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Hot horse from Hillsboro

HILLSBORO, N.D. While many North Dakotans head south in the winter to play golf or sit by a pool, one lifelong resident of Hillsboro, N.D., has just returned from Texas with a nice prize check and some priceless memories.

HILLSBORO, N.D. While many North Dakotans head south in the winter to play golf or sit by a pool, one lifelong resident of Hillsboro, N.D., has just returned from Texas with a nice prize check and some priceless memories.

Roger Anderson's 3-year-old quarter horse, Spoonful of Cheerios, took third place in the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity last month in Fort Worth, Texas. Although he won a $162,000 purse, money is the last thing Anderson mentions when he talks about the 30 years he's spent owning and admiring cutting horses.

"The first decision that I made was probably the most important, and that was picking Terry Riddle as the trainer I wanted to work with," Anderson said. "It's a tough business because a lot of people never win any money, but it's just a terrific bunch of people surrounding that cutting horse competition. The NCHA is just a wonderful organization."

Getting hooked

A lifelong farmer, Anderson first discovered cutting horses at a stock show in Denver in the 1970s. He was impressed with the animals' perseverance and athleticism.

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He bought his first horse, a 7-year-old named Mr. Ray Zero, in 1974. A year later, he purchased Doc's Wrangler, a coming 2-year-old stallion whose pedigree includes one of the most popular cutting horse studs ever, Doc Bar.

Riddle trained Doc's Wrangler for the 1977 Futurity, and Anderson rode him to a fifth-place finish in the national competition.

"Terry Riddle trained Doc's Wrangler, and now 29 years later, Spoonful of Cheerios," Anderson said. "That's not an accident. He's a master horseman and he works at it every day. That's probably why we have such a friendship.

"He realizes there are no shortcuts, and I know there are no shortcuts in anything you do," he said. "We're both ambitious."

Soon, Anderson's growing passion for cutting horses spilled over into his family life. Daughters Rebecca and Katie, and sons Michael and Mark, all participated in high school rodeo competitions.

"At one point during that time, I had over 100 horses," Anderson estimates.

In 1983, Anderson was back in the finals of the Futurity's nonpro class, this time riding a mare named Wrangler's Maid.

"I made a little bobble," he said. "Otherwise, we probably could have won it."

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Another Anderson quarter horse, Young Ray Gun, has earned $80,000 in prize money so far. Raised in Hillsboro, the stallion just turned 9 years old and will be bred this spring, hopefully passing some of his best genes on to another generation of winning cutting horses.

The big winner

Last year, Anderson had his biggest win yet as a horse owner. Three-year-old Spoonful of Cheerios was acquired almost as a fluke.

Last spring, Anderson was in Oklahoma watching Riddle prepare one of his stallions for sale. At the same time, Riddle was working with one of his own mares, getting her ready to compete in the 2006 Futurity. Anderson thought Riddle and the mare had a good shot at winning the show.

With Riddle bound to go far, Anderson decided he wanted to ride in the 2006 competition, too, but at that point didn't have a horse ready for the show. Futurity horses must be 3-years-old, and cannot have any prior show experience.

Riddle had another mare he wanted to sell to his friend, but instead, a fiesty gelding caught Anderson's eye.

"I'm watching him, and this horse is pretty wild," Anderson said.

"Terry saddles him up and puts the bridle on over the halter. I've never seen them do that before. But if this horse got away from you, it took forever to pull him back."

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That horse was Spoonful of Cheerios, and at the time, Riddle was the only one who could ride him without being bucked off. Still, Anderson was sure the horse had potential.

"I just liked him right from the start because he was a tough horse, and he was smart. His expression and all that was there, he was just amazing," Anderson said. "He was filled with kindness, but you were going to have to get it out of him."

Anderson remembers asking Riddle how much he wanted for the gelding. "He said, 'Roger, I wouldn't sell this horse to you, he'd hurt you,'" Anderson said. "But I said, 'I kind of like him.'"

The next day, Riddle sent Anderson to bring the horse down to the training ring.

"I caught him, rubbed on him some, and he responded to that kindness," Anderson said.

After watching Riddle work the gelding again in the ring, "I had to have him," he said.

Although Cheerios showed plenty of potential, there was clearly a lot of work to do before he'd be ready for the Futurity.

"When he worked a cow, he was never in the right spot," Anderson said.

Riddle noticed the same thing and told his friend he didn't think the gelding would be ready in time for the Futurity.

