With more than $4 million in lifetime earnings, Lindy Burch is undoubtedly a trailblazer in the sport of cutting. She was the first woman to capture the most prestigious titles in the event, including the NCHA Open Futurity Champion and NCHA Open World Champion. Now, at age 70, she is still a fierce competitor and is not done setting milestones.
The Southern California native grew up surrounded by horses. Her family had backyard horses and always trail rode, but one day, everything changed for her while on a trip with her family. On the drive, they stopped at a cutting horse show. After sitting on the fence for an hour watching the competition, she recalls asking what they were doing. Her father explained the event, and she decided then and there that she had to be a part of it.
A few weeks later, in another moment of serendipity, a cutting horse trainer moved in across the road. “One day I saw a baby blue Dodge pickup that said “Bruce Cahill: Cutting Horse Trainer.” He was to setting up his cutting horse operation,” she recalls. “So, I marched over there at age 14, introduced myself, and told him I wanted to learn to ride cutting horses.” He replied, “I have 20 horses here and if you clean stalls and saddle, I’ll show you how I want them loped, I’ll teach you how to turn back, and then I’ll teach you how to cut.” Her love for the sport took off from there. She continued riding through high school and college, and once she graduated, she had her eyes set on becoming an equine veterinarian.
While pursuing her vet school dream, she was still riding cutting horses on the side. “They had a practice every Thursday night in Chino, where for $5 you could work as many cows as you wanted,” she recalls. “People started asking me to work their horses, and then they started asking me to take their horses home and work them during the week and they’d pay me. I thought I was in heaven, like I’d hit a home run. It turned out really well and they kept asking me to ride more and more.”
Everything always works out the way it’s meant to be, so when she didn’t get into vet school on her first attempt, she took it as a sign that maybe she was meant to train horses. “I said, “You know what? If I can make a career doing what I love, I’d be foolish not to try.” That’s how I started. I think that’s how life’s supposed to be. Sometimes, things aren’t meant to be because at some point The Big Guy knows what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t be doing. I just haven’t known anything different. If you want something bad enough, you’re willing to work for it.”
Some people are lucky enough to experience a once-in-a-lifetime bond with a horse: one that will forever stand out among the rest, and it’s hard to define what makes them so special. They challenge us, change us, and ultimately make us better in and out of the arena. For Lindy, it was Bet Yer Blue Boons (Bet). The pair was meant to find each other and had a love story that spanned almost 30 years.
Their partnership started with successful trainer Larry Reeder, who was a good friend and mentor of Lindy’s. He was one of the first trainers to tell Lindy, “You’ve got what it takes, and I’d love to help you if you want it.” He had been riding a mare named Royal Blue Boon, owned by Larry Hall, and Lindy thought she was the greatest horse she’d ever seen. “I just loved that horse, like most people did. They knew what a great horse she was.”
Larry Hall had been breeding Royal Blue Boon, and there were a lot of colts by Smart Little Lena and Dual Pep. Lindy thought, “If I could just get a baby out of Royal Blue Boon, it would be the best thing ever. I would give my right arm for one.”
She was living in Carmel Valley at the time and had already established herself as a successful cutter. She called Larry Hall and asked if he had a mare out of Royal Blue Boon he would be willing to sell. He told her, “Well, I have one mare. She’s a Little Peppy, but I don’t want to sell her. But I’ve got a Freckles Playboy, and I guess I’d sell her.”
Lindy immediately flew down to Texas to check her out. “She could’ve been black and blue polka dot and I would’ve bought her,” she says with a laugh. “She was a Royal Blue Boon, if she had two heads, I think I still would’ve bought her. She was a beautiful red roan, real strong, big footed. She’d maybe only seen a cow two times, but I could just feel something.”
At that time, Freckles Playboy’s progeny were known to be great athletes but difficult to train. “I trained her,” says Lindy, “and she would be good and bad every day and I would work her again, cool her out, work her again. She’d be fabulous, but then she’d just walk off a cow.” It was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears but Lindy always knew Bet would be great. She recalls saying, “You know what, Bet? You can do this if you want, but it’s either your wheels are going to fall off or my wheels are going to fall off. I’m not giving up.”
What Lindy’s known for, even today, is that she doesn’t give up. “I didn’t give up on her. When she was 4, she broke my heart every time I showed her because she’d be great at places, then she just wouldn’t.” It wasn’t until the end of her 4-year-old year that Bet started getting more consistent, but her career was put on hold when she came up with a broken sesamoid. Once she was back in Texas, Lindy opted to have it taken out. After a few months of rest, she stepped back on Bet, started working her, and the team never looked back. “As great as she was in her 11-year-old year when I retired her, it started when she was 5. I never had to work her, I would just try to keep her in shape. She knew when we were somewhere, and she’d raise a level. I think she was almost a little annoyed if we tried to work her. In retrospect, that’s one reason she stayed so sound so long—because I didn’t overwork her. It took ’til she was 5, but she got it.”
In 2000, the dynamic duo won the NCHA Open World Championship, which she credits as her proudest accomplishment. “To win the Futurity, which I have, and then to win the Open World Championship are the two biggest jewels in cutting. Some people have won one or the other, but very few have won both. With Bet, to win the World and go show her in so many different venues and different situations where a horse must adapt, you can’t orchestrate that. They adapt and do the right thing and, to me, that’s a testimony of how a great horse can think on its own.”
Once Bet was retired, Lindy got to enjoy a whole new chapter with her. “She lived until she was 30, so I had 19 years with her where it was just her. She had the biggest stall in the barn with the most shavings. When I stepped in the alleyway, she would whinny at me. For 19 years, I’d turn her out and I got to take care of her. We had several chapters of our relationship, just like you would a person. I’ve always been closer to that horse than anybody or anything.”
What makes Lindy an exceptional competitor and trainer is how deeply she cares about the relationship between a horse and rider. She goes the extra mile to develop a partnership with her equine teammates. “I think that’s what makes a horse great. I don’t think you can make a horse great unless you have a unique symbiotic relationship with them. Having Bet and having the success we did is a testimony to how great she was. Now, I’m having success on her kids and her grandkids, so to me it’s just another feather in Bet’s cap.”
She has recently begun branching out into emceeing and providing color commentary for a lot of event finals, as well as the NCHA Triple Crown with Jeff Medders on The Cowboy Channel. “I’m trying to develop that entity a little bit. I think I’m good at analyzing and strategizing. I’m also planning and developing clinics since I’m riding fewer horses. It’s easy to take the horses I’m riding and do a clinic in different areas of the country.”
This year, Lindy’s newest venture is participating in the Fellowship Program for Art of the Cowgirl as the Master Horsewoman. On her decision to get involved, she says, “I’ve always tried to pay it forward and I enjoy helping young people. I want them to be good to a horse, appreciate what a horse can do, then allow a horse to develop. So, I thought this was a really great avenue to be able to do that and let someone mentor with me that wants to get better. I see myself in young people who hopefully want it as much as I did. I really haven’t seen that yet, because I wanted it pretty bad, but I think they’re out there. Art of the Cowgirl is a great concept of letting women be at the forefront. I don’t believe it’s a man’s world, and I’ve proven that a long time ago. I think there are some really great women horsemen and I want to help develop them even more.
“I think the door is really open now to women. I believe that with cutting, I don’t think there’s a major advantage being a man or woman. I just think there’s a major advantage if you’re a good hand,” she explains. “I think women are able to compete on an equal level even though there are few of us in the Open that are competitive. Only because I don’t think many women choose to make it a career. Being the very top in any event takes a lot of perseverance and determination and sacrifices to get there.”