So much goes into the making of a great cutting horse. Years of research, money, patience, and often a little luck, all play a part in the equation. But the variable that’s never guaranteed is the exact ability born within each animal.
For a cutting horse to be a standout, it often comes down to the grit and heart they show on a cow; it’s that innate ability to predict a cow’s every move that separates a true cow horse from the others.
This is where Gene and Michelle Morris found their stallion, Lil Catbaloo (aka Woody) excelled, even very early on in his training. “Gene and I feel his best attributes are why we loved him in the first place. He is incredibly smart and has the ability to read a cow and break it down…,” Michelle says. It’s those “cow smarts” which made Woody excel as a show horse, become a household name as a sire, and propelled him to the top of the list as the reigning NCHA Freshman Sire of the Year.
The Morrises bought Woody at the 2010 NCHA Futurity sale out of John Harrah’s dispersal. “Our trainer Mitch (Davis) had trained his mother, Sweet Lil Boo, and loved everything about her so he advised us to do whatever it took to purchase the colt,” Michelle recalls. Because they were unable to attend, Davis acted as agent for the Morrises but didn’t get the colt bought in the sale ring. Afterward, he approached the buyer’s agent and asked if they’d be willing to sell, something they agreed to the following day.
From Fort Worth, Woody travelled with Davis to Oregon and went into this training program. “About a month into his training, Mitch called us and told us we had a freak,” Michelle says, “He was so smart and tracked the cow right away.” As a two-year-old, Woody experienced more than just the confines of a pen, however. That year was spent with Davis on a big ranch where they gathered the cattle they worked every day. “He got lots of outside miles and roped and sorted pairs as well,” Michelle recalls, “He was always quiet and eager to learn…”
So, it was an easy decision for Woody’s owners to enter him in the NCHA Futurity when the time came. Lloyd Cox took the reins in the spring of Woody’s three-year-old year, as his trainability and keenness on a cow continued to grow. “We remember JB McLamb saying that, ‘this horse is so smart he could read a book!’,” Michelle says. But the owners admit they didn’t know just how good their horse was until the futurity itself. “When Lloyd showed at the NCHA Futurity it was then that we knew we had a very good horse. You could see him read a cow and break it down, he made it look easy,” Michelle recalls. The Morrises watched the first two go rounds at home and then made the trip to Texas for the semifinals, where Cox and Woody handily made the finals. “The night of the finals was one for the books. We didn’t have seats so we spread out wherever we could find a spot to watch,” Michelle says, “Watching him go to the herd and them call our name as the owners was so cool. Then he just did what he does best and the crowd got loud and he got better and better. We ended up fourth and the journey for us was just beginning.” The placing for Cox and Woody added $112,036 to his lifetime earnings, which was just the beginning for the duo.
Woody’s career, however, was truly rounded out when he and Cox captured the Breeder’s Invitational Open Championship in 2013, winning $82,178. For the Morrises, the win was so much more than the money. Michelle reminisces on it as, “Such a special day…that moment in time we wish we could replay.” Woody proved once again, that being a show horse was his forte. For the second time, the Morrises found themselves watching the first two goes at home on their computer but were apprehensive to travel to Oklahoma City for the finals because of tornadic activity happening. “Christina Cox, Lloyd’s wife, encouraged us to come because she thought Woody could win the show,” Michelle says, “We booked our flight and got to watch a magic moment in our life. The experience is one you will never forget.”
A fantastic show horse himself with LTE of $230,653, Woody has proven to be a top contending sire as well, with his NCHA Freshman Sire of the Year title. “This title means everything to us. It takes a village to get where we are, from Mitch who advised us to buy him, to Lloyd promoting him,” Michelle states. The owners agree that they have many people to thank, including mare owners who have trusted them along the way. “The blood, sweat, and tears of buying a horse and training is not for the faint of heart, but very rewarding in the end. We knew we had a very special horse and now we get to share him with the performance industry,” she adds.
The same tenacity Woody showed on a cow has also made him a standout sire, with many of his offspring demonstrating the same strengths. Most notably, Woody’s highest money earner, Calvin Baloo, has garnered earnings of $115,059. Ken Schultz owned Calvin Baloo from the spring of his three-year-old year until after last year’s NCHA Super Stakes event, when he sold him to Brenda Higbee. It was with Higbee that he clenched the title of Equistat’s 2019 Top Four-Year-Old Amateur Horse of the Year. With placings like a second in the Unlimited Amateur Derby at the 2019 Cascades Futurity, as well as a big win at the 2019 El Rancho Futurity in the $50,000 Amateur Derby, just to name a few, the gelding has been instrumental in Woody’s success as a sire. Some of his biggest wins with Schultz were 4th in the 2019 NCHA Super Stakes Amateur class and 5th in the NCHA Super Stakes Unlimited Amateur class. Both Schultz and Higbee agree that like his sire, Calvin Baloo knows how to be a show horse. They touted the gelding’s consistency and ring presence as his biggest attributes. Higbee says that her gelding is one she enjoys riding because he’s so pleasant, easy to pilot, and like his sire, “…shows a lot of heart and try”. Woody has sired foals that have earned money in both the cutting and reined cow horse arenas.
Although he has a limited number of foal crops, Woody has more than proven himself as a sire and the Morrises could not be more pleased with the results. “Every stallion owner wants their stallion to stamp his foals and hands down, he is doing that,” Michelle shares, “The future is looking bright for our young stallion.” And she says there’s not much better than hearing from mare owners who want to talk about their babies. “Gene and I truly look forward to these calls and of course, the baby photos and videos send to us…Each and every one is special, and we try to follow all of them in the show pen.” Similarly, Schultz credits the owners for their involvement with Woody’s offspring. “The encouragement and support from the Morrises has been amazing,” he says, “They pay attention to their babies and support the non-pros who show them…it’s really special.”
Outside of the arena, Woody is known for his laid back and relaxed demeanor, one which Michelle compares to, “a big teddy bear”. As a show horse and sire, he has done nothing but make the Morrises proud. “…the heart this horse shows is extraordinary. To compete at the level he did takes a lot of heart and this horse has it,” Michelle says lovingly, “He changed our lives and we are so grateful …we never planned to be stallion owners but we would never take this experience back in a million years…It’s been a very rewarding experience.”
It’s a somewhat rare happening in the horse industry when the stars align, and stallions not only make wonderful show horses but equally as good sires. But with the cow sense and heart that Lil Catbaloo possessed and passed on to his foals, coupled with the love Gene and Michelle Morris pour into their program, it’s not surprising that they’ve seen the copious amounts of success they have…and they’re just getting started!