Anderson persevered. "There wasn't any doubt in my mind that this would be a challenge for him, and he'd get it done."

Riddle invested countless hours working with the Cheerios. He used the horse to sort out 400 pairs of cows and calves on his working ranch.

"When he came back from that chore, he was a different horse," Anderson says. "He could handle him after that."

The big show

Anderson eventually bought both the gelding (Spoonful of Cheerios) and the mare (Spoonful of Sugar) from Riddle. They planned to have Riddle ride Cheerios and Anderson ride Sugar. However, the mare crippled out during training, and Anderson shifted his attention to helping Riddle prepare Cheerios for the competition.

More than 1,600 horses entered last year's Futurity. There's an opening round, followed by several elimination rounds, narrowing the field of contestants. In each round, a horse and rider must cut one calf from a herd and keep it from rejoining the herd by dancing back and forth in an ever-smaller area until the calf turns away toward the far side of the ring.

Each contestant can cut up to three calves within a 2-minute performance window. Five judges score them on herd work, expression and degree of difficulty, so it is important for the rider to choose a challenging calf. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the highest point totals move up in the competition.

Spoonful of Cheerios did well in the opening rounds of the Futurity, advancing to the finals, where he was securely in second place until the final competitor, Oh Cay Felix, blew the competition away in the last performance of the day.

Anderson is quick to give Riddle the credit for Spoonful of Cheerios' success. Riddle also rode one of his own horses, Dmac Easter Bunny, in the 2006 Futurity. A slight misstep cost them points in the finals, but he and Bunny still won more than $27,000.

Riddle charges Anderson a monthly fee to train horses at his Wynnewood, Okla., facility. Anderson pays all veterinary bills and show entry fees for the horses he owns.

Priceless

experience

In exchange, Riddle has given Anderson the opportunity to participate in the exciting world of cutting horse training.

"In the past 29 years, I've seen him work about 60 horses," Anderson says. "He's also doing a lot of ranching. He has a lot of cattle."

Since Riddle is so busy, he sometimes lets Anderson help prepare his horses for competition, something most trainers would hesitate to do.

"Terry knows me well enough to know I'll be pretty sincere in my job," Anderson says modestly. "I think our friendship is built on respect."

Preparing a Futurity competitor usually includes real cattle work, since Futurity contestants cannot have any prior experience in the show ring.

"You know, Terry doesn't sit there in his house and tell the boys to go get the cattle," Anderson says. "He's out there, lots of times in the dark. I always say his horses have night vision because they're always bringing in the cattle in the dark or turning them out in the dark."

That experience working long hours comes in handy at show time. Anderson says, depending on your draw in the competition schedule, you might be up at 4 a.m. feeding your horse and preparing it to perform.

Home away

from home

All that time training and competing in horse shows keeps Anderson away from his Hillsboro home for weeks at a time.

He often is at Riddle's ranch in Oklahoma, or in Texas, where most of the major cutting horse shows and sales take place. His close friendship with horse people in both places makes it a little easier to be away from his North Dakota farm.

"Every time I go, I stay in a hotel once going down and once coming back. That's it, two hotel rooms in a month," he said. "I either move in with Terry, or his nephew, Dan, or I stay with my daughter who lives in Fort Worth."

The Texas connection has influenced the rest of his family, too. Three of his four children graduated from Texas Christian University.

"And between the horse business and Texas Christian University, we wound up with two Texas son-in-laws," he said. "Really good boys. We've also got two wonderful daughter-in-laws and seven grandchildren. Life is good."

His wife of 42 years, Connie, also has played an important role in Anderson's success.

"She's supportive of my horse habit. I have to do a lot of traveling, and she's been super understanding and supportive."

While Anderson was gone this past fall, son Mike harvested more than 2,000 acres of corn.

"He's pretty much ready to take over the farm, but I'm not quite ready to retire yet, so we're working together for now," Anderson said.

Meanwhile, he's pleased with the rewards horses have reaped for his family, and his hometown.

"Our horses have brought a lot of attention to Hillsboro and North Dakota in general," Anderson said.

"Whether it's high school rodeo or any kind of show, when it's your turn to compete, you're always announced with your name and the town and state you're from, and we've been a lot of places."

Reprinted from Agweek. Reach Stone at (701) 780-1111, (800) 477-6572, ext. 111; or kstone@gfherald.com .

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