The first Wild Rag Cattle Classic Horse Show in Fort Worth will debut on May 19-23, with an estimated 200 cow/ranch horses and 140-160 riders participating in events at the John Justin Arena, W.R. Watt Arena and the Equine Multipurpose Arena in Will Rogers Memorial Center.
One of the few horse shows of its kind in Texas, it is notable particularly for the cooperation from six prominent equine-focused associations to stage the events. Admission is free.
The name, by the way, refers to the signature classic colorful kerchief cowboys wear around the neck.
“It’s certainly a new event for us,” said Gay Lenz, executive director of the Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association, the Wild Rag show’s producer based in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The group is sharing major work and management of the event with the Pilot Point-based National Reined Cow Horse Association, Fort Worth-based National Cutting Horse Association, Amarillo-based American Quarter Horse Association, Oklahoma City-based National Reining Horse Association and Elgin-based Texas Quarter Horse Association.
Competitors will be vying for an estimated $25,000 or more distributed across eight divisions – working cow horse, reined cow horse, roping, ranch riding, reining, cutting and versatility ranch horse – plus all-around cowboy or cowgirl awards for open, non-pro and youth winners.
For Fort Worth, the Wild Rag show is likely to be the first of its kind, that is, with all six organizations as major contributors to showcasing cow horses – horses bred for use in managing cattle from horseback.
Over the last couple of decades, more contest variations on the reined/working cow horse theme have multiplied, winning larger audiences and more participating riders – and more cooperative arrangements like this one.
Lenz said a number of such reined/working cow horse contests have been doubling or tripling in popularity, drawing ever larger herds of human participants in recent years.
Some events feature an adrenaline-pumping ride with the horse at a full run. Reversing direction can be in the mix, as well.
Lenz said a few simpler contests don’t require much athletic skill by the rider or a top-of-the-line horse. Take “boxing” for example, and we’re not talking about punching someone out. Boxing with a cow horse means riding the horse to turn one cow into the arena and keep that cow “boxed in” at one end of the arena for the requisite amount of time.
Boxing has often been used as an introductory event in the past, and now it’s establishing itself as one of the more popular contests, Lenz said.
The multi-organization cooperation has grown out of the need to draw more participation simply for self-preservation. Most horse breed registries and performance associations have been losing members since 2004, due largely to economic slides and tax law changes. Other factors also contributed, such as the virtual demise of cowboy/Western movies and TV programs and increasing competition from other pastimes, including cell phones and video games.
By cooperating and using facilities for more events more efficiently, the associations say, they cut costs while aiming to draw more riders and horses.
Regardless, showing off the working cow horse has long and deep roots in Texas and Old West history, and now it may be boosting ridership and renewing the face-to-face love of the horse.
The working cow horse came into the formalized competition arena with the first rodeos, certainly by the 1850s and probably long before Texas became Texas. Bull or steer riding/fighting/wrestling probably dates to ancient times in Europe.
I figure the first rodeos similar to ours had to be hell-bent-for-leather, riding and roping pastimes to inspire better workmanship among bored, weary ranch hands, each wanting to prove he was the best vaquero.
The first American cowboys were Hispanic, right, although the word “cowboy” was coined later. And they had rip-snortin’ fun, yes. But who benefited most from those rodeos? The ranch owners, the trail bosses, of course. Better cowboys made for better cows and calves at market.
Cutting-horse contests date back generations, pitting the horse and rider against a calf culled from the herd and the horse determined to keep the calf from hightailing it back into the herd. In the 1890s there were contests leading to a national champion; today the top three NCHA shows pay millions of dollars spread over many winners.
Cutting is a timed event, and that good cutting horse works hard to do what cowboys and their horses have done since long before the Chisholm Trail drives just after the Civil War. The horse instinctively knows that the calf is needed outside the herd — on the ranch, for branding, medicating or sorting for buyers or shipment.
Contests showcasing reined cow horses are nothing new, but they appear to be multiplying and attracting more city and country folk alike.