GILLETTE, Wyo. — While two-time National High School Finals Rodeo competitor Cody Boller started riding horses as a young boy, this is only his second year in the sport of cutting.
Peppy, the bay mare quarter horse Boller rode in last year’s nationals, has been the ticket to the National High School Finals Rodeo for getting started in cutting for four high school rodeo competitors, said her owner, Cinnamon Lenhart.
Lenhart, who’s been involved in cutting since when she was a freshman in high school, and her father, Rod Smith, coached Boller, who both started out in cutting and got to nationals with Peppy.
Lenhart said that in cutting, the rider, also known as a cutter, rides into the arena with one hand on the reins and the other on the saddle horn. The cutter and the horse have two and a half minutes to cut three head of cattle. The rider can help the horse through the cattle until they choose a cow. From there, they put their reins hand down and can only use their feet to support the horse.
“Meaning, it’s pretty much 100% on the horse,” she said. “They can quit the cow when it’s stopped or turned away from them, and then they go select another. This continues until time runs out.”
At nationals, there are two judges who each give the pair a score. A 140 is considered an average score, she said.
The Smith family and the Boller family, as neighbors near the Weston neighborhood of Campbell County, have known each other for generations, Lenhart said. She herself got to know the Boller family after she and her husband, Jade Lenhart, moved back home to her family’s ranch after college. Cody works for Jade.
“We became friends and would help each other with cow work on the ranch,” she said. “Both Jade and I recognized Cody’s talents, and Jade told him he needed to start riding cutting horses.”
Cody’s mother, Treasure Boller, said the Boller family was hesitant to get into rodeo because of the expenses involved. That changed when the Smiths and the Lenharts took Cody under their wing, she said.
Smith, a longtime cutter, helped Cody get started in cutting, and once Cody got interested, Lenhart offered him her high school show horse, Peppy.
“[Cody] came to one practice and was hooked,” she said.
She said she expected Cody would make it to nationals.
“He’s a good cowboy and naturally gifted with horses,” she said. “I knew if he got started he would excel. It’s just natural. Some people have a talent with horses and some don’t. Cody does.”
Cody said he loves the adrenaline rush of cutting, but the horses are his favorite part. He said that based on his experience in starting colts’ training, he has so much respect for the amount of work people put into training a cutting horse. Cutting horses are some of the most expensive horses because of the amount of time needed to train them to perform the sport.
Treasure said she’s enjoyed seeing Cody grow in confidence as he’s worked with the horses. Cody said the sport has also helped him grow in patience since it’s essential to be patient with horses to work well with them, especially in cutting.
Treasure said she’s grateful the Smith and Lenhart families have supported Cody through the sport, teaching him and providing the horses for him to ride.
“It’s just been a lot of fun, and we’re super blessed,” she said.
Still, she said, she gets really nervous during the competitions, while Cody, who held his breath his first time doing cutting, has been telling people that nationals are like any other day, now that he’s grown accustomed to the sport.
“I don’t breathe for the whole time,” Treasure said.
She said that when she and her mom, Cathy Wilkinson, watch Cody compete, they tend to imitate the movements of the horse Cody’s riding as they anxiously anticipate the action in the rodeo arena.
Cody’s father, Jake Boller, has attended nearly every one of Cody’s cuttings, Treasure said.
“Cutting was new to all of us, so he learned right along with Cody,” she said.
Jake’s mother, Wendy Gleason, has also been very supportive, Treasure said.
Boller placed third in his first performance, taking place July 17, with a 141. He’ll compete again tomorrow with Jazzy, a mare sorrel quarter horse Smith bought last fall. Jazzy accepted the job this year after Peppy aged out of cutting.
While most high school nationals horses are about 10 years old, Peppy was more than 20 when she and Cody competed at last year’s national finals, Lenhart said. Peppy is fully retired now and living on Box Equal Ranch. Lenhart hopes Peppy will have a colt in the next couple years.
Correction, July 22: A previous version of this story said Jade Lenhart is a longtime cutter. Cinnamon Lenhart said that while Jade talked Cody into cutting, her father, Rod Smith, is the longtime cutter. This story has been update to reflect this information.