It all starts out pretty innocently. Just a horse to piddle around with. Next thing you know it’s a few of your horsy friends mentioning a cattle practice or seminar at whatshisname’s arena on Saturday afternoon, and quicker than you can say National Cutting Horse Association, you’re hooked.
Cutters Sharon Ivie and Toni Francisco of Morgan Hill, California are both quick to point out that many of the local club cutters in California, found their way to the regional club shows through friends that were going to give cutting a try. So many of these same people and their horses have gone on to become some of today’s brightest stars on the NCHA circuit.
Sharon admits to a lifelong passion for working cattle on a great horse. For many years she had been hauling her horses’ considerable miles and had spent a hefty sum in the pursuit of cattle.
“One day the thought occurred to me that there must be many people just like me, that would love to have a regional club that could hold shows with fresh cattle at a reasonable price and we wouldn’t have to drive all over creation to find them.’
A regional Appaloosa Breed show was scheduled to be held the following weekend at Sundin’s Arena, a facility located in Morgan Hill. I knew that they had planned on featuring some open, all-breed, cutting classes so I had gone ahead and sent in my entries. I felt fairly confident that this show would give me an opportunity to poll the cutters who showed up, and to see just how many of these cutters might actually be interested in becoming members of a local cutting club.’
‘As it turned out the breed shows open cutting classes were larger than the actual breed show itself! Everyone seemed excited about the prospect of having cuttings so close to home. Some of the comments I heard really inspired me to go forward with the organization of Gabilan Cutters” recalls Sharon.
Sharon concedes that she does make it sound pretty simple but in reality, running a club like this was like building a full-time job for herself. “The actual organization of shows, finding the show grounds, locating fresh cattle, and finding the many qualified helpers needed to actually run the show and take care of the cattle can be a gut-wrenching experience to say the least”, laughed Sharon. She admits that having some pretty good help that were as ‘cow addicted’ as she was, certainly helped to make this local cutting club the great success story it turned out to be.
Another Gabilan member who followed the cows with a passion was Toni Francisco. Having acquired her first cutting horse and becoming a member of Gabilan Cutters in 1993, everything just seemed to fall into place for Toni as she soon found herself elected to the board of directors. Halfway through ’95, Toni was presented the president’s gavel and also became largely responsible for the all the details of organizing the club’s shows.
Toni related that as a Gabilan board member, everyone had certain tasks that they would be responsible for. “At the time I became a board member I got real involved in finding cattle for practices. Then when I ended up President, I felt I needed control over the grounds, the judges, and the cattle to a point; even the weather is such a huge factor. It’s a lot like having a baby. You end up worrying over everything like costs, hay for the cattle, a standby show secretary, counting cattle off and then back on the trucks. It is unending, but mostly you need to plan way ahead of the show. Attention to detail becomes so important to me because if the cutters don’t enjoy the show they won’t be back.”
Toni continued to run the Gabilan shows until 1998 when fellow club cutter, Barb Stone approached Toni about helping her run the coming September, Santa Cruz Country Fair cuttings in Watsonville, California.
Barb too, had a lot of practical experience as she had been running the fair cuttings for several years. With the combined experience of these two show host veterans, they began to feel pretty confident about putting together a show of their own. Jointly they became known as TLC Cuttings.
Under the pair TLC moniker, they christened their NCHA-approved show, ‘Cutting on the Coast’. It wasn’t long until Toni and Barb’s TLC’s Cuttings, built a reputation for putting on a class show and became a much-talked-about event for cutters and sponsors in and outside of the Northern California area.
The past two show seasons at the Watsonville grounds have presented their own set of ‘up jumps the devil’ type surprises, for the ever-vigilant Toni and Barb. At the 1999 show the practice pen was across the creek, behind the show arena. The only way to get the cattle to the practice pen was to cross the creek. As fate would have it, the creek was not accessible, having washed out in a recent rain deluge. They were left with just two options; #1 call off the cutting OR #2 they could build a bridge.
The core of Army Engineers would have blushed at their bulldog tenacity, as this group of cutters assembled a makeshift bridge out of an old iron stairwell and some supports that were put together out of materials on hand. “To this day that bridge is still in use at the fairgrounds and just as sturdy as the day we put it together” relates a beaming Toni.
‘As a matter of fact back in ’99, I remember Barb calling me from the showgrounds as the trucks were hauling in the sand for the arena. She kept telling me the sand was blue and it just didn’t look right. I finally got hold of the supplier and they assured us it was perfectly good sand. But Barb just wouldn’t let it die. Finally, I went over to the grounds along with the supplier and found that this is the type of sand that, if dampened and left to dry overnight, would form a surface as hard as concrete. We had all the ‘blue’ sand scraped up and hauled off and replaced with the proper footing.”
That’s probably one of the many reasons the pair saw fit to reject this year’s arena sand 3 times until they found the quarry that had supplied what turned out to be the perfect sand footing at the ’99 cutting.
The 2000 Santa Cruz Fair Cutting was not without its unexpected drama. Just as the first set, of the first class of the day had finished up, what sounded like a string of Chinese firecrackers started to crackle and pop. The noise continued to get louder and louder until everyone realized that one of the very ancient-looking trees along the backside of the arena was splitting right down the middle. The tree toppled power lines into the cutting arena. Again, Toni was on the spot and had all the cutters and cattle evacuated from the arena. In short order, she had a call placed to the power company who amazingly showed up almost immediately, and had the power lines back up on the poles with a mere 2-hour delay to the cutting.
Both the Cutting on the Coast and fair events ended their 2000 runs with double the entries of the ’99 shows. Again, Toni and Barb feel the unblinking attention to detail is what makes their shows such popular NCHA-cutting events in California.