Renowned cutting horse trainer Kathy Daughn of Gonzales, Texas, knew she wanted to spend her life with horses long before she ever had a chance to ride for the first time. Kathy grew up in Berkeley, Calif., in a non-horse family, but her love for horses started early.
“When I was a little kid, I collected every plastic horse that there was ever known to mankind or womankind, and I wanted to ride horses,” Kathy remembered. “I came out of the womb that way. That was always the dream: to have horses, to have a ranch, to train horses and be a part of that world. I never gave up on that dream.”
Pursuing that dream led Kathy to learn to ride on horses rented by the hour in nearby Tilden Park; later, after her family had moved to San Francisco, Kathy began volunteering at the stables in Golden Gate Park. She became fascinated by the training side of the equine industry and learned how to ride English and Western, eventually riding hunter jumpers, training Arabians and learning everything she could about horses. Eventually Kathy moved to Northern California, and that’s where she encountered cutting horses for the first time.
“I was showing this little half-Arabian in the cutting because I needed the points for all-around,” Kathy remembered. “I had no idea what cutting was. I had showed in working cow horse and in English and Western and all that kind of stuff. But at my first cutting ever, I thought it was amazing to see a horse think that way all on its own.”
That chance encounter with cutting horses led Kathy to pursue her dream career as a cutting horse trainer and exhibitor. She started out working for such trainers as Larry Reeder and Lindy Burch before striking out on her own. To date, she has won over $4.25 million dollars in cutting horse competitions. Kathy has been inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Rider Hall of Fame as well as the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She is the only woman to have ever won two NCHA Open Division Futurity Championships – one in 1985 and one in 2000 – and her enthusiasm for her chosen sport continues today as she trains, rides and shows cutting horses for a living.
Kathy is also the featured trainer in our inaugural educational video course at FitEquine.com. To celebrate the launch of “The Cutting Horse: Explained,” we sat down with Kathy to ask her a few questions about her life as a cutter.
ALLISON: What makes cutting so special to you?
KATHY: To me, the two most strenuous equine sports, bar none, are cutting and three-day eventing. I don’t think there’s anything even close to those two. You’re watching an animal reason with a cow. People say, ‘Oh, they don’t reason,’ but I say yes, they do. Because the horse has to outguess the cow, despite any interference or help from the rider on their back. A great cutting horse will ignore the person on their back when they need to, and that’s an extraordinary animal. The challenge and the reward of feeling a horse think like that is an amazing experience.
ALLISON: What are the top qualities that you look for in a good cutting prospect?
KATHY: A good cutting prospect, a good reining prospect, a good jumping prospect or a good hunter prospect all start with the conformation to do that sport. That’s number one. Number two is pedigree and number three is training. There's always an exception to every rule, but if I want an open jumper, I'm not gonna buy a 14-hand cutter.
ALLISON: What’s your best advice for someone just starting out in horses?
KATHY: I think you must really immerse yourself in knowledge, and when you start out, you need to ask yourself, “What do I want?” The worst thing you can do when you’re new is to get a young horse and decide you’re going to learn together. Please don’t do that. That’s what gives horses a bad name. So, the first thing is to know what you want. Then you need to go around to courses, like Fit Equine, and do a little bit of research, and find different trainers in your area. Most trainers who are competent with successful programs want to be helpful. They're going to try to steer you in a direction that would be beneficial to you. And for kids, there are 4-H programs and Pony Clubs and a lot of youth programs out there. If you’re horse crazy, do your research, do your homework and then get with someone or a group of people who really know what they’re doing.
ALLISON: What’s your favorite memory aboard a horse?
KATHY: I was working for Larry Reeder in Texas at the time, and we went to the NCHA Futurity, which is held in Fort Worth in December every year. The Futurity is for three-year-old horses who have never been shown. It’s the first time they ever go to the herd in a show situation in the show pen. I walked into the Will Rogers Coliseum and saw what those horses can do at three years of age. That was the most astounding thing on horses that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen open jumpers have that brilliance, but these were babies. These horses had been ridden for maybe a year and a half and they were competing at this level. That was extraordinary. It blew my mind.
ALLISON: What do you hope the audience learns from you in your Fit Equine course?
KATHY: To learn how to enjoy being around horses. There are a lot of expenses and dedicated time involved in horses, and it’s no fun to be around something that’s not enjoyable to you. So, from a teaching standpoint, I think it's really important that a person learns what “a good horse” is. I think that’s really important. There's nothing more enjoyable than going out on a ride, getting to take some deep breaths outside and totally abandoning all your worries for an hour or two while you work with someone who is a co-partner with you. I wish for all people to enjoy that. And I think Fit Equine is a program that can help you start out on that path.
ALLISON: What are your goals for the future?
KATHY: I own a ranch in Gonzales, Texas, with a friend of mine, and we actually just sold it. I’m going to lease some stalls and continue my training operation in Schulenberg, Texas. I really want to have fun and teach and show. So that’s what I’m going to do now, and I’m really looking forward to it.