Cow cutting, the Halligan way | TSLN.com

Cow cutting, the Halligan way

Rhonda Stearns
for Tri-State Livestock News

The South Dakota Quarter Horse Association (SDQHA) honored Barb and Jim Halligan during their recent convention at Fort Pierre, broadly underlining their status in the highly competitive field of cow cutting. What trails led the gregarious accounting-student son of Ken and Ruth Halligan and the shy, classy pre-vet daughter of Stuart and Dorothy Thorson to meet at Black Hills State University, watch their first cold, competitive cow cutting event ‘till long after midnight at Black Hills Stock Show, marry in ’77, buy their first Quarter Horse in ’78, and now stand in that spotlight? Could you or your neighbor accomplish such feats?

“Of course!” Jim affirms. “Barb and I prove you do not have to come from a cutting background to do this. Become a student of the sport. Watch and listen, and ask people tons of questions. Then, be brave enough to try . . . to fail and try again.”

Halligan’s sought and found some of the finest instructors anywhere. “Early on, Jim Griffith from Faith, SD spent lots of time with us, showing us the fundamentals of getting a young horse trained,” Jim recalls. “Billy Meyers, originally from Ft. Pierre, SD is a master at quickly getting feel and response from a green horse,” he adds. “I never missed a chance to watch both these guys work horses.”

“I tried to go to as many cutting horse clinics as possible,” Barb says. “One of the first was with Dick Gaines. He gave me a big step-up by teaching me ‘each horse has to find its’ own style’. Dick taught me, ‘Your horse was born knowing more than you will ever learn about a cow . . . always trust your horse!’

Jim says, “Lloyd Cox graciously came to Wessington, SD, to teach at Jay Anderberg’s ranch. Barb, Jessi and Ryan all attended, and all three had a very successful show season that summer.”

In order to participate in a Bill Freeman clinic, Barb once passed up a show she really wanted to enter! She remembers, “Bill’s clinic took my herd work and showmanship to another level! The very next weekend I won both the Open and Non-pro at a very tough NCHA show.” Determination and ‘try’ produce experience, the mother of wisdom….

One huge piece of the cow-cutting puzzle is finding and acquiring the right horses to work with. Some just come along to teach you something — like the Quarter Horse stallion Jim’s dad bought in the 50’s, and his offspring Jim grew up riding. Or the mare Hotshot Jim’s dad traded for from Dave Stirling of Stanley County, which helped him win his first cutting prize. Or Jim’s first money-earner in cutting, Hills Clark Bar by Clark’s Doc Bar, bought from Pat Cowan.

Equine bloodline students, Barb and Jim sleuthed consistency in qualities they valued, buying mares bred to produce that way whenever possible. “We were always on a very small budget, so many times we’d settle for a very old mare, or one that had a medical condition,” Jim explains. “Barb was very good at getting old mares in foal . . . getting us a good baby to work with.”

Early on, Barb bought an own-daughter of High Brow Hickory, from Joe Heim . . . a yearling with a breathing problem. Breeding her later to Smokin Manzana produced World Champ team-penner Knee High Manzana; also High Center Manzana (known to everyone as ‘Cee’), still teaching new people how to cut cows at age 28!

Cee’s lengthy, ever-expanding career is proof of a principle Jim heard Paul Hansma state long ago – “You can’t train a cutting horse even 1% a day! If you could he would be trained in 100 days.” Jim realized, “It probably takes me 1000 days to get a horse broke, trained and finished to show. You have to be patient and persistent.”

“Eager to learn, and willing to listen” are foundational Halligan traits, on which they’ve built great success. “People who’ve helped us in the show pen, and training horses, are way too numerous to list, but Barb and I thank them sincerely,” Jim says. “Sometimes the smallest bit of advice made a huge difference.”

In 1985 Halligans plucked a gem, Ima Classy Lynx, from Bonna and Larry Vance’s pasture. Jim and Barb call her “a great, kind teacher” of their sport — teamworking cattle so well each won their first Year-end Buckles that season – similarly coaching their son Ryan and daughter Jessi, nieces, nephews and other high school rodeo hands and cutting neophytes for years since.

“Cutting has the reputation of being a rich person’s sport,” Jim says. “We feel we are proof you can do it on a budget. Barb sold a litter of bird dogs [German Wirehaired Pointers she bred] and I sold some feeder pigs to purchase to best horse we have had.”

Such bold decisions weren’t made lightly! Smokin Manzana, a 14.1 hand 1984 model, carrying working bloodlines from such Quarter Horse royalty as Doc Bar, Mr Gunsmoke and Joe Reed is that “best horse”. Even as a green colt he really read bovines, looked them in the eye and worked low, like a border collie.

The dogs and hogs were sacrificed to pay Oklahoma breeder Joe Heim in May of the colt’s 3rd year – the deal inclusive of Joe’s continued training through the colt’s Futurity season. That was only the beginning.

Jim recalls, “Barb worked a night shift cooking at a café so she could haul him his 4-year-old year . . . in a $500 dollar 2-horse trailer behind a15 year-old Chevy suburban. She headed for the North Star aged event with a $400 dollar budget . . . they made the Finals and won enough to get to the next show!”

Such grit and gumption go a long way, and Jim’s proud to recall, “They kept ‘making the Finals’ and winning money for the next 21 years; including the championship in a tough Non-pro class when he was 25 years old.” Rewarded with well-earned retirement soon thereafter, the happy stallion continued to vocally greet his human family every morning until his passing at 34. His equine family continues racking up championships.

Halligans intended to stand Smokin Manzana selectively to good mares outside their own band. Soon after his purchase, a stallion-owners meeting they participated at Pat Cowan’s involved them, as founding members, in the venerable, still very successful Dakota Classic Cutting Futurity (DCCF).

Smokin Manzana reciprocated the love Halligans enveloped him in, winning unselfishly with Jim, Barb, Jessi and Ryan. The amazing stud loved working cows and setting records throughout his two-decade arena career! Competing 18 times in one single weekend he won 16 times, twice settling for 2nd! He’s one of few superb horses shown by a Non-Pro ever qualified in both Open and Non-Pro at the World Finals.

Breeding better cutting horses was Halligan’s aim, goal and purpose. “Larry Vance found Bit of Freckles for us,” Jim remembers, “and we sold a big trailer full of horses to pay for her!” She amply proved their theory – “Smokin Manzana would cross well on a Freckles Playboy mare.”

“She produced multiple Aged-event champions, National Western finalists, and a go-‘round winner at the World Finals,” Jim says. She’s also the dam of Manzana’sTweak who took Jim into the Finals of the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Summer Spectacular in Fort Worth, Texas.

In Halligan’s program Smokin Manzana also sired great working horses from daughters of Doc O’Lena, Freckles Playboy, Doc’s Hickory, High Brow Hickory, and High Brow Cat. Affirming the importance of “good mama’s” Jim confides, “Barb and I believe if you find a mare that is better than what you have at home, you should sell however many horses it takes to get her. That can be difficult, especially if it involves some of your favorites!”

Whatever sacrifices have been made (including the ribbing they’ll forever endure for practicing their fine horses on sheep) the cutting horse legacy of Barb and Jim Halligan, Jessi and Ryan remains a solid cornerstone. Their genetic genius and working bloodlines they’ve developed will forever enrich AQHA, SDQHA, the DCCF and far beyond. Barb served more than 25 years as NCHA Director, chairing the NCHA Amateur Committee last year. An active NCHA-approved judge for three decades, Jim also served multiple terms as SDQHA President. Most importantly, their help, home, hearts and horses have inspired, begun and furthered the careers of unknown numbers of cutting enthusiasts across four decades.