An Iconic Saddle

Bill Collins

Canadian cutting icon Bill Collins, pictured here in 1980, has donated one of his championship saddles to the Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity’s live and silent auction on Saturday, Oct. 15. The Stampede’s 31st annual Cutting Horse Futurity, presented by Wrangler, is the premier cutting event in Canada, offers a prize purse of more than $300,000, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Corral on Stampede Park. Photo credit: Walt Browarny

For four solid decades, Calgary Stampede cutting events have proudly sported the Bill Collins brand. And this year, the iconic Canadian horseman has provided the 31st annual Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity with a special touch that few will ever forget.

Collins, whose name is synonymous with the sport of cutting in Canada, established in 1973 the Stampede’s very first Cutting Horse Competition, which by his own declaration has since been held “come hell or high water” in conjunction with the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Collins’ love of horses, and his considerable training and riding talent, have carried him to Hall of Fame appointments with the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA), American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), and Canadian Cutting Horse Association (CCHA). He’s a member of the Order of Canada . And he’s taken tea with Prince Philip — by invitation, of course — in London .

This week, more than 100 riders and 200 horses from as far away as Texas and Ontario will rendezvous at the Corral on Stampede Park for the Stampede’s annual Cutting Horse Futurity, presented by Wrangler, which started Wednesday, Oct. 12 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 16.

And on Saturday, Oct. 15, the Futurity’s live and silent auction at the Corral will feature a special Collins contribution. The native of Big Valley , Alta., who now lives in Sherwood Park , is donating one of his championship saddles to the auction. As per usual, all proceeds go to the scholarship fund fittingly known as the Bill Collins Youth Excellence Award.

“If you can be bigger than an icon, he is. It’s that simple. History books don’t talk about cutting in Canada at all, without a parallel mention of Bill,” notes Pete Fraser, vice-chair of the Stampede’s Western Performance Horse committee.

The Stampede’s Cutting Horse Futurity is the premier cutting event in Canada , and will once again offer a prize purse of more than $300,000. The event features Open and Non-Pro rider categories — Open for horse trainers and professional riders, and Non-Pro for those who make no part of their income by training horses. Non-Pro entries can only ride horses owned by themselves or immediate family members.

Equine age classes are headlined by the Futurity category for three-year-olds, and also include Derby (four-year-olds) and Classic Challenge (five- and six-year-olds). On the Non-Pro side, there’s also the 7 Up class for horses aged seven years or older. A $50,000 Limit Amateur Class, for those with NCHA earnings of less than $50,000 as of Jan. 1, 2011, is also offered within Non-Pro’s Derby and Classic Challenge classes.

Collins, 87, is a revered figure, and not just for his cutting prowess — although he trained and showed the legendary Peponita to the 1974 Canadian Novice Horse and Open championships, a duplicate feat that’s never been matched, and acted as one of the sport’s elite judges for nearly a quarter-century.

Collins was also a chuckwagon outrider, working for the Ron Glass and Orville Strandquist outfits. He was an accomplished show jumper. And he claimed Canadian calf-roping championships in 1951, ’52, ’56, and ’57.

“The neatest thing is — and I’ve seen this in both Canada and the U.S. — that he’s such a legend, that the ‘new’ legends of cutting go out of their way to seek him out. When we bring elite judges in (for the Stampede’s Cutting Horse Competition and the Futurity), one of the first things they say is: ‘Is Mr. Collins going to be here? I’ve got to meet him’ or ‘I have to see him again,’ ” says Fraser. “A couple of years ago, I was down (at Fort Worth, Texas ) at the NCHA Futurity with Bill. We sat in the stands . . . and the whole time, you could see people pointing. And one by one, three by five, they would troop up to our seats to shake hands and visit. There’s not that many people in the world that can happen to.”

Collins, who’ll be in the Corral stands this week, remains an advisor to the Stampede’s twin cutting events, which have an impeccable international profile, and “his biggest contribution was the standards he set, both as a trainer and an organizer,” says Hans Kollewyn, chair of the Stampede’s Western Performance Horse committee. “He made sure people were seeing quality horses at quality shows. He’s definitely been a hard act follow, in that respect.”

The Stampede’s Futurity event showcases the pure athleticism, instinct, agility and intelligence of the cutting horse. With horse-and-rider teams attempting to cut at least two, and most often three, individual cows out of a herd within 150 seconds, cutting has evolved into one of the most exciting equine events in North America . Contestants are evaluated by a panel of three judges and assessed a score based on the horse’s instinctive reactions, the challenges made by the cows cut, and any errors in judgment.

The first and second go-rounds for most categories will be held through early Saturday in the Stampede Corral. Finals for the three Open classes will be staged on Saturday evening, while the four Non-Pro finals are slated for Sunday. The action starts at 8 a.m. daily from Thursday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Previewing for Saturday’s live and silent auction starts at 5 p.m. Anyone wishing to donate an auction item is asked to contact Stampede agriculture program co-ordinator Tracey Foster via phone at 403.261.0127, or via e-mail at tfoster@calgarystampede.com The Stampede’s 2011 Cutting Horse Futurity is once again being webcast, and the link can be accessed off the Agriculture Department’s website at www.calgarystampede.com/ag

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