About 260 miles north of San Antonio via Highway 281 will get you somewhere near Weatherford, Texas. Weatherford, a small town with a population shy of 30,000, is largely known for it’s proximity to the stockyards in Fort Worth, a mere 25 miles give or take a few. If Weatherford comes up in conversation anywhere in the months leading up to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, you're probably talking about cutting.
But really, it's "cuttin’" – as heard from the mouth of legendary cowgirl and horse cutter Lindy Burch, in town this month for the rodeo's competition.
Before I tell you more about Lindy, I'll fill you in on the equestrian sport of cutting.
The history of cutting is a long one, and common to any rancher, specifically those that deal with cattle. When fences break down between ranches – which used to happen much more often than it does these days –cattle mix together with their neighbors. Ranchers then have to retrieve their respective property from the herd. To accomplish this, a lone rider grabs their nimblest horse and extracts it from the group without the use of a rope. This leads to a square off between the cattle trying to return to the herd and a clever rider and their horse; getting low to the ground, anticipating and blocking the cow's every move.
The simplest way to put it is in basketball terms. Think of Tony Parker, point guard of the San Antonio Spurs, trying do defend a rival guard from getting to the basket. It’s just like that, but a little dirtier and a rider is atop of Tony’s – er, the horses, back.
Lindy has been riding since she was 3 years old. She was on the back of a horse every weekend, her dad a weekend trail rider.
"Most people had bikes but we had horses in our backyards," she said.
Lindy couldn't get off a horse if you begged her, but Sundays were different. Sunday was Mom's day, and since Lindy's mother didn't ride horses it almost always consisted of a family road trip through the mountains and beaches in California.
"Sundays we had to go with Mom, we had to take Mom for a car drive. So we all had to load up in our (Ford) Country Squire station wagon," she said.
During one of these rides, her father came across a cluster of horse trailers parked by the side of the road with some sort of commotion happening out of sight. They approach the fence and watch the ranchers for about 30 minutes.
"What is this?" she recalled asking her father.
"Cuttin' horses," he said.
"Cuttin' horses? Man that's what I want to do," she said.
"Well if you work hard and you want it bad enough you can do it."
Just one week after Lindy's introduction to the sport, a cutting horse trainer moved into the stable right across the street from her house.
Lindy remembered approaching the man. "I want to learn how to cut."
"You do? Well, can you work?" he replied.
"Yeah, I can work," she said.
"Well, you clean 20 stalls and you saddle these 20 horses and lope them for me," the man said. "I'll teach you to cut."
"What do I have to pay you?" she asked.
"No, you don't pay me but I'm not going to pay you either."
Lindy said she thought that was a hell of a deal.
That set the stage for Lindy's career, though she originally had her mind set on becoming a veterinarian. Lindy majored in zoology at UCLA and received her masters in endocrinology, but when someone asked to pay her to train and ride horses, she said, "That's like being paid to eat."
The sport is almost entirely comprised of men. Lindy never saw that as an obstacle.
"I was the first woman to really show in the open, most women show in the non-pro or the amateur. In southern California we used to have a ladies class but I never really saw the distinction that way," she said. "If you want to be the best, you show in the open."
Lindy has won the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Open Futurity Championship, she's in the National Horse Cutter Hall of Fame, the first woman to become president of the NCHA, and is in the cowboys hall of fame and riders hall of fame. A complete list of her accomplishments and participation in the sport and beyond can be found on her website here. There's even a counter on her site that boasts her lifetime earnings: $3,634,750.
"People really wanted me to ride their horse, because I'd ride them for nothing. I mean, what I do Sundays when other people take Sundays off is: I ride," she said. "I love to ride. I don't have to particularly work a cow although most times I do. Even if I can just get on my favorite horse and ride. I love to ride. I love the horses."
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