In his high school days, Brian Cottrell rose most mornings at 3:30 to help milk the family’s 40 cows. This was near Finlayson, Minn., about an hour south of Duluth, and the youth’s farm work would continue a couple of hours. Then he’d power-nap before boarding the yellow bus that stopped at the end of the family’s driveway, ready again for a day of classes.
The young boy didn’t begrudge the labor the cows commanded. But neither was he intrigued by them the way he was by horses. His grandpa was a draft horse trainer who had taught a stud of his to jump into the back of his truck. Mares at the time expected their paramours to come to them, not the other way around. So grandpa and his stud rode the circuit.
“That horse would jump into the truck without a problem. He knew where he was going,’’ Brian, now 60, said. “Grandpa didn’t always get paid in cash. Sometimes he’d come home with eggs or a couple of chickens.’’
Brian was recalling this a short while after he won a new saddle last weekend at the Minnesota Equestrian Center in Winona. A cutting horse rider, he was aboard Moneymaker, his 8-year-old gelding, when he marked a 75 to best a veritable bunkhouse full of riders who also had their eye on the new stirrup-hanger.
That he won the event’s top prize was a good thing, Brian said. That his son, Cody, 19, was there to hoot and holler for him as he laid down a memorable run was even better.
A sophomore at Winona State University, Cody passed his high school years spending most weekends with his dad at his place near Finlayson, while during the week he lived with his mom in Cambridge, where he attended Cambridge-Isanti High School, playing basketball and running track.
Bonding Cody and his dad tightest over the years have been the long miles they’ve passed together crisscrossing the nation delivering horses. Texas and back. Colorado and back. East Coast and back. For Cody, these were summertime trips, made when he was out of school, and the horses in the trailer behind were hunter-jumpers, pole-benders, ropers, cutters, reiners, sorters, penners — whatever. Some were en route from sellers to buyers; others to competitions. Either way, they paid the same, and when Cody and his dad pulled into rest areas or truck stops to catnap, the animals rocked the rig gently.
“It’s fun hauling with my dad,’’ Cody said. “We’ve had a lot of great conversations. I also learned a lot about horses on the road. Sometimes while moving them from place to place. Sometimes while meeting and talking to trainers. Sometimes by watching trainers work horses. You can learn a lot about horses by watching.’’
A basketball junkie who hopes someday to coach, Cody lost his initial interest in horses when at age 10 he was bucked off. “I didn’t ride for a long time after that,’’ he said.
His dad, however, from the time he was knee-high to his grandpa, never lost his love of horses, and at one point kept some 20 head at his place, breeding and selling quarter horses and paints.
“It got kind of crazy,’’ Brian said. “I had all these horses, and for a time I was working in Rochester and driving back and forth 178 miles each way every day because I had no one to take care of them for me.’’
The elder Cottrell’s cutting career began about 15 years ago when he met Dave Scribner, a trainer in Stacy, Minn., and the late Bob McCutcheon of River Falls, Wis.
“The first cutting horse I showed was a 9-year-old gelding,’’ he said. “That was in Fergus Falls, and I was so nervous I actually made myself sick. But I showed, and I’ve been hooked ever since.’’
Wanting to be with his dad, Cody would travel to cuttings and sometimes lope horses to prepare them to show. But until about four years ago, he had never ridden into a herd of cattle.
“Finally, Dad said, ‘You’ve got to try it,’ ’’ Cody recalled. “So I said ‘OK.’ I practiced a little bit first, then rode in. I was on a horse named Peanut. He really carried me through. I won the class and have been hooked ever since.’’
So it was last weekend when Brian had separated his first cow from a small herd of cattle and dropped his rein hand to his horse’s neck to begin the ride of his life, Cody, his biggest fan, was the arena’s loudest cheerer, and proudest.
A day later, with his new saddle safely in hand, and after the other riders had loaded for home, Brian took down the show’s livestock panels, returning the arena to its original condition.
Cody could have been back at school, studying, or playing a pickup game of hoops. Instead, he worked alongside his dad, and happily so.
“For Cody and me, being together with horses has been the best,’’ Brian said. “Together, we set up shows, then we cut, then we take the shows down together. After that, until the next time, we say goodbye. That’s something.’’