From show biz to the show ring.
By Jim Merriam, written July 1973
The Canadian cutting horse industry is flourishing in many parts of that country, not the least of which is the highly industrialized portion of eastern Canada known as southern Ontario.
A major force behind it’s success in this area is one of Canada’s most popular television stars, country-folk singer Ian Tyson. But he is not the drugstore cowboy type. Ian Tyson possibly is eastern Canada’s most authentic cowboy, whose attitude towards cutting horses can be summed up by one word-enthusiasm.
Tyson is currently serving his second term as president of the Ontario Cutting Horse Association (OCHA). He suspects he was chosen for the presidency first time around because of his name. But there is no question that he was reelected for one reason only he has been good for cutting horses and cutting horse riders in eastern Canada .
Being named to head the Ontario association was a new experience for Tyson, who had never held office in any organization before.
“In this, I’m as active as I can be,” he said. “I decided if I was going to be involved in this I was going to do it to the best of my ability. And I’ve gotten back so much more than I’ve put into it.”
“I need contact with cattle people and horse people. It’s a very valuable thing. I treasure it.”
When he’s not cutting or working his 300-acre cow-calf ranch, Tyson is up to his ears in the fast-paced entertainment world. As host of The Ian Tyson Show, which finds its way into 770,000 Canadian households every Tuesday night on the CTV television network, Tyson is probably the best-known cowboy in the country.
A songwriter of note (Four Strong Winds, for example), Tyson has been big in entertainment for ten years and with his wife Sylvia has had many hits both in Canada and the United States. Although he is a dedicated musician, he gives you the distinct impression that his first love is back at the ranch. In fact his tours and show tapings are scheduled so that he can be at the ranch during peak periods for calving, shipping, haying, etc.
Tyson runs about 50 cows on the 300-acre spread, about 50 miles east of Toronto. This past summer he added 50 steers which seem to have spent a lot of their time trying to outwit one of his cutting horses.
Last year he leased a Santa Gertrudis bull to breed to his Hereford cows and he has high hopes for the calves-if not in the stockyards, then in the cutting arena. He feels the wiliness of the Santa Gertrudis, mixed with the steady influence of the Herefords, will mean top quality cutting cattle. When cutting himself, Tyson prefers black cattle with a white face, although any beef breed is good, he said.
“The important thing is that they are fresh.” He favors them in the neighborhood of 500 to 600 pounds.
Settling them, of course, is the main problem for show cutting and the OCHA is looking into ways to settle cattle before getting them into the ring, in order to improve cutting as a spectator sport. This type of thinking on the part of the OCHA may be a main factor in its growth and success. This is evident with the strong possibility that they will be able to promote a cutting competition in conjunction with Toronto’s prestigious Royal Winter Fair next November.
Finding Ian Tyson on a cutting horse would come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his background. Born and raised in the farmlands of British Columbia, he has always had cowboy blood in him and toured the rodeo circuit for a few years as a bronc rider and calf roper before receiving a serious back injury.
With rodeo behind him, roping didn’t seem to be the ideal sport for a guitar picker and it was inevitable Tyson would discover cutting. From the time he first mounted a cutting horse about four years ago, to 1972 when he placed third on the OCHA circuit riding his temperamental cutting horse Bill, he has been 100 percent behind the sport.
Besides his successes in the arena, Tyson has arranged for national sponsors for two top cutting competitions, promoted a cutting and judging clinic at the Tyson Ranch, and encouraged the media to take an interest in cutting.
Like most enthusiasts, Tyson is anxious to have others try his favorite sport. And he has some suggestions for the rider who wants to give it a try. His first advice is that the new cutter attend as many clinics as he can. “A good man can explain so much.”
He advises the novice against buying a colt and suggests he start with an older horse that can teach the rider something. Novice rider classes are a good place to begin and the Ontario association offers a $100 class. The entrant can ride any horse, no matter how much money the horse has won. This is exactly how Tyson got started himself and Old Bill is so reliable that “my kid can ride him,” he said. The kind of horse you want as a novice is honest. And with good care he can go on cutting for years. Tyson even has hopes of seeing his son Clay, six, cutting on Bill in another five years.
Besides promoting cutting in Ontario, Tyson also unwittingly did some promotion of ranch techniques. Other farmers in his area have seen the benefits of running a farm like a ranch.
“They’ve found out that a guy who can rope is handy; that all things are done for a purpose in the western methods.”
Tyson is also beginning to turn his hand to training cutting horses and the novice he rode last year was one he trained. “In spite of everything I did wrong, he still had that cow. He’s a solid horse.”
He also breaks and trains his ranch colts. “I like riding colts. It’s a great way to get away from the pressure.”
A great plus for cutting, according to Tyson, is that you can do it until you’re 80, if you can still get on a horse. With his enthusiasm for cutting and the ranch life in general, Ian Tyson will likely be doing just that.