The reigning family of reining

Texans' lives center on horses, winning

bfortune@herald-leader.comSeptember 30, 2010 

Let's get right to the heart of the matter. Life for Tim and Colleen McQuay is about horses — and competing and winning.

And it has been for most of their lives.

"We've all ridden horses and showed since we were kids," Colleen said one recent morning at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Tim McQuay and son-in-law Tom McCutcheon will compete Thursday in the individual finals of the reining competition — in which the horses maneuver in ways they would on a working Western ranch — at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

You might say the family thrives on a highly competitive lifestyle.

Colleen McQuay, 58, was a world champion hunter-jumper competitor before shifting her emphasis in recent years to training and coaching.

Reining icon Tim, 58, is on the U.S. team that won the gold medal Sunday. He also held the record for nine years as reining's all-time leading money earner, rode on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 2006 Games in Aachen, Germany, and took silver in the individual competition there.

Their daughter Mandy McCutcheon, 33, was a hunter-jumper champion until a few years ago, when she switched to reining. She is the only non-professional female reiner with $1 million in winnings.

Mandy's husband is Tom McCutcheon, 43, a U.S. reining team member who won individual gold in the 2002 Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

But she still gets nervous when he competes. "I get more nervous for him than when I compete," she said after his team won the gold medal Sunday.

Their son, Cade, 10, is a reiner and has won several titles in short stirrup classes for young riders. They also have a daughter, Carlee, 4, who likes to ride.

Tom McCutcheon, like his wife, grew up in the equestrian world.

"Our families have been friends for years because we were all at horse shows together," Colleen McQuay said.

Her father, Norm Vansloun, is a horse owner, trainer and former competitor. He will celebrate his 80th birthday at the Games on Sunday.

Reining is "a big family affair with the McQuays," said Brad Ettleman, reining discipline manager for the Games. "They're generous and supportive of the reining community. They're a terrific family."

The family gathered outside the secured stable area next to the Alltech Arena one morning recently. By 10:30 a.m., Tom McCutcheon and Tim McQuay, who were up before dawn, had finished their scheduled 90 minutes of practice in the indoor arena.

"Wow, I'm hungry," McCutcheon said. "Did you bring any food?"

The two families travel and compete about 15 weeks a year. Add to that the 15 or so hunter-jumper shows Colleen attends. "We're horse gypsies," Tim quipped.

Most of the time, the two families travel in their motor homes. "It makes it a little more comfortable, more like home than always being in a hotel," Tim said.

When Tim and Colleen get back to their ranch, McQuay Stables, in the heart of North Texas reining country, "It's hard to leave," Colleen said. They train and breed reining horses and hunter-jumpers there.

For the Games, each team brings four horses and an alternate. "We're not used to being at a horse show with one horse," Colleen said. "We've usually got 15 to 25."

That has given the athletes plenty of time to spend with their horses, she said, "hand walking, giving them fresh air, checking their temperature, making sure they're feeling good."

Mandy did reining demonstrations on two days at the Games. On Tuesday, Tim gave Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear a private reining lesson, leaving her beaming. "I've just had my first reining lesson with a gold medal winner," she said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store."

"We've been busy," Colleen said after watching Beshear's training session. It will stay that way until after Thursday.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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