Photos by Gina Turner
“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” –Winston Churchill
At age 83 and with numerous awards to his name, Jimmy Farris would fully agree with Mr. Churchill’s statement. And surely his hours in the saddle throughout the years are beyond numbering! Let’s meet this accomplished cowboy, Jimmy Farris.
Where did you grow up and when was your first experience on the back of a horse?
I grew up in the Conner community and attended school in Madisonville. My family had a dairy farm, so I was around cows and horses at an early age. My dad would put me in the saddle to ride with him while he worked the cattle.
When did you decide to go into cutting horse competition?
When I was young, I went to a rodeo in Hilltop Lakes and saw a cutting horse competition for the very first time. I left there determined to buy a horse and start competing, too. But, cutting horses are very expensive, and it took me 5 -6 years before I was able to buy my first one. That was in the early 1970s. Once I had a cutting horse, I’d sneak off in the mornings before work and go to practice and learn from John Carter, who lived in Crockett at the time. It was time-consuming and expensive, but worth it all.
Explain to our readers how a cutting horse competition works.
When the competition begins, there is a herd of calves in the ring when the horse and rider enter. The goal of the competition is to cut out one calf from the herd and keep it from rejoining the group for a period of time. Once a calf is cut from the herd, the rider drops his hand and can only use his feet to guide the horse when guidance is needed. During the 2 ½ minutes, a rider and horse should be able to work 2 to 3 calves individually and successfully. But it is certainly not an easy task. As I see it, there are 3 brains working simultaneously, that of the cow, of the horse, and of the rider. Each one is set on its own objective and hopefully, the horse and rider will be of the same mind at the same time! As I said, it’s not easy! No two situations are ever the same.
What traits are needed in horse and rider to compete successfully?
There are two characteristics that both horse and rider need, and these are cow sense and athleticism. Cow sense is the quality of intuitively knowing what move the cow will make next. He can be quick, so knowing what his next move is likely to be is very important in order to keep him from rejoining the herd. Not every horse has cow sense. A racehorse, for example, will have absolutely no interest in a cow, but a cutting horse will automatically focus in on a cow. So, you need a horse that has been bred to have cow sense.
The second quality is athleticism, which will include speed, maneuvering ability, strength, and endurance. These abilities are needed to keep the separation between cow and herd for a sustained period of time. And as I mentioned, both horse and rider need these qualities and need to be able to work in unison toward the same goal, moment by moment.
Among your many awards, give us a short list of some of your favorites.
In 2008, I won the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Amateur Cutting at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR). I was riding Okie Madera, who also brought me a win in 2008 as World Champion Novice Non-Pro of the American Cutting Horse Association (ACHA). In 2011, I earned a place in the top 15 in the National Cutting Horse Association on Bingo’s Mate, and I’m currently sitting at 26th in the $50K Amateur in the NCHA on Cha Ching And Change.
That brings us up to 2019. Tell us about your most recent win at HLSR.
Yes, I recently won 3rd place in the NCHA $50K Limit Amateur. This category is for people who do not train or ride cutting horses for a living, and it encompasses all ages. I was the oldest person in the competition at age 83 and placed third. Not bad! I am the oldest winning competitor in this area, so I guess that is quite an accomplishment. My wife, kids, and grandkids think so. They are the reason I am still competing. It is a family hobby, and you will find us at a show most any weekend. I have been blessed to have my wife of 63 years, Carolyn, who has been supportive in every way. And although she doesn’t compete, she helps and encourages all of us on a daily basis and has done so all these years. She is a major part of my winning!
What’s this I hear about a Show Saddle coming your way?
In January, I competed in a Saddle Shoot Out in Brenham, Texas, and won the amateur division by competing as one of the top 5 riders from the previous year. My saddle stand is ready for the delivery of the custom prize saddle that will be delivered soon! It is being crafted by South Texas Tack located in Brenham.
I must ask about the names of your horses. They are quite unique.
A horse is named when first born, and, yes, the names can be interesting. They also take on “barn” names or nicknames. My current horse is Cha Ching And Change, but I call her Money. She has certainly earned that name. Other horses I’ve ridden in competition are Okie Madera, Bingo’s Mate, and family favorite Gold Pardon.
What other hobbies or tasks do you enjoy aside from your cutting horse competition?
For 25 years, I bought and sold horses, and that was very lucrative. We have a ranch in Midway, and I still help work cattle when we need to. I’ve been doing this for over 60 years. I still love it and enjoy the fact that most of my family live nearby and help with the family ranch. We have 2 children, 4 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. In addition to the ranch work, we have a native pecan orchard with approximately 8,000 trees scattered over 650 acres. They don’t produce on a yearly basis, but when they do, we stay busy harvesting, cleaning, and bagging the pecans for market. We also grow and produce our own hay for winter feeding. Life is always busy on the Farris Ranch.
What advice would you give a young person who is thinking about competing in cutting horse or any type of equine competition?
The most important advice I can give a young person is to find a trainer who has been in the winning circle and not just someone who has competed. Otherwise, you may not be getting the topnotch advice and training that you need to put you in the winner’s circle.
Also, buy the best quality horse you can for the type of competition you will be involved in. For cutting horse competition, find the horse that has been bred for this, has good cow sense, and is athletic. This puts you ahead of your competition from the start and gives you that winning chance.
Then, put in the hours of hard work to become a winner. It’s never easy, but it is worth it.
Hard work and determination pay dividends that can’t be measured. In addition to his many accomplishments in the saddle, the work ethic Jimmy Farris has lived by has certainly been foundational for his family and his good name. Thanks for sharing with us, and we look forward to hearing about more accomplishments in the future of Jimmy Farris, 83 years young! Mr. Churchill would agree!