Tom McCutcheon has made competing in the World Equestrian Games a family affair.
In 2002, at his first one, McCutcheon, now 51, represented the U.S. along with his brother Scott. Then, in 2006 and 2010, McCutcheon again went back to WEG with his father-in-law, Tim McQuay of Tioga, and four years ago, McCutcheon again made the U.S. contingent along with his wife, Mandy. Now, in 2018, McCutcheon is headed back to the WEG accompanied by yet another family member, his son Cade.
“It’s pretty incredible,” McCutcheon said. “At the last games, I told Mandy that it would be fun, at some point, to be on the team with Cade. But, I thought I would more than likely be too old to be on the team with Cade. I didn’t [think] he was going to be quite this ready this early. It’s incredible. He is the youngest kid who ever made a team.”
Cade, now 18, and a recent graduate of Aubrey High School, earned his spot a while back aboard his stallion Custom Made Gun. The horse is owned by his grandparents, Tim and Colleen McQuay. The games where he and his steed will compete is set for Sept. 11-23 in Tryon, North Carolina, making it the second time the U.S. has hosted the event, Tom McCutcheon said.
The elder McCutcheon, who’ll be riding the Turnabout Farm-owned The Wizster, will compete with his son in the “reining” competition. That requires the rider to take his or her horse through a pattern of circles, spins and stops. For instance, a rider may gallop the horse and then make it stop suddenly, which can be followed by making the animal circle around or walk backwards. There are 13 patterns, each of which has about seven to eight maneuvers the rider and horse must perform, Tom McCutcheon said. Judging is based on how well and precise each movement is performed, he added.
“Everybody has to do the same pattern with the same maneuver,” Tom McCutcheon said.
The elder McCutcheon enjoyed competitive success in the past, winning gold medals in the team and individual competitions; he did both in 2010.
“I [have been] incredibly fortunate to have the right horses at the right time,” he said. “The bottom line is that you’ve got to have the livestock to make the team, and I’ve had really good horses at the right time.
Those equines come from at an equestrian center McCutcheon and his family operate in Aubrey, where about 300 horses — Quarter Horses and Paint Horses are used for WEG — are bred and trained for competition. Finding the best horses is like developing human athletes, he said, with the best being used for elite competition.
“They’re all used for reining,” the elder McCutcheon said. “We have a breeding program. … It’s a like lot starting in Little League baseball and progressing your way up.”
How quickly the horse learns the routines depends on the animal, Cade noted.
“Sometimes they pick it up pretty quickly, and sometimes it takes a little while,” he said. “The horse I have now, it took him a pretty long time, but as soon as he got it, he’s been easy [ever since].”
Getting to that point, and then honing the relationship between rider and beast, is no easy task. It requires hours of daily training, which includes a willingness to be up before dawn. Also, there must be a love of horses and a competitive fire within a rider, Tom McCutcheon said.
“That’s the combination,” he said. “As a family we’re very competitive, whether it’s playing cards, riding horses, playing basketball. It doesn’t matter what it is, we’re all very competitive. I think that’s what drives us to be out here. You can love horses, but what gets you up a 4 o’clock in the morning during the summer and work all day … [that] is the competitiveness.”
It’s what fuels Cade, who, along with being a rider, also played basketball for the Chaparrals.
“[The riding] got in the way of basketball a little bit at the beginning of the year, because I would miss a week for one of our biggest horse shows,” Cade said. “That always set me back for a couple of weeks, but by the end of the year it really didn’t mess with it.”
The former Chap usually practiced about five hours a day during the school year and around 10 in the summer. It paid off when he earned a spot on the world team. Now, his goal is to bring home a gold medal from North Carolina.
“Last year, [Cade] went to the equivalent of the Youth World Games in Switzerland, but this year he is playing with the big boys,” Tom McCutcheon said.
The desire to win also still burns in the elder McCutcheon, who acknowledges his body does have some wear and tear since first competing on a world state 16 years ago. However, with that stretch of time has come experience.
“As far as horse training and showing goes, I think I do all that probably better than I did then, probably because I have the experience,” McCutcheon said. “In that situation, the team experience is really important. … I am ahead of the game.”
As for what lies ahead in Tryon, the elder McCutcheon expects quite a bit of high-quality competition.
“The key to success there is you have to be at the top of your game,” he said. “The U.S. has, typically, been the leader in this, but we have had a couple of close calls. I know that Belgium and Brazil are going to field some really good teams. Italy and France had some really good scores at the trials, so I feel like there are going to be a lot of good teams. We’re going to have to be as good as we can be.”