This week’s Sunday Spotlight shines on junior rider Carlee McCutcheon. McCutcheon who hails from Aubrey, Texas comes from a family of renowned horsemen and women. Her parents, Tom and Mandy McCutcheon, are two of the all-time leaders in the reining industry, and her older brother Cade competed in the FEI World Equestrian Games at the age of 18 in reining. However, 15-year-old Carlee is creating a name for herself in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation. With the help of her trainer who is also her grandmother Colleen McQuay, Carlee is taking the hunter/jumper world by storm. McCutcheon cherishes the time she spends with her family. When she takes a week off from showing the hunter/jumpers, she competes with her family at reining shows. McCutcheon took time out of her busy show schedule earlier this week to chat with us about her riding career, current horses and goals.
WEC: What disciplines do you currently compete in?
Carlee: I do hunters, jumpers, and equitation. My parents do reining horses so I also do a little bit of that as well.
WEC: Do you compete in reining classes?
Carlee: I do, this is my second week here at WEC and then next week I will go to Oklahoma City for a reining show. Then I come back to show for an additional two weeks.
WEC: When did you start riding?
Carlee: I have been riding my entire life. Riding is what my whole family does. My dad and my brother are reining horse trainers and my mom is a non-pro, so horses have always been a part of my life.
WEC: Do you find any overlap in your riding style because of riding multiple disciplines?
Carlee: The disciplines are so different; they could not be more opposite. In hunters/jumpers, I am always told to stay up and stay in front of the saddle, where in reining you have to really sit back. With reining you don’t want to kick them or hold your reins too much.
WEC: What do you find most difficult between all four disciplines?
Carlee: Every horse you get on is different. You are never going to find two horses that are the same. For as little as I ride the reiners, it is difficult for me to go to the reining shows because that is all that my family does. They ride reining horses all day, every day. So, when I get there, I feel a little clueless because it is so different from what I am used to.
WEC: Do you have current goals for each discipline?
Carlee: This year I would like to be able to do well in an equitation final. My plan right now is to go to [the Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships]. To be successful in that would be very important to me and really cool. I also want to keep moving up and stay consistent.
WEC: What is your biggest accomplishment that you have had in your riding career?
Carlee: At the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show in Houston, I won my first grand prix. It was so much fun and such a great experience. It happened to be my first night class which was beyond fun. I won on MTM Unexpected from Michael McCormick and Tracey Fenney. He has been nothing but amazing. I did all of my first classes on him. I did my low, medium, and high junior jumper classes, my first grand prix, my first everything on that horse.
We bought him as a seven-year-old turning eight, and he has taught me so much. It has been a great experience to grow together and learn new things. He is the sweetest horse and always tries to do the right thing.
WEC: Tell us about the first grand prix win.
Carlee: I think there were about 30 horses in the class and only five made it clean. I never really expected that I would win a grand prix. There was only one rider to go after me and when he had a jump down, I was in disbelief knowing I won the class.
WEC: Tell us about the horses that you rode in the $75,000 Calluna Spa Grand Prix.
Carlee: The two that I am riding are, MTM Unexpected and MTM Fortunate from MTM Farm. The two horses can’t be anymore different. MTM Fortunate is 15 years old. He’s a big horse and big strided. The only similarity is that they [have the] same [kind of mind] and both couldn’t be sweeter. It is so nice to have one that is 15 that has been there, done that, because he makes me a confident rider. MTM Unexpected has also taught me so much. He teaches me how to ride the ones that don’t know how to do it quite yet. They just make it so much fun.
WEC: What other horses are you competing on this week?
Carlee: I also have three hunters here. One of the hunters I have here is MTM Personal Assistant by MTM Farm. He is a super cool horse. I like him a lot. He is a first year horse that does the 3’6″ Greens, the junior hunters, and the derbies. I’ve also done a couple equitation classes on him. I am extremely lucky to have him. He has the right look for any ring, and he has a massive stride. I love the ones with a huge stride; it makes me feel great. I learn so much from him with each ride.
I also have another hunter. Explanation is a small hunter, she’s only 15.3hh but couldn’t be sweeter. She is currently doing the 3’3” Greens. She is 10 years old and is still pretty green but tries her heart out every time she steps into the ring. I have done a few derbies on her, and she is just so much fun. It is amazing to have horses that are honest and try to help you and be on your team.
My other hunter KT Hedwich is doing the 3’6” Greens as well. I did the Medal Maclay and Washington [classe’s] on him in California during the winter. He has been very cool to ride. I think doing the equitation really helps them get more broke, more brave and understanding of what you’re asking for.
WEC: What do you do in your free time?
Carlee: School. I don’t take anytime off; I just keep going. It is easy to get behind but every chance I get, I do schoolwork. I love the horses so much. I am either with them, doing school, or with my family. I am just so happy to be with horses all the time.
WEC: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Carlee: Tracey Fenney from MTM Farm. She is amazing and so much fun to watch. She makes it look so easy and is such a great rider.
WEC: What is your horse show philosophy?
Carlee: If I get in my head about showing, I do bad. So, I always try and pretend that it’s just another horse show. Of course, I want to win because I am very competitive. The more that I do the details, it goes much better for me rather than focusing on being perfect.
WEC: What advice would you give to a younger rider who is interested in competing in multiple disciplines?
Carlee: My first ponies and my first junior hunter were ones that could win but tell on you if you were wrong. I think those types of horses teach you how to show and how to create the winning round rather than having one that just does it for you or scares you. So, finding that happy medium really helped me a lot when I was younger.
Thank you, Carlee, for taking the time to speak with us about your amazing riding career! We look forward to watching you compete in upcoming weeks!
Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.