Women & Families in Cutting

Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Cutter Spotlight, In The News | 2 comments

Women & Families in Cutting

1st in a series by Corey Fagan

Throughout history women have played extraordinary roles within our communities, families, and culture. Women have overcome adversities in times past; challenging themselves through each generation to become leaders, queens, warriors, prime ministers, and first ladies. Legendary women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, and beloved Mother Theresa, come to mind when I think of extraordinary women. Women that have created a change, a movement within the world we now live in. Women who have gone before us to show future generations that we can do it… that with courage and determination all things are possible. Women have earned a reverence within themselves, and those looking on.
In sports, women have shown a spirit to take their place. They have shown great determination and will, with a competitive nature and a whole lot of training and hard work. In most sports, women compete against themselves. Understandably so, I don’t know many women who want to take the chance of getting hit by a fast ball off of Aroldis Chapman throwing 106mph for the Cincinnati Reds; and fewer who want to be tackled, by 250 pound Baltimore Raven’s Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis, on the football field. There are few physical sports where the playing field is level for both men and women. And the Sport of Cutting is one of the few. When you are on the back of a horse, inside the arena, it becomes individual, between you and your horse. The helpers, that are often the same individuals you are competing against, become your best allies. A respect is developed and maintained, and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.

What I find to be unique in this physical sport are men and women competing in the same class. There is no separation and as we have seen “women win” and they do it often! I say this with complete respect for both men and women. The sport of cutting started out between ranches, and because the sport demands such physical endurance, at one time it was considered a cowboys sport. In the next few issues we will meet some of these dynamic ladies in cutting, who manage to balance their roles as women and the sport extraordinarily well. Women are layers of many different roles: mothers, daughters, friends, wives, sisters, teachers and nurturers. A very strong balance must be in place, to support and encourage others to be all they can be, while finding time to be true to our own passions.

Our first dynamic lady in the cutting industry is Gina MacDonald, her true passion for this sport, her family, and her horses are clear. Gina has been in the industry for 30 years. She has been an Idaho Director for over 25 years. She owned a cattle ranch in the 70’s in Canada; working with horses and the cattle; being around the cowboys and this way of life became her passion. “The culture… it attracted me and I liked it so much”, Gina reflected. “When we moved out here we bought a farm. I got involved in the sport to bring me back to that ranching culture, to the people, to where I wanted to be; where I needed to be.” Gina’s heart and her spirit are evident; you can feel it just by being around her for five minutes. You get it. When asking Gina about the sport itself, she said “It feels really good to be able to equally compete with man or woman.”

Gina continued explaining a little of the history that means so much to her. “Back in the 1800’s women were strong, they had to do the same chores that men did; they took care of the ranch while their men were away. This “spirit” of strength is what I believe in. It is what I know we are really made of.” Gina has had her share of obstacles and heart breaks. She rejoices in the positive outcomes, and has drawn her sense of balance from the back of a horse. “During the hardest times of my life, while my husband was going through cancer recovery and then a stroke; I don’t know what I would have done without my horses.” Gina said. She knows firsthand that the spirit of the horse is powerful. Opening her mind to her horse she feels a silent communication. “I really feel that my horses have helped me with my own recovery from stress in my life. I don’t know what else I could have been doing that would have kept me from being depressed and crazy except for with my horses.” Gina said passionately. She believes that horses are great therapy for all of us. I believe she is right, we can see firsthand the affects of horses around the globe with different therapeutic groups. Where horses do the healing!
“The spirit of the horse is amazing; take a high spirited horse then put a child on his back and in many cases the horse will know the difference. Somehow they calm down, these horses take such care of these kids, as if they have an egg on their backs that could shatter… they just know. That is why we use them.” Gina said.

She loves this sport for the family ethic. Cutting brings entire families together. She said “I have watched so many kids grow up here, some are training some are competing. They are all great kids. They take care of the horses first, which is work ethic; we all support each other, which is community ethic; I’m not sure what makes it all work, I just know it does.”

Another lady in cutting that understands the passion of this industry and how it works is Julie Sandford. Julie originally rode Western Pleasure, and she began cutting in 1995. She was competing at the world show in Western Pleasure and felt ready for a new challenge and thought this would be something fun.
Julie is from Orange County and said that she was attracted to this sport because it is very individual. “You are in there alone and not with a group of other riders. It’s you and the horse, I admire the horses so much, because they are athletic, smart, and have a lot of cow sense.” Julie said, “They want to be out there, they like their job.” Julie has a new horse to ride, Smooth Knitty Kitty affectionately known as Knitty, Dam is Crochet and is Sire Smooth as a Cat. 5 year old Knitty has been owned by Julie for just three months. Julie’s trainer Tim Smith told her that Knitty is a really good match for her. Proven true, with a really fast win in the Classic Challenge Amateur $50,000 with a score of 219. First time Aged Event on this horse at the South Point, in Las Vegas. Julie said, “This is a great place to win, the money and prizes are good. Belt buckles, silver key chain, knives, a jacket and a dinner at Michaels. I’m happy.”
Julie passionately recalled her most memorable moment in 1998. She said, “I was NCHA Reserved World Champion for $10,000 Amateur. Pacific Coast Champion $10,000 Amateur and Reserved $20,000 Non Pro Champion. I did this with my parents and family traveling with me.” Julie is a proud mother of two: her daughter Megan, 19 and son Jimmy, 22 both who are now in college. Megan rides cutting horses like her mom and plays competitive tennis. Megan hauled in ‘04,’05 and ‘06 while being home schooled. “It was a great time and it worked for my family” said Julie. Balance was essential in order to maintain this life style. It worked because there was a happy medium, Megan could train for tennis, keeping in shape in between riding her horse. With her husband, Marks support, their son Jimmy could stay home with dad and focus on baseball. “Mark was very supportive and patient. He kept our business running as an Orange County Real Estate Developer. Stayed with our son, and coached his baseball team.” There is a little family joke that goes something like this. Julie is in the NCHA, Megan is in the USTA, Jimmy is now in the PGA, and dad pays for it all. Julie affectionately said, “Mark also is a hunter and has his own passions, he has hunting dogs and I like cutting horses. He is in the NRA!”

