Tarin Rice in 2012.

Rice and Lethal Weapon I will easily advance to the second round, which is scheduled for Nov. 23-25. At that point, they will attempt to advance to the Dec. 9 open semifinals.

The open finals of the Futurity, the first jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown Series, is Dec. 10. The owner of the winning horse will receive more than $200,000.

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