By M. Scott Morris
SALTILLO – In the cutting horse world, horses have show names and barn names.
Tim May, 57, of Saltillo, traveled to Texas about a year ago to get a good look at Buzzted, whose barn name was Sherman.
“The owner said the reason he named him Sherman is he’s short and strong, like a Sherman tank,” May said.
At about 54 inches tall, Buzzted/Sherman is on the short side for an American quarter horse, but May recognized his potential.
“The first time I got on him, I knew he was exceptional,” said May, who asked Texas-based professional trainer Sean Flynn to have a look. “He told me, ‘You don’t need to let him get away.’”
May and Flynn’s judgment proved correct in early August, when the small but mighty gelding won the National Cutting Horse Association’s Summer Cutting Spectacular in Fort Worth, Texas. Buzzted is a certified national champion, and earned a purse of $45,599.
“He won a saddle and a trophy, too. It was probably $5,000 worth of trinkets. That’s what I call them,” May said. “They gave us the yellow roses that were draped over him. My wife has them around somewhere.”
May and Flynn have had victories with other horses, but Buzzted’s accomplishment sure is sweet.
“You never get to win enough, that’s for sure,” Flynn said. “I’ve been at this for a while and I’ve had a lot of losses, so you do appreciate the wins when they happen.”
In the arena
Buzzted had placed in the finals for other competitions since the beginning of the year, but winning was never assured.
“There are so many things that can happen to ruin a run that you, the horse, nobody is in control of,” May said.
At the start of a run, a herd of cattle is kept at one side of the arena. When horse and rider – for the championship, that was Buzzted and Flynn – cross the time line, they have two and a half minutes to separate two or three cattle from the herd.
“Once you pick your cow, the rider drops his hands,” May said.
It appears as though the horse is doing all the work. He has been trained to match each turn a cow makes, but the rider has considerable input.
“Watching it, people will think the rider sits there and lets the horse do it all, but the horse wouldn’t do much if you weren’t directing him with your feet and how you sit in the saddle,” May said. “You don’t use your hands, but you direct the horse with your feet.”
The goal is to convince the cow to turn around or stop. It has to be clear that the cow has given up on rejoining the herd. The judges consider that a “legal quit.”
“If the cow tricks the horse, that’s a penalty. It’s pretty much got to be flawless if you’re going to win,” May said. “One flaw might be too much. Two and it’s over.”
Over four rounds of competition, Buzzted bested 255 other horses to claim the Derby Open Finals and all the trinkets that go with it.
“I celebrated with my wife and kids and Tim and Pam,” said Flynn, mentioning May’s wife. “Then we loaded up everything to drive home. Shows start at 3 in the morning for us and we go until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. You don’t get up early the next day. The thing about it is, you’re back to work on Monday.”
With the show behind him, Sherman is back in Flynn’s barn in Weatherford, Texas. They work on their form six days a week. Repetition is key.
“The length of time depends on how he does that day,” Flynn said.
May returned to Saltillo, where he runs TMCO, Inc., on Birmingham Ridge Road. It’s a rubbish site for commercial and industrial waste.
He also has a cattle farm that he uses to acclimate young cutting horses.
“It’s part of growing up, to show them the life. Out in the pasture, they’ll be walking or trotting,” May said. “When they’re competing, they’re working pretty hard.”
May’s older brother got him interested in cutting horses in the late 1980s. He soon became addicted, and then passed that addiction to his daughters. The Mays hit the road every weekend for five or six years so the girls could compete.
May’s daughters have grown up and left the horses to their dad, who also judges cutting horse competitions.
“We’ve slowed down. We don’t travel like we used to,” he said. “I even went fishing a few times this year.”
But the addiction still holds. He’s fascinated by the horses and considers them athletes.
“They have to have something up here,” May said, pointing to his head. “The horse is no different than a human. They’ve got to be smart and they’ve got to have heart. A person or a horse can have all the ability in the world, but if they’re not smart enough or don’t have enough heart, they’re not going to go very far.”
More to come
Buzzted and May’s other champions have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money over the past quarter century, but that has to be weighed against the money he’s invested.
“It’s a hobby, and it’s not a profitable one,” May said, shaking his head. “There are so many horses that you buy that don’t work out. It costs just as much to feed a sorry one as it does a good one.”
For now, May has himself a good one. Buzzted has more miles to travel, more competition to face, and more cattle to cut.
“I can’t wait to see what he does his next time out,” May said.