Sunday Morning Cutting/Hangover Clinic

By Mike Thomas


I forget if it was 1980, 1981 or 1982... Doug Kirk, who worked at Madison River Cattle Company, had this big idea that he and I and our horses travel from Three Forks, Montana to Whitehall, Montana and attend a cutting clinic on Sunday morning with a cutting horse trainer, Mark Thomas (no relation to author). I told Doug, "give me a call in the morning and we’ll load and go". Fair enough.

The night before this ominous event, my wife, Sharon Rose Christopher Thomas, and I attended some kind of major social function in Bozeman, Montana. The night wore on and I don’t think either one of us remember how we got back to the ranch house in Three Forks, nor the hour in the early morning. On the way home in the late evening she did what she did, sparingly, but with enough joy juice said "You don’t love me anymore!" This did not make the cloudy road to home any easier.

We collapsed in the house, retired for the evening (AM) and our children, fortunately, were asleep, having been taken care of by Teresa, the babysitter. Sleep entailed 2 ½ hours before Doug Kirk called the house at 5 a.m. and said: "Are you ready to go to the cutting clinic in Whitehall?" Having promised Doug I would, and nowhere close to sober, I said: "Load Pompey and your horse, and you're going to drive the rig." This we did and arrived early, and he had to wake me up. I told him to saddle his horse and Pompey’s Pillar, my horse, which he did, while my head and stomach were not on the same schedule!

Pompey’s Pillar, in his defense, was kind of an amazing horse. His head, neck, shoulders, back, hip and #2 front shoes did not make the image of a cutting horse. His rat tail didn’t help either. But when saddled and moving out, Pompey was an extraordinary horse. I had taken him to several cow workings with Ray Hunt and was doing very well in spite of his and my shortcomings. When he moved, this not-so-right horse was really quite amazing and extremely athletic at 15.3 or 16 hands, and near 1350-1400 pounds depending on when last shod and/or laid off! The head was not right, the neck was not right, the hip was too short, feet were not right! Loser horse...? WRONG!

Doug and I rode into the indoor barn and cutting pen where the clinic was to start within 20 minutes. Pompey and I towered over the sons and daughters of Doc Bar and other royally bred cutters. Pomp and Mike... immediately ridiculed by the knowing cutters that I looked down on only because of my "elephant height" on Pomp.

My wish did not come true while nursing a major hangover from the night before with dear wife Sharon, even if she didn’t love me anymore. I knew she was still asleep and wished like hell I was too. My wish was for Mark Thomas to pass me and Pomp for at least 10 hours on a 3 hour cutting clinic!

That did not work. We were called in and we cut! Pomp, with his huge size, turned in a performance that would make Mr. San Badger himself try to proclaim him as an illegitimate son, regardless of AQHA rules. The crowd was hooting and hollering. His down and dirty work with the cow created real "whiplash, east and west!" Damn near 16 hands and 1400 pounds - he was incredible! Finally, after a second cow and a second incredible performance, I was allowed to quit.

I rode out of the cutting pen, inside an indoor arena, through to the outside, rode to the MRCC trailer, very weak, looked around the trailer and seeing nobody, stepped off and barfed everything I ate along with wife Sharon the night before. After basic clean-up, I got back on Pomp Pillar and rode into the barn like I was a really a nice guy with a humble horse.

We rode in on the Q/A section part of the clinic and rode up on these cutting horse "dwarfs" and hoped that nobody would notice that I had a major hangover. My expectations of the moment were shattered!

A lady with a Doc Bar son or daughter was indignant! She asked, "Why do we have these well bred cutting horses and that humongous horse made it look so easy?"

Mark Thomas answered very clearly, "That horse that you see, has the desire, the knowledge and the ability to transcend all physical shortcomings!" Then he said something very important that I will never forget! He pointed at his forehead and said, "The horse has the desire, the job, knows what his job is! You can never beat a horse that knows what their real job in life is!" (MRT: "No human can ever beat another man or woman that is peaceful with their horse and they operate as they are one, both equally understanding their jobs and position in life.") It is also true that Pomp filled in for a rider that was in sad condition; he took pity on me. Such is the nature of horsemanship and life.

Well, Doug and I went back to MRCC and he dropped me off. I got to the house as Sharon was getting up near 11 a.m. She said, "How did it go?" "OK" was my answer, then I went to the couch and slept for a long time.

In retrospect, the reason Pomp Pillar turned in an incredible performance was that he knew I was not really even there, mentally or physically. He turned in a great performance in spite of the idiot on his back! Thirty-plus years later, I am not sure if he was cutting a cow or just picking me up on the way back to the other side of the cut! A horse with the desire to do right in spite of the idiot on his back, a huge, thunderous, get-down-dirty, eye-to-eye-with-the-cow horse, a horse that knew way more than the knucklehead on his back, and who took care of me!

Ray always said: "Don’t take the Think Away From the Horse!" I sure got a lesson on that day!

Thanx Pompey Pillar, I still love you,

Mike