PHOTOS BY Alden Corrigan
To refer to the McCutcheons as a multi-generational success story is somewhat of an understatement. The family’s combined list of accomplishments in the equestrian world is staggering, and the duration of remaining at the top of the sport of reining unparalleled.
Reining, a western discipline steeped in maneuvers of ranch horses herding and managing cattle, encompasses a series of reining moves with self-explanatory names such as circles, spins, rollbacks, and the signature reining-horse move, the sliding stop. The faster and more cadenced with imperceptible cues in some patterns, the better. For the viewer, distinguishing the good from the great takes a discerning and knowledgeable eye.
To witness the great, a gaze towards the McCutcheons is where to focus. Mandy McCutcheon is the daughter of reining legends. Her father, Tim McQuay, has won every major National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) sanctioned event and team golds for the U.S. reining team, and her mother, Colleen McQuay, is a renowned hunter-jumper champion, trainer, and founding member of the United States Hunter Jumper Association and served on the board of the NRHA.
Following suit, Mandy had shown her first reining horse by age 10 and competed in the hunter jumpers. She topped her first NRHA Futurity in 1993 and has gone on to win the Futurity an impressive 10 times. She hit the $3 million Rider Milestone in 2021, and as recently as August 2023, Mandy won the Non-Pro Championship at The Run For A Million for the second year in a row on her mare, Jlosa, who she recently retired. “That will be her retirement run,” Mandy tells Quarterhorse News following the win. “She’s going to be a momma now.”
Mandy’s husband, Tom McCutcheon, also comes from a family immersed in the horse world. Tom’s father, Bob McCutcheon, a longtime cutting and reining horse trainer and competitor in various disciplines, was known for working with difficult horses and polishing them for sale. Each of his older brothers, Scott, Jimmy, and Terry, have all reached prominence in the horse industry and remain involved in the horse world, training cutters, barrel, and rope horses.
Tom is one of reining’s leading riders, earning individual and team gold medals at the World Equestrian Games, a multi-time finalist at every major NRHA event, and named United States Equestrian Team Equestrian of the Year. In addition to accruing countless other awards with prize earnings well into the millions, he is considered one of the premier trainers in the industry.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Not all kids follow in their parent’s footsteps, but the McCutcheon’s son Cade and daughter Carlee have both gone into
horse sport wholeheartedly. “They just did what they wanted to,” says Mandy. “They have the same love for the horse that we do, and it just went from there.”
At age 7, Cade made his reining debut in a short stirrup class and, by age 10, was showing in his first NRHA Non-Pro Futurity. At 18 years old, he was the youngest U.S. rider competing in reining and was selected to compete at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, where he earned an individual bronze medal. To avoid the pitfalls of finding early success, he heeded advice from his father, who told him to keep working, that winning now doesn’t guarantee you’ll win more later.
Now 23 years old and competing in premier events (he’s already qualified for the prestigious 2024 Run For A Million competition), Cade is also a trainer working with his clients side by side with his father and grandfather, Tim McQuay, at Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses, located on their 170-acre ranch in Aubrey, Texas. “Cade probably has 20 of his own horses right now,” Mandy explains. “He trains, buys, and sells horses and manages his own clients, but we manage the bookwork end of it.”
On the cusp of turning 18, Carlee competes convincingly in Western and English disciplines. Of late, she is focused on the equitation and hunter-jumper arenas and quickly gaining awards and recognition. In 2023 alone, she won the Equitation Championship at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, and swept the Junior Jumper Championships at Devon. Most recently, she competed in Belgium for the U.S. Junior Jumping Team in the 2023 FEI Jumping Nations Cup Youth Final. Carlee delivered a clear round in the final, helping her team reach the podium in a third-place finish. “She also loves the reiners, but she just craves the show jumpers,” laughs Mandy. “It’s like she can’t get enough of it. Carlee wants to be riding and jumping all the time. She did a lot of bareback jumping at home because that’s what she liked to do. She’s just a barn rat in general, you know.”
Some of Carlee’s recent wins were with Coco Mercedes, a 10-year-old Westphalian mare, facilitated by her coach Max Amaya, owner of Stonehenge Stables, and McLain Ward. The Wards and McQuays have known each other for years, with Mandy competing in the junior jumpers with McLain years ago. “I think McLain had a comfortable feel for us,” notes Mandy. “When you throw Max in the picture, it just gave Carlee the opportunity to get a ride like that. It happened to be a great partnership.” Initially owned by McLain and Old Oak Farm, Coco is presently owned by Purple Rein Investments LLC, the syndicate Mandy formed.
Mandy reflects on the success of both of her kids. “I’m so proud and happy for them because I know it’s their passion, and I know the hours they put into it. They are achieving what they’ve been working hard for.”
Hard work runs through the entire family, and their success hinges on it. There are a multitude of factors in play, but ultimately, it’s the thrill of competing, the horses, and family. “You know, we all have a competitive drive inside of us,” Mandy admits. “We want to be the best at whatever we do. And so, you don’t have a choice in this business but to work hard.”
“YELLOWSTONE” AND THE REINING EFFECT
Equestrian Living featured the sport of reining in the winter 2013/2014 issue. Since then, the sport has grown exponentially in popularity, familiarity, participation, and particularly in prize money. Big prize money.
Some of the popularity of the sport can be attributed to the 2010 World Equestrian Games held in the U.S., but when you add Taylor Sheridan’s involvement with the runaway series “Yellowstone” and “The Last Cowboy,” a documentary competition of horse reining, the interest in reining just took off. “Those two things were really the next step. Lots of our major events have started to pay more,” explains Mandy. “So, the amount of money that can be won now is significantly higher than it was just 10 years ago.” The impact of “Yellowstone” has filtered into other business aspects of the sport, including horse sales, breeding, training, and prize money across the board.
Actor and filmmaker Taylor Sheridan created “Yellowstone” with John Linson in 2018. The television drama series featuring a patriarch of a complicated ranching family controlling the largest ranch in the U.S. has been an overwhelming success since its launch.
“We knew Taylor before he started all of that,” Mandy casually mentions. “We train some horses for him. He’s way into the horses and loves the Western way of life. That’s part of why he wrote his ‘Yellowstone’ series. I think it’s because he loves the Western way of life so much and wanted to make it more popular.”
Recognized for the family’s expertise in reining, the McCutcheons have appeared in cameos on “Yellowstone” and “The Last Cowboy.” “It was fun to see and experience what those guys do on a daily basis,” Mandy muses. “I have to say it’s a lot of work, so I have much more respect for actors than I did before. You know, you’re on the set and do the same thing repeatedly and shooting it from this way and from that way. It was a learning experience.” In an amusing response to a WFAA ABC television interview question posed to Cade about his and the family’s special appearances in “Yellowstone,” he joked, “I mean, I’d much rather be an NBA player, but this is what God gave us, so here we are.”
Taylor was also instrumental in his vision and support of The Run For A Million, the game-changing reining competition with a purse of one million dollars. It is the richest reining event in the sport’s history and has generated enthusiasm across other Western disciplines. Participants are required to compete in two NRHA qualifiers to reach the final 16 riders who will compete for the million-dollar prize.
“Yeah, he’s been the one to get it all done. There’s been a lot of people over the years that have said they wanted to do things like this but never have, but he was able to pull [The Run For A Million] together and make it happen,” notes Mandy. “He put his neck on the line and did it.”
The migration and participation in reining hasn’t been missed by the hunter-jumper riders either. “If I take reining horses out to Wellington with me, I don’t have them for long because people there want them to just ride around for fun,” Mandy laughs. “So yes, a lot of people migrated from other disciplines to reining in the last 10 to 12 years for sure.”
In the 2013 Equestrian Living article, Tom said, “If you’re looking for reining breeders, you should probably come to Texas.” When presenting a similar question to Mandy in 2023, the sentiment hadn’t changed. She laughed, “Yep. Gotta go to Texas.” And subtly added, “or Southern Oklahoma.”
The McCutcheon family remains ingrained in horse sport, particularly reining. They embody the best of the sport—in and out of the saddle—and exemplify what commitment, hard work, and reverence for the horse should look like.
To “Yellowstone’s” Taylor Sheridan, it may look like the best of the Western way of life.