Jeremiah McCutchen is a man of few words and his physical and developmental disabilities drastically limit opportunities for him in life. But those limitations never stopped the 39-year-old McCutchen from outwardly expressing his enthusiasm for life and sharing his friendly personality with everyone he meets.
His genuinely charismatic disposition made him a crowd favorite on Aug. 17 at the National Snaffle Bit Association World Championship Show in Tulsa, Okla., at the Built Ford Tough Expo Complex. There, he achieved a world championship in trail pattern horse riding, led by his Rosewood horse handlers, which included his father, Brett Swonger.
Father walked alongside son for the first time since McCutchen began equine therapy riding nearly eight years ago, making the championship performance extra special. In addition to his world championship, McCutchen and his horse, Principle Starlet, placed fourth in horsemanship among supported riders competing at the show.
“The crowd at the World Show liked Jere a lot,” said Eric Hammond, Rosewood Ranch manager. “He would get applause from them, so he would raise his arms and celebrate. He’s got star power. To go out there and achieve what he does – to fight through his nerves and then to succeed, it’s a great feeling for him and everyone wants to share in his success.”
When McCutchen was announced as the world champion, applause erupted from the crowd and McCutchen’s jovial exuberance in acknowledging acceptance for his award brought tears of joy to many of the people in attendance. The moment was especially emotional for Susan Swonger, McCutchen’s mother, who was taken aback by the announcement that her son placed first.
“I was stunned at first, then excited and very thrilled that he had won,” said Swonger. “It was truly special. He expresses himself in that way because he loves to participate, and the winning thing just happened. He showed his happiness for the other participants as well when they won their awards. He’s just a social and joyful person.”
Included among the participants were seven of McCutchen’s Rosewood teammates. As a group, Rosewood placed three riders in the top three and recorded 11 top-10 finishes. It was the second consecutive strong performance for Rosewood at the World Show, having competed in the event for the first time a year ago.
McCutchen took part in Rosewood’s inaugural appearance. He placed fifth in horsemanship a year ago and was just as exuberant then. Last year, he had to be hoisted into the saddle of his horse from a pick-up bed. This year the NSBA provided a special ramp for him, allowing McCuthen to climb onto the saddle of his horse under his own power.
“He’s pretty happy with his accomplishments” said Hammond. “He for sure knows what place he got and he understands the significance of it.”
While competing at the World Show is important to McCutchen, Swonger credits therapeutic riding in general for changing the quality of her son’s life. She noticed cognitive improvements in him almost immediately when he began to ride. The cognitive advancements since then have been significant, she said.
“It’s amazing to me that he is so much more aware and alert now than he ever was before,” she said. “You wouldn’t think that riding a horse would have that much impact on someone but it really has helped Jere. Driving in the car, he used to just look straight forward and never look around. He started looking around after he’d been (therapeutic) riding for a short while. He asks questions, which he never used to do before riding. When he’s riding, you can see him concentrating on what to do next. You can actually see his mind working.”
McCutchen practices riding on Wednesday mornings at Rosewood Ranch, located two miles east of Pawnee Rock. He’s done so ever since he watched the first Rosewood Rodeo nearly eight years ago and enthusiastically cheered as others competed. Though he likes to strum his guitar and sing, and he likes listening to music, McCutchen’s one clear passion is horse riding. That passion has allowed the Swonger family to participate with him in a way that never existed during McCutchen’s childhood.
“We went to ball games all those years with our other two children, but really we never had the opportunity to do that with Jere,” said Swonger, who reared her family in Belpre, located 40 miles southwest of Great Bend. “It’s a blessing that we are able to make up for that now.”
And with the recent World Show experience, Swonger marvels at the irony of her son’s remarkable achievement.
“Out of our three kids, who would have thought that Jere would be the world champion?” asked Swonger. “It’s just something that we never dreamed he could accomplish, but he did it. We are so proud of him and thankful to Rosewood for giving him the opportunity to achieve something so great.”