World-Class Cutting Horses Trained in Carson Valley At Diamond J Ranch
by Joey Crandall, email@example.com · 7 min read
It’s an early morning in late December.
The entirety of Diamond J Ranch, tucked just inside the Nevada state line along Highway 88 and dotted across with 50-some-odd majestic steeds awaiting their daily paces, sparkles under a coat of new snow.
Jobs Peak towers above to the west, with Carson Valley splayed out in temporarily tundrified glory extending all other directions.
Tom Long – using a thick ranch coat, gloves and a cowboy hat to fend off each of the 21 degrees the morning had afforded – squints over the complex, pausing momentarily on each of the structures, and allows for a wry smile.
All of it had been little more than an open pasture just a decade prior.
“I don’t like the cold … and I don’t like the wind,” he laughs. “You know, I don’t really care for the mountains all that much. And I got all of it right here.”
Long, 66, waves an arm toward Jobs Peak and back across, and laughs again.
Sadie, Long’s dog and closest companion since losing his wife to cancer five years ago, lifts her head quickly where she had been curled up several feet away (“That’s where she always is,” Long says. “She goes everywhere with me. And she’s never met a stranger. She’ll come up and meet ya.”) upon seeing the motion.
“Life just leads you on different journeys, man.”
In the world of cutting horses (Cutting is a Western-style equestrian competition born out of a time when ranchers would hire cowboys to sort and separate cattle in the open range), Long is a living legend – though he wouldn’t be the one to say it.
He won a pair of National Cutting Horse Association World Finals in the mid-80s and is an AAAA-rated (the rating scale only goes up to four ‘A’s’) judge in the NCHA. He’s also member of the NCHA Hall Of Fame.
“I’ve been at it so long now, I guess I’m considered a grandpa in the darn deal,” Long said. “This area, there is a lot of agriculture and a lot of horse activity, but people just aren’t that familiar with what we do.
“It’s just a great, great sport. It has grown so much and there is so much darn money involved in it now. You ain’t runnin’ for no ribbons out here. You run for dollar bills. It’s really exciting.
“Anyone and everyone can do it. It’s a complete family sport. We have kids five, six years old cutting. And we have 86-year-olds that are cutting. The longevity is incredible.
“What happens in Nevada, there are a good amount of cutters, but most are comfortable to stick around here and not really push the envelope. It is a major investment. Every once in a while you’ll get someone who wants to jump up and play hard ball and they then they start to see what is really possible.
“These horses are worth so doggone much because they can win, and that creates more demand and more demand and more demand.
“If people would really look into it, what I’ve found is that it only really takes one ride. It’d be like going to a golf course and hitting a hole-in-one on your very first swing. You’re hooked.”
It’s a sport Long felt was worth setting aside every other pursuit for.
He took the round-about circuit from his birthplace in Illinois as his father troubleshot co-ops in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri before Long eventually landed in California and later settled in Nevada around 1990.
“I’ve done everything in the horse business,” he said. “Working cow horses, halter horses, the whole deal. I got bored with everything else. This (cutting) is the one thing that continuously keeps you interested.
“You’re challenged by a live mind. You are working against a live mind, trying to out-think it, and you’re training another live mind to out-think it. There’s nothing else like it. So I wound up quitting everything else. I had a whole barn of horses and I gave it away – all of it except for one horse. My wife said I was crazy, how are we going to feed the kids?
“But it worked out.”
Long began building the Diamond J Ranch around 10 years ago, around his prize stallion, Cats Gotta Diamond.
“He’s a grand horse,” Long said. “We won more than $150,000 on him. He came out of High Brow Cat, the greatest breeding stallion that has over lived. And his mother might have been the best horse I ever put a leg on. The combination you just knew had to be good.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. You always hope, hey, you’re putting the best of the best together, but it doesn’t happen. But his mother and her brother built this ranch on what they won in the arena and in what we’ve been able to sell their offspring for.
“We were lucky enough to come into the higher-end type of horse, and it has worked out great.”
Long retired Cats Gotta Diamond from competition a number of years ago to begin breeding him.
“We wanted to see if the babies could prove him,” Long said. “So far, it’s turning out.”
This past season, one of Cats Gotta Diamond’s offspring – He’s Gotta Be Good (His barn name is Benjamin, coined by Long’s grandchildren – “That Benjamin Button movie was going around a few years back, and when this guy was born, he first stood up and he was his daddy. He stood right up and he was a mature horse, there was no doubt,” Long said. “So we started calling him Benjamin.”) offered tangible proof.
Despite competing for essentially only half a season, starting in July, He’s Gotta Be Good carried Long to his third World Championship this past December.
“It was really something,” Long said. “It literally came down to the last 30 seconds of the year.”
Competing in the World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, Long and He’s Gotta Be Good made up a $990 deficit (six weeks prior, it had been more than $7,000) to win the world title by a mere $46.95.
“Everything is there trying to do the calculations and no one knew for sure,” Long said. “They sent it back through all the different departments just to make sure no numbers had been missed or added incorrectly.
“For us, the whole finish was like the Super Bowl, when you get a really good Super Bowl instead of a blowout. Every single run counted down to the end.”
Long said even after a lifetime of competing, he still felt those butterflies toward the end.
“If you don’t get nervous and it doesn’t bother you, you ain’t trying hard enough,” he said. “You can’t let the nerves take you out of the cut. I knew the judges liked my horse, and I knew if I could just put a good run together that they were going to keep me in the deal.”
He’s Gotta Be Good also carried his owner, California resident Phyllis Sorbet, to a championship in the amateur division at the World Finals.
“Everything now comes down to extreme breeding,” Long said. “It’s like a real good border collie. What our industry has done now is they have specialized in creating ‘cow sense’ and athleticism in these horses. It’s incredible.”
Breeding, and a whole lot of hard work.
“I take a good team on the road, but just as important, I have a good team back here at the ranch,” Long said. “We’re on the road all year – we probably rolled 20,000-25,000 miles just to events alone this past year. And it’s an all-day deal. You can work from 4 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night at these events.
“But you have to have a great team at home to tend to the horses here. If you don’t, you’re out of business.
“It’s all year, you’re breaking your year-old colts and trying to get them ready for their first show by the end of their third year. That’s an every day job.
“What we’ve built here with our stallion and breeding programs has been terrific. I love developing the young horses and bringing them up. It really kindles your interest. And we’ll continue to build as we go.
“And I’ll keep competing until I can’t get up on the horse anymore. That I love.”
For more information, visit www.tomlongcuttinghorses.com.