Julie knows the hard work that goes in keeping fit for these competitions. She rides every day, and takes lessons about two to three times a week. Trainer, Tim Smith, instills a good work ethic and confidence. Julie agreed that in order to compete and win, both were extremely necessary. “Nothing is free, it is earned, and nothing comes to those that sit at home.” Julie added “I like the role model that I can give to my kids; if you work hard you can and will succeed.”
She watches her children as young adults, she watches them work hard for the dreams and goals they have intended for themselves, and this makes her very proud. “My son is very competitive with his education, he wants to get straight A’s and he works for it.” Julie grew up around horses her entire life; her parents have traveled with her everywhere. Recently, she lost her father; and this was the first year of traveling without him. She is thankful for what she learned as a child growing up around animals. She knows that her children love animals and have learned responsibility in caring for them.
Looking forward, you will see Julie at the Aged Events. She really enjoys the 5 year olds. She is thankful that she has been able to maintain a balance following her dreams and passion while doing what is most important to her. “Being there for my children and my husband, I can meet all of my obligations; Family first, I can be there for everything!”

This is definitely a family sport, and no one knows that better than Katie Banuelos, with 20 horses in tow, 4 dogs, her husband, and now new baby, Maria Isabella. Family is what it is all about.
Cutting is what she does! Katie, 33 has been cutting since she was 12. Although she took time out a couple of times to try other things, once as a senior in high school and then again in college, to join the UNLV Rodeo Team and try barrel racing. Her heart and spirit has always been on the back of a cutting horse.
Katie graduated with honors from UNLV, majoring in Hotel Management with an emphasis in gaming. She was barrel racing and still riding cutting horses but a bit mediocre on both. Her trainer at the time, Greg Welch told her to do one or the other. “I needed to focus on one sport, so I could be my best at either one.” Katie said. “My mom loves cutting and had some great cutting horses. She gave me a choice between two of her horses. I rode Peps Southern Lena and one of her studs; and I bonded with Peps Southern Lena.” Katie said with a big smile. “That was it, I was back to cutting and haven’t looked backed since.
“Greg Welch gave me the hardest work ethic when it came to cutting horses, by far” reflected Katie. “It’s a lot of work and it takes a huge commitment”. Katie married trainer, Cookie Banuelos, which works out perfectly for her, because they both get it. “Its early mornings and you gotta love it and be dedicated. We take care of the horses first; they eat and drink before we do.” Katie said. “It’s hard sometimes but it is our life and what we do.”
Katie took a small break while she was pregnant. But not before her and Isabella won a few championships. Katie, 5months pregnant showed at NCHA Western Nationals in Ogden. It was her last chance to show Bettin With Chex. She won Reserved World Champion on him in the$15,000 Novice Non Pro. Ending on a good note, she took her break to fulfill her new role as a mommy.
Isabella is now a year old and Katie finds that it was a lot harder to come back after taking such a big break. Isabella means everything to her and she doesn’t want any help at home with the baby. “She is only a baby once and I don’t want to miss anything.” Said Katie. At shows Katie has her family help with Isabella and that works out perfectly. Katie enthusiastically said “I just wing it right now. I do what I know.” And that is what she knows, running the Rocking K Ranch in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband. She loves being around the horses and so does Isabella. “All she wants to do is ride the turn back horse with her dad… she already has that natural ability.”
Some of Katie’s most memorable moments were when she was a kid, with her mom and Mrs. B. They rode cutting horses and took Katie, then 12, with them, teaching her all they knew. Katie said, “They would get lost everywhere they would go. I would help them find their way. We had so much fun. It was a family sport so we were always together” Katie remembers.
Katie will continue showing and she says more babies are coming. Cookie is the youngest of 14 and Katie has three older brothers. A big family is what they want. Having three older brothers is where young Katie figured out that there wasn’t too much they could do that she couldn’t. It helped to balance her as a girl, knowing that in male dominated activities you can be right there with them. She also knows humility. “Just about the time you think you’ve got it together, a wreck could be around the corner. It helps to keep you humble.” She smiled.
The best part of this business is the family. Everyone becomes a family. Trainer Tim Smith has been working with Katie since she was a kid. “He is family. And the best thing is even our horses are family.” Katie added. “90% of our horses are second or third generation” I rode them, I rode their mother, and I rode their mothers’ mother…. I was there the day most of them were born, and 3 or 4 years later I’m showing on them.” Pep Southern Lena was a baby, from her moms horse Pep Southernthunder. Another brood mare Smart Whittle Wena now 26 carries baby Isabella on her back. Chexy Pep N Remedy is another brood mare on the ranch. The majority of all the horses on the ranch go back to these three mares. Katie showed all three of those mares as a kid. “I love that!” Katie said with heart!
Look for more incredible athletes in issues to follow. Women who will inspire you, who know how hard it is to “do it all” but do it anyways. Women who follow their dreams, and because they do, they often empower others to do the same.


  1. Corey, great job. I enjoyed your article. I would like to talk to you in person….. Look forward to seeing you. Will you be in Ft Worth for the futurity? Karen

  2. Hi Karen:
    Thank you so much, I really appreciate that, so glad that you enjoyed it. No, I won’t be able to make Fort Worth.. but would love to talk with you too! We’ll figure it out. Corey

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