BY KRISTIN PITZER
At only 15 years old, Carlee McCutcheon won her first grand prix at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show on March 27, 2021. It was a crowning achievement for the young rider, who comes from generations of horse-riding greats.
McCutcheon is the daughter of renowned reiners Tom and Mandy McCutcheon. Tom, a National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Million Dollar Rider, trains and breeds reining horses, and Mandy, an NRHA $2 Million Dollar Rider, is the highest-earning non-pro rider. McCutcheon’s older brother, Cade, is an NRHA $1 Million Rider as well and trains alongside their dad.
McCutcheon is the granddaughter of Tim McQuay, a $3 Million Dollar Rider and trainer who owned legendary reining stallions Colonels Smoking Gun, or “Gunner,” and Hollywood Dun It. Her grandmother, Colleen McQuay, grew up riding hunter/jumpers and operates the English side of McQuay Stables.
Though she was born into a heavily reining-focused family, McCutcheon chose to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps initially by pursuing the hunter/jumpers. Her mom started off riding English as well, and McCutcheon took to the sport naturally. Eventually, after watching the rest of her family show reining horses, McCutcheon decided to get into the Western discipline, too.
“They’re both very different, but they help me a lot with keeping a feel,” McCutcheon said. “Riding all different types of horses is always helpful. I definitely think they help me with each other.”
McCutcheon started riding at Pin Oak as a small child in the short stirrup division. Since then, as she’s progressed in her riding abilities, her love for the hunter/jumpers has grown as well.
“I love the horses and the people,” said McCutcheon, who rides with her grandmother. “It’s just such a great opportunity to be here as a kid with my family and great horses. I’m just really lucky.”
Winning her first grand prix at such a beloved event felt surreal for McCutcheon. It was even more special to win it aboard MTM Unexpected, a 10-year-old Warmblood gelding she got from Mike McCormick and Tracy Fenney. She compared the horse to another gelding she rides, A Special Sidekick, who she piloted to her first NRHA Futurity Level 4 Non-Pro finals.
“They have the same personality,” McCutcheon said with a laugh. “They are so alike. They are just always happy, always have energy and are always looking for treats. They are spoiled horses.”
As she continues to compete in both the reining and the hunter/jumpers, McCutcheon hopes to keep growing and moving up in both sports. In the hunter/jumpers especially, she’d like to become more consistent. She’s grateful to have the support of her family who, even if most of them don Western tack instead of English, still understands the work involved and the dedication it takes to be successful in any equestrian sport.
“I’m so grateful they get the horses and know what we’re talking about,” McCutcheon said. “They understand when one’s sick or one’s hurt, and they’re always supportive, no matter what.”