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Tom Holt’s yearly path resembles a road map, much like the route he has taken to becoming one of the most recognizable voices behind a microphone in the cutting horse industry.

People skills, especially his love for kids, probably were bred into him. His appreciation for the incredible horses that control testy, uncooperative cattle is a different matter. That love affair literally has grown from the ground up as he cleaned stalls, groomed horses, drove a tractor to prepare arena dirt and worked in show offices.

The National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity is the 18th cutting horse show of 2006 announced by Holt, who lives in Weatherford, Texas, with his wife of 25 years, Colleen, and his mother-in-law, Margaret Weber. He also worked at an Oklahoma City event for the National Barrel Horse Association.

His shows range from week-long events to NCHA major events that occupy over three weeks. He acknowledges that his total miles pale in comparison to those traveled by weekend haulers, but his 30,000-mile-plus year is “seldom stop” once it begins with the Abilene (Texas) Spectacular in January. “When I left Augusta [the Augusta Futurity and Classic], I actually was leaving for Paso [Paso Robles, Calif., and the Pacific Coast CHA Spring Roundup],” Holt said.

In between Augusta and Paso Robles, he stopped in Tunica, Miss., for the Memphis Futurity; Amarillo, Texas, for the NCHA World Finals; and Las Vegas for the South Coast Winter Championships. Then, he stayed home for the NCHA Super Stakes and Classic in Fort Worth, before going to the NCHA Western Nationals in Ogden, Utah; Reno, Nev., for the PCCHA Derby; and Las Vegas for the Breeder’s Invitational. “I stayed [on the road] for the barrel race; I had one day to get to Oklahoma City,” he said. The last half of the year has been in Fort Worth for the NCHA Summer Spectacular (Derby and Classic/Challenge); Amarillo, Texas, for the West Texas Futurity; Franklin, Tenn., for the Music City Futurity; Paso Robles for the Wine Country Futurity; Weatherford for the Brazos Bash; Las Vegas for the South Point Futurity; and Reno for the PCCHA Futurity.

He flew to only one event, the Wine Country Futurity, and hauls his wardrobe from place to place in a sports utility vehicle. Holt, 51, went on only two trail rides as a youth, mainly because his two sisters loved horses. The son of Howard (now deceased) and Jessie Holt, he grew up in Rochester, N.H., where his dad was office manager for a public electric company. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a physical education degree, minoring in business and history. He had played basketball and football briefly in high school and at New Hampshire, was team manager on the university’s football team for five years. After graduation, he went to work for a Yuba City, Calif., semi-professional football team, which had recruited some of his friends.

At the end of the first year, Holt had planned to return to New Hampshire and teach, but the day before he was to leave, he was offered a job as the team equipment manager at the local junior college, Yuba College. He was put in charge of halftime entertainment at basketball games and, later, at football games. “Colleen had a dance studio; she had 300 students, so we had a variety of students come in and it helped us put people in the seats,” Holt said. “It evolved into football games and it was the second year of football that we got together.” Because Colleen worked until 9 p.m., Holt started going next door to watch cutting horses being worked at a facility owned by Burt Greenwell, a veterinarian who raised 1983 $3,000 Novice World Champion Cathouse Thursday.

“Everybody took turns helping,” Holt said. “He let you clean stalls. If I wasn’t cleaning stalls or horses, I was feeding the horses. I never had experienced doing all those things, but I’m not afraid of doing different stuff.” Although he wasn’t a member, he also helped at the local cutting horse club to which Greenwell belonged. Later, show secretary Carolyn Oswald gave Holt a turn at announcing. She must have liked what she saw and heard. “The second year [in the early 1980s], she asked if I wanted to go on the road with her a bit,” he said.“So, I went to a cutting on Memorial Day. There were 64 horses and I was in heaven. I got paid to watch cutting horses! Carolyn helped and it just developed as I met more people, got to do weekend shows in Northern California and then some people in Southern California heard about me.” Holt began serving as a judges’ escort for the PCCHA in 1985 and he believes he has missed only one of the association’s shows since then. His first PCCHA Futurity as an announcer was in 1987.

In his second announcing stint, at the 1988 Tropicana Spectacular (the