To The National Horse Cutting Association World Finals And Beyond
By Kerri Cooke
My motivation and aspiration is the same, being number one or being number five. So that’s the truth. And my goal is the same — it’s to always be happy playing, it’s to enjoy the game and improve always. —Rafael Nadal
Barrett Freeland, an 11-year-old from Hathaway, La., is a typical kid at first glance. But he has more motivation and confidence than most adults.
Barrett is headed to the National Horse Cutting Association World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, sitting in the No. 5 position after competing seriously for only one year.
When asked how he first started horse cutting, Barrett said he used to take part in competitions put on by the Louisiana Stock Horse Association, LASH, and enjoyed trail riding and riding horses for fun. One day he saw someone cutting, and that was his initiation.
When I asked what horse cutting was, I was told there was one main thing that I needed to know first. Horse cutting is not the same as doing rodeo. The sport is considered an equestrian sport rather than a livestock event.
Horse cutting looks quite simple when you watch it being done, but it is actually quite complicated and full of nuances that are a big indication of the score one will receive.
Horse cutting originated in the Wild West as a necessary technique rather than a sport. It was used to separate cows from the herd that needed medical care or branding. In competition, horse cutting is the same, just finetuned with more rules.
A run begins with a herd of cattle, the competitor and his or her horse, and four helpers.
The helpers are there to keep the herd in place and prevent cows from escaping to the back of the arena.
With everyone in place, the stage is set and the action can begin.
The horse and its rider work together to separate a cow from the herd. Once this is done, the horse does much of the work, with the rider only giving light guidance. The rider lets the horse have its head and the horse runs back and forth to keep the cow cut off from the herd, with the help of light leg prodding.
Points can be added or deducted based on performance.
Penalties can be incurred by reining the horse or kicking it too hard or losing or switching cows. Points can be gained by showing confidence and keeping the cow close to the center of the arena.
The Road To The World Finals
Barrett is going to the world finals despite disadvantages many other competitors don’t have.
Barrett’s mom, Rene, said that a lot of the other kids competing are from Texas. Often, their parents are trainers, so the kids have been cutting their whole lives. Barrett doesn’t have an official trainer and has been cutting only for a short time. But his dedication to excellence, his willingness to learn, his confidence and his horse has evened out the playing field to a degree.
Scar, or High Brow Doll (competition name), originally belonged to former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mel Blount, but found his way to Barrett. Scar is 18 and has been trained for cutting his whole life. He currently has $220,000 worth of earnings to his name.
The Freelands bought the horse from Chris Thibodeaux, a friend of the family. Thibodeaux is a physical therapist in Jennings and also owns Grace Ranch. He owned Scar because his son had been into cutting. But since none of his other children showed any interest, he decided to sell the horse. Rene said Thibodeaux made Barrett’s dream of horse cutting possible by letting Barrett use his facilities and by teaching him the sport.
It wasn’t an easy road to get where Barrett is today. He had no official trainer and had to learn how to drive cattle. He also had to learn the rules of the game and didn’t know you “couldn’t reign or kick the horse too hard.” He had to learn “all the little things that round up to something big.”
When I asked Barrett why he enjoys cutting, he said, “It’s challenging and I like challenging.” He also says it is a lot of fun. People come up to him and say, “you were smiling the whole time.”
To earn enough points to qualify for the world finals, Brennan, Rene and Barrett were on the road almost every weekend, going to every horse cutting show they could in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Rene said that most of the competitions were four to six hours away. But the long haul has paid off as Barrett is No. 5 out of the 15 kids in the junior youth division (ages 13 and under).
Rene remembered a conversation she had with Barrett when he decided he wanted to try to make it to the world finals. He said he wanted to make it into the top 10. She encouraged him to be happy by making it into the top 15. But Barrett was adamant that he wanted to be in the top 10. Barrett has surpassed both their goals by making it to the fifth position.
When I asked Barrett how it felt to be going to the world finals, he said that being one out of hundreds of kids and in his first year hauling “makes me feel like I’m in first place out of a million kids.” He added that he “feels very blessed” that God has given him the opportunity.
Barrett is also a contender for Rookie of the Year. He is currently in second place, but hopes he will be able to edge ahead to first place. A scholarship and a belt buckle comes with the title. And, as Rene pointed out, “every cowboy and cowgirl needs a belt buckle.”
Barrett has taken away several experiences that he considers significant during his year of horse cutting. He has had fun, made many friends and has “met three famous people” — or four famous people if you consider one encounter was with musical duo The Bellamy Brothers. Barrett met them at last year’s world finals when he did scholarship cutting. He ranked 10th out of 72 kids in that competition. The other two famous people he has met are Tom Watson, a professional golfer, and Cody Johnson, a country singer.
Another important accomplishment for Barrett is that on Sundays before the shows he was able to pray and preach at the Cowboy Church and “spread God’s word.”
What Does The Future Hold?
When Barrett is not exercising Scar, cleaning out the barn stall, practicing his sport or taking part in a competition, he enjoys reading, which he considers his second favorite hobby. He likes reads such as Hank the Cowboy, The Boxcar Children series and mysteries. He said he likes to stop reading his mystery books for a few minutes to see if he can figure out what’s going on and who did what.
He also enjoys military strategy books, and wants to “be a strategist for the Navy” when he grows up because it is “one of the things I’m good at that I enjoy a whole lot.”
What Barrett is specifically talking about is connected to the work he does at his church. He likes helping people, and one way he does that is by doing meal distribution. This is one of the duties of a military strategist.
As to what the next year holds, Barrett has no plans to become a professional horse cutter. In fact, he plans to back off on the sport. He has achieved his goal already and he has had fun. He said he might do a few shows next year but not nearly the amount he competed in this year. He hopes to “do some roping” and play football next year.
Whether he wins or loses either of the awards he is in contention for, Barrett considers just participating to be an honor. And most of all, he said, “I thank God he’s given me everything I have. The opportunity to show … and to spread His word.”
If you would like to see Barrett compete, you can stream the National Horse Cutting Association World Finals at nchacutting.com on the evenings of July 23, 25 and 26. I know, regardless of whether he makes the top position or not, he is already a champ.