Monday, April 2, 2012

First Commercial Photograph

Some time around 1977-78 I acquired a young quarter horse stud named Sassy Bar Doc. He had impeccable blood lines for a cutting horse, being a grandson of one of the greatest sires of cutting horses ever, Doc Bar. He was in training with Mike Mowery, a good cutting horse trainer, at that time located in the Phoenix area. We were going to enter him in two big cutting futurities, the California Futurity and the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Futurity. Since he was a stud we ran at least one ad in some horse magazine, although I can't remember what magazine it was. The idea of course was to offer him for breeding.

I needed a photo for the ad, so I drove from Sierra Vista to Phoenix(200+ miles) and spent at least one day photographing Sassy in action. I used a Pentax ME probably with a standard 50 or 55mm lens. The camera became roundly disliked by me because it had no manual setting, only aperture priority.That is to say the operator selects the aperture and the camera takes a light reading and selects a shutter speed to give proper exposure. Manual focus. I had a motor drive for it so I could shoot rapid sequences, 1.5 frames per second, very necessary in shooting action where I was trying to capture the horse looking his best while cutting a cow. With 36 exposure rolls of film, if you aren't careful you can burn through a lot of film in short order. I chose Kodak TriX because of its relatively high speed, ASA(ISO) 400, necessary to allow a high enough shutter speed to stop the action.

Since I don't have a copy of the magazine in which the ad appeared I don't know for sure which photo was used. I can guess because I have the negs and contact sheets, found in a store room a little while ago. On the contact sheets are some crop marks for three photos, one of which was the one finally selected. I scanned the negs with my Minolta film scanner. Below are the three, with the most likely one shown first.
Sassy is being ridden by Mike Mowery.

In cutting the objective is to keep the cow from re-entering the herd from which you have just pushed him out. The horse is supposed to do this without help from the rider. As you might imagine it can be pretty wild action. The horse has to be quick starting, stopping and turning as well as have a good burst of speed if needed. In general quarter horses make the best cutting horses. In a contest once the cow has cleared the herd the rider cannot rein or spur in front of the cinch. Usually the rider hangs on for dear life with both hands on the saddle horn.

Below are some shots of a good friend of mine, BJ Johnson and his wife Melissa on a couple of good cutting horses, taken in 2007 at their place. Camera was a Sony a100 digital; lens was the Carl Zeiss 16-80mm zoom.

Cutting started and is still a good cattle ranch activity, used to separate cattle. I was asked to help separate a bunch of cattle once by some guys who didn't know anything about cutting horses. They told me where to meet and that it would take most of the day. When I got there the cattle where all together in a corral. They needed to be separated in different groups and put in adjoining pens. They were going to do this on foot. I saddled up my cutting horse, Dude Magoo, told them to put a man on each gate and open/close them at the appropriate time. 15 minutes later I was unsaddling Dude, cooling him off and getting ready to go home.

Sassy ran with mares until he was about two years old. When he got old enough to start feeling studily the mares beat the crap out of him, which sounds mean but made a well behaved horse out of him. I wonder if there is a lesson here for young teenage boys. The first time I bred him he didn't want any part of it. He seemed to say “Boss, she's gonna kick my head in if I come up behind her!” We put the mare in a breeding chute so she couldn't kick him, then took him to the mare and after a little persuasion got the job done.

Sassy foundered and did not make the futurities. I got one filly out of him, who won a cutting futurity in Wyoming or Colorado. I sold him to a man in Colorado or Wyoming after we moved to Mesa and I gave up cowboying.

Mike Mowery went on to win both a National Cutting Horse Association Open championship and the National Cutting Horse Futurity, one of only a handful of riders to win both, and became President of the National Cutting Horse Association.

BJ "borrowed" Melissa's horse and won all kinds of stuff with it. I haven't heard, but I think BJ may still be sleeping in the barn.


  1. I love to watch cutting horses! I remember my grandpa riding ole "Billy Con" chasing a cow. (grandpa and the horse were old) The cow turned the horse turned and grandpa just kept going. He broke a rib or two and had the wind knock out of him. Cheryl

  2. I've done that a time or two myself.