Kathleen Landwehr of the USEF sat down with Carlee McCutcheon, daughter of leading reining champion Tom McCutcheon to learn about her diverse equestrian skillset. Words by Kathleen Landwehr.
Fourteen-year-old Carlee McCutcheon of Aubrey, Texas, has had a string of impressive results in hunter and jumper classes as well as in reining. She comes from a family of champion equestrians: her parents, Tom and Mandy, brother Cade, and grandfather Tim McQuay all have won multiple FEI World Equestrian Games medals in reining, and McCutcheon is building a notable resume all her own.
In addition to winning the 13 and Under division of the 2018 USEF Youth Reining National Championship and becoming the youngest person to make the Level 4 National Reining Horse Association Non Pro Futurity Finals in 2017, McCutcheon has scored numerous top placings in United States Hunter Jumper Association National Hunter Derbies; claimed Low, Medium, and High Junior Jumper circuit championship titles at the 2020 Desert Circuit; and started competing in grand prix classes this year. McCutcheon has learned much from her experience in the English and Western disciplines, which has helped her develop into the versatile rider she is today.
Carlee McCutcheon on MTM Unexpected competing in the $25,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic at the 2020 Kentucky Summer Classic. Photo by Meagan DeLisle/Phelps Media Group.
Kathleen Landwehr: Tell me about your riding background.
Carlee McCutcheon: “My family, they all ride, so I have just grown up riding. I did jumping more when I was younger, then kind of got into the reining. I still do both, and I like to do both. I think I am more into the jumping now, and don’t do the reining as much, but I love it. The first time I showed I think I was maybe four.”
KL: What is it like to transition between the English and Western disciplines?
CM: “I think they both teach me about the other sport a lot. Doing reining gives you a good feel for the jumping. I think it is good to do both because learning different types of horses and learning different feels really helps me, but they are so different. A lot of people ask me if I get confused, but they are just such different sports that I don’t usually get confused. I do sit forward sometimes on the reining.”
KL: What did you have to learn or unlearn when transitioning between disciplines?
CM: “At home, I should practice with one hand in the reining, but I always want to ride with two hands just because I am used to it. Other than that, they are just so opposite.”
Carlee McCutcheon on Katy Dun It, champions in the 13 and Under division of the $15,000 Added USEF Youth Reining National Championship at the 2018 Tulsa Reining Classic. Photo by Waltenberry.
KL: Who are your trainers in the different disciplines?
CM: “For the jumping, I ride with my grandmother, Colleen McQuay. I ride with Mike McCormick and Tracy Fenney of MTM Farm whenever we are at horse shows with them. They have been really helpful to me. They have given me a lot of horses to ride, and it has really brought me a long way. Also, Tim and Kelly Goguen and Amanda Lyerly have helped me, and Didi Mackenzie let me show some of her horses when I was in Kentucky.
“For the reining, it is just my parents, Tom and Mandy, and Debbie Brown. [Debbie] helps me a lot; she is a trainer who works with my parents at their ranch. It’s everybody really, and my grandfather, Tim McQuay.”
KL: Have your family members given you any great tips?
“My grandmother always tells me to trust my instincts and go with my feel. That seems to work out the best. Equitation is a really great thing to know in the hunters and jumpers, and it helps you with style, and style is a big part of the hunters. My grandmother tells me to not get caught up in the equitation and just to try and have a smooth round—that always seems to work out the best for me.”
CM: What have you learned from each of the disciplines?
“I think the jumpers make me be a little bit smoother in the reining because sometimes I get a little quick. For the hunters and jumpers, you definitely have to be smooth and a little more relaxed, which has definitely helped me with the reining, just to calm down a little bit, and just to be smoother.”
Carlee McCutcheon on Halo in their presentation ceremony, winning the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby at the 2020 HITS Chicago Summertime III. Photo by ESI.
KL: What goals do you have with each of the disciplines?
CM: “I definitely love the hunters and the jumpers. With the jumpers, I just started doing grand prix classes, so I would really like to start being successful. With reining, I am happy to get through and have a smooth run. Making the finals is always fun and important, but just having a smooth run in the reining is good for me.”
KL: What are the results that you are proudest of in each of the disciplines?
CM: “California this past winter was probably one of my most successful shows. I had a lot of fun there. I was circuit champion in the low junior jumpers and the medium junior jumpers, and, for the second half, I was circuit champion in the high junior jumpers. It was a really good show for me, and I think that was the first show where I was starting to jump bigger jumps and really started to be more successful in it.
“In 2017, I did the NRHA futurity, which is for three-year-olds, and I made the Level 4 finals there, so that was a good one. I was starting to do the age divisions, and that was my first year as a non pro and out of the youth divisions. My brother was the youngest one to make the Level 4 finals before, and then, in 2017, I was the youngest.”
KL: Anything else you would like to share?
CM: “I know I have a long way to go and I am always learning, so I am really grateful to all my trainers and everyone who helps me, gets me horses, and gets me in the ring.”