As she rode her 4-year-old gelding Quarter Horse, Vern, in the finals at the recent Music City Futurity cutting horse show in Franklin, Tennessee, Julia Beasley tried to relax. The horse trembled with intense concentration, anticipating the cow’s next move to keep the cow in front of him. When it was over, the pair earned the Reserve Champion title. Sam Shepard, Julia’s trainer, made the Open finals on Vern at the Music City Futurity. Vern was the Non-Pro Champion recently at Magnolia Classic in Canton, Mississippi, with Julia and was Open Reserve Champion with Sam Shepard riding him.
Julia got into the sport by chance, after stopping at the Crawford Arena in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1999 when she spotted some horse trailers. She had actually started riding horses in the fourth grade when her family moved to Montgomery, but decided to take a break from the sport after getting bucked off a horse in the 7th grade. Shortly afterward, she began playing tennis and left behind her four-legged friends to earn a college scholarship on the tennis courts.
After graduating from Cumberland School of Law in 1991, Julia says she had a desire to get back to horses, yearning to spend some time in the country and in the saddle. She took some lessons in English riding, but once she saw the cutting horse competition in 1999, she knew she had to try it. Some local friends she met at that first show brought a cutting horse out to her farm to let her try it out.
“I got on the horse, the cow moved, the horse took off to stop the cow and I fell off (because I looked down at the horse instead of keeping my eye on the cow). I screamed and then I bought the horse,” Julia recalls with a laugh. She knew in that instant this is what she wanted to do, although that was the first time to sit on a cutting horse and she knew nothing about “cutting.”
The sport of cutting is derived from the real-life skills needed by cowboys in the Old West working a cattle ranch. The cutting horse is trained to separate one cow from the herd at the direction of the rider, and must then keep that cow separated from the others. This skill was used to pull cows for branding, medical attention or other purposes on the working ranch.
In a cutting horse competition, which is a 2.5-minute timed and judged competition, the rider must make a deep cut, drive out the herd of cattle and separate one cow from the herd. Then the rider must drop his or her reins and allow the horse to work the cow and keep it from returning to the herd. The ultimate goal is to work the cow in the middle of the pen. The horse and rider must work together as a team. The rider can stop working the cow once it is stopped or turns away. Then the rider goes back into the herd to separate and work another cow.
Julia purchased “Vern,” whose registered name is Duallin in the Snow, from his previous owner, Terry Gay, in May. Vern, a registered Quarter Horse, was born on Walton’s Rocking W Ranch in Millsap, Texas, and was owned by Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart Walton family, in 2005. His sire, Dual Rey, is a champion cutting horse. Vern came to Sam Shepard’s barn as a yearling. Sam did an excellent job training Vern and demands that the horses he trains perform to their highest potential.
In addition to Vern, Julia has 6 other horses, including a 3-year-old mare, named Thee One, who will be shown by her trainer, Sam Shepard, for the first time at the Championship Futurity at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, in December. Julia is also entered in the amateur class on Thee One. Her sire is Peptospoonful.
Julia keeps 5 of her horses at her Montgomery home, while Vern and Thee One (nicknamed “Strawberry”) stay in training with Sam Sheperd in Verbena, Alabama. A cutting horse usually begins his or her training at age 2 and begins to show at age 3. Julia competes in the amateur class at National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Limited Aged Events (for young horses) like The Music City Futurity and other futurities, while trainer Sam Shepard also competes with the horses in the Open class for professional horse trainers. There are weekend shows each month (for all aged horses) in Montgomery and Geneva, Ala., and Andalusia, Ala., may begin to have regular cutting horse shows.
Vern is definitely the most athletic cutting horse Julia has ever ridden, she says. “He’s really quick and very athletic. He knows how to use his body and is smart on a cow. I’m trying to teach myself to relax, to get out of his way and let him do his thing.”
Julia also gives all the credit for any success in cutting to God. “God has definitely blessed me with some very nice horses, an excellent trainer and a great family who encourages me, prays for me and takes over ‘barn duty’ when I go to a show,” she said.
While she was thrilled with Vern’s Reserve Champion win, she was excited about another honor the pair snagged in Franklin. They earned the top score in the first round of the 4 year old Amateur Class with a score of 219 and won a special award – a pink fleece horse cooler (used as a blanket to dry off the horse when sweaty in the winter) for breast cancer awareness, embroidered with the words, “I was tough enough to wear pink at the Music City Futurity Award.”
“Winning that was so special to me because my mom is a breast cancer survivor,” Julia said. This was the first year for this award. Julia says that “Vern will wear the pink cooler and will look good in it.”
Stacy Shepard and her husband, Austin Shepard, sponsored the award. Stacy’s mother died of breast cancer when Stacy was just a teenager. The cooler will be a good reminder to everyone that one day we all hope to find a cure for breast cancer.