The Reining First Family

If the sport of reining had a royal family, then the McQuays and McCutcheons would rise to the throne.
PHOTOS BY George Kamper
It’s challenging to see where one family ends and the other begins. They are intertwined and immensely supportive of each other yet they stand separately—each family with their impressive accomplishments and unique visions for their prospering businesses. The family connection is fairly simple. Mandy McQuay, Tim and Colleen McQuays’ daughter, is married to Tom McCutcheon. The McCutcheon’s two children, Cade and Carlee, both ride and have added a “third generation” to these esteemed families of western reiners and hunter jumpers. Tom’s father rode both cutting and reining horses and is the first inductee into the Minnesota Cutting Horse Hall of Fame. Two of Tom’s brothers have also joined the horse business. We approached these legends as novices— hoping to glean as much as we could from their combined wealth of knowledge. We were reining neophytes, if you will.

The McQuays

We met Tim and Colleen McQuay of McQuay Stables at the Heritage Futurity, a reining horse show they host for 3-year-olds in Katy, Texas. Who better to sit with than champion reiner Tim McQuay while we observed the riders as they attempted to execute the compulsory patterns and standard maneuvers. Tim pointed out why some riders succeeded and others fell short in the eyes of the judges. A slight over-rotation of a spin or an extra stride on a lead change would be penalized. In many cases the nuances between a good ride and a bad are extremely subtle, particularly to an untrained eye. All competitors are required to ride the same basic patterns, but they vary in degree of difficulty. There are youth classes for kids, non-professional classes, novice levels that are based on the horse’s earnings, and after that it’s open classes. Tim watches a lot of reiners in competition. “It can get boring,” said Tim. “The first go-arounds of qualifying rounds for the futurities and derbies can take four days. That’s a lot of reining to watch. You sit and watch and watch, and then one comes in and you know it’s fabulous and you think, ‘don’t mess up.’” He added, “It’s awesome to see a horse be so good no matter who is riding.” We asked about a style—why the horses hold their head quite low—that seemed unique to reining. Tim said, “It’s style but many horses are just that way from their breeding, and it is more natural for them. Everyone is trying to breed or build that style. Someone had a superstar horse, and it was decided that it was a cool look and it simply caught on.” Tim offers infinite wisdom and credibility. His awards and earnings are legendary, and he has been described as one of the greatest in the history of reining. These accolades are substantiated with over $3 million-dollars in winnings and countless awards. Tim’s contribution to the recognition and growth of the sport of reining is as impressive as his accomplishments in competition. Its popularity is on the rise, and some high-profile shows such as the Ariat Tulsa Reining Classic are experiencing as much as a 25 percent growth. Tim is a horseman first and approaches his training in a healthy and intelligent way. He always puts the health and safety of his horses first. Contrary to what you might assume, it was East Coast cowboys that started the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA). Tim explained, “The East Coast is the core of where this whole reining discipline started. We used to haul our horses to New York. They reined on Long Island, in Pennsylvania, and eventually formed the NRHA in Ohio.” Tim added, “It was really just a group of guys that wanted to make up some patterns and put some money in a pot to run.” But informal reining really started with western cowboys, ranchers, and the American Quarter Horse Association. The ranchers had contests to see whose horse could turn the fastest, or handle a cow, or change leads quickly. Colleen McQuay is every bit the horse-woman, and her list of accomplishments both in the saddle and as a trainer is astonishing. What is truly unique and rarely seen is her profound level of expertise in both Western and English arenas. Colleen has earned numerous awards in the United States Equestrian Federation hunter divisions while also earning championships at the American Quarter Horse Association events. Her dedication and commitment to the growth and success of the reining horse industry and hunter jumper division is renowned. Colleen is a driving force in the equine world, and her sincere love of horses guides everything she does. She has been described as a great horsewoman with an uncanny eye for spotting talent and an unerring knack for keeping horses sound and performing at peak performance.

A Visit with the McCutcheons

Tom and Mandy McCutcheon were incredibly hospitable to EQ even while in the midst of sending trailers of horses, crews, and necessary equestrian gear to the Heritage Futurity horse show slated to begin that week. They were as gracious as they come and experts on all things reining. We met them at their 150-acre ranch in the lush horse country of Aubrey, Texas, where they own and operate Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses. It is a full training, breeding, and rehabilitation facility with a worldwide clientele. They have 250 horses on the property, four of which are champion standing stallions. They recently launched Tom McCutcheon’s: Virtual Horse Help, an online service offering horse-training videos, tips, video biographies, behind-the-scenes with world-class riders, and more. Tom is one of reining industry’s leading riders with numerous awards and championships to his credit and earnings exceeding $1 million. He is a co-founder and chairman of the board of directors of the National Reining Breeders Classic (NRBC)—the largest added-money reining event and stallion incentive program in history. His wife, Mandy is also one of the industry’s leading riders and the only woman and non-pro to surpass $1 million in earnings; she was inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame in 2011. Growing up riding hunters and jumpers, she has accrued many championships in that world as well, including the USEF Talent Derby. Mandy runs on boundless energy and seems integral to every aspect of the family’s reining horse business. She was able to rattle off every horse’s name and notable information about them during our tour of the stalls, rehabilitation facilities, and training arena.

Why Reining?

Tom gave us a little McCutcheon family background before answering some of our questions. He grew up with horses. His dad was in the horse business when there was no money. “He just loved horses, so we did everything,” Tom said. “We did cutting, showed pleasure horses, rode barrel, and roped horses. Basically, it was everything you could do in a western saddle.” Tom went out on his own when he was 18 and knew he didn’t want anything to do with cattle. It seemed to him that reining was going to have the greatest growth. “For once I guessed right,” Tom explained. “Reining has been the fastest growing of all the western disciplines by far and away, and it’s really prospering. I feel really fortunate to be in the business right now.” “The Futurity in Oklahoma, held in December, is like our Super Bowl,” added Tom. “Young horses and people come from all over the world. It will be a sell-out crowd at the Oklahoma City fairgrounds. It is the one time where it seems like our whole industry comes together.” Given some of the hefty prices recently paid for hunter jumper horses, we asked how the value of reining horses compared. “I can tell you a horse recently sold for $800,000 and that there have been private deals higher than that.We are gaining, but we aren’t in the hunter jumper stratosphere,” said Tom. The McCutcheon clientele used to be from small farms that did reining as a hobby. It was a rural clientele. “Now it’s more of an urban set that want to do something different and can afford to play at a higher level,” explained Tom. “There are a few prominent A-listers getting into the business.” Their celebrity names remain unmentioned. For someone transitioning into reining, it’s important to find trainers who are reputable. See who is close to you, ask a lot of questions, and find out who takes excellent care of their horses. Tom assured us there are good trainers all over the country and reining horses are found on both coasts, but, he added, “If you are looking for reining breeders, you should probably come to Texas.” Reining is flourishing in the U.S. and in the international arena. Some of that growth in popularity must be credited to NRHA Hall of Famers: the McCutcheons, the McQuays, and their horses. Their combined accomplishments and commitment to the sport have broadened the interest and expanded participation in the sport of reining by leaps and bounds.