It\’s a new twist on old adage. Long before he drifted into the sport of cutting, Dustin Gonnet worked cattle – literally – until the cows came home.
Gonnet, who lives near Cayley, Alberta, is one of the emerging names among cutting horse trainers in the Calgary area — and like most cowboys, he learned to put in an honest day’s work early in life. Gonnet grew up on a Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) community pasture south of Saskatoon, and worked on three more of the federal government’s spreads before turning to cutting at the age of 19.
“We’d treat cattle, check ’em twice a week, and doctor the sick ones, and in the fall, we’d have to sort everything on horseback,” recalls Gonnet, one of the local favourites who’ll be competing at the 30th annual Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity, presented by Wrangler, from Oct. 13 to 17 at the Stampede Corral. “We’d hold ’em up in a fence corner, and sort them out for the different owners, and trail ’em to various fields to be picked up.
“A guy learned how to work cattle pretty fast,” adds Gonnet with a laugh. “The one (PFRA pasture) I worked at, we were in a six-section field, so if you made a mistake and lost a couple hundred head of cattle, you were in trouble — because it took a long, long time to go get ’em back.
“You learn,” he adds, “not to make that same mistake twice.”
Gonnet hasn’t been making many mistakes in the cutting arena lately, especially where the Stampede’s Cutting Horse Futurity is concerned. He’s chalked up a total of five grand champion or reserve champion finishes over the past two years at the premier cutting event in Canada, which will once again feature a total prize purse of more than $300,000 at the Corral this fall.
About 100 riders and 200 horses, hailing from as far away as Texas and Ontario, are expected to turn out in mid-October for the Stampede’s 30th annual Futurity event for young horses, which is sanctioned by the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) and Canadian Cutting Horse Association (CCHA).
The Stampede’s Cutting Horse Futurity 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, 2010, is also offered within Non-Pro’s Derby and Classic Challenge classes.
Gonnet, who expects to arrive at the Stampede’s Futurity with about a dozen client horses in tow, spent two years as an apprentice to regional cutting trainer Doug Reinhardt of Irricana, AB, before hanging out his own shingle in 2004.
In recent years, he’s been a serious contender down Stampede Park. During the 2008 Futurity, he won the Open Derby class on Christanis Blue, owned by Nanton’s Ronald Patton, and was runner-up in Open Futurity and Open Classic on Freckles Twisted Cat, owned by Calgary’s Wayne and Linda Meakin, and Angels Smart Date, owned by Okotoks’s Fred Millar, respectively. During last fall’s Futurity, Gonnet stood tall in the saddle again, winning Open Classic on Lizzys Play Girl, owned by High River’s Rob Leman, and placing second in Open Derby, again on Freckles Twisted Cat.
And in mid-July at the 2010 Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Competition, which is now a stop on the Mercuria/NCHA World Series of Cutting, he placed third in the Open division on Christanis Blue.
“In ’05 at Red Deer, we won the (Canadian Supreme’s) three-year-old Futurity, and we made a final or two down south at Nampa (Idaho) around that time, but it’s really been the last couple of years where I’ve had some consistent big wins,” says Gonnet, who was starting colts professionally at the age of 11. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get good customers, and real good horses to show.
“And it’s the experience factor, too . . . getting used to the pressure of showing against the best in the sport, being more mentally prepared. Doing what we do, it just takes a little bit of time, you know?”
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 2010 Calgary Stampede Cutting Horse Futurity, presented by Wrangler, will also feature a silent auction on Saturday, Oct. 16, with all proceeds going to the Bill Collins Youth Excellence Award scholarship fund. Anyone wishing to donate an auction item is asked to contact Stampede agriculture program coordinator Tracey Foster via phone at 403.261.0127, or via e-mail at [email protected].
For more information on the Stampede’s Cutting Horse Futurity, visit www.stampedeagriculture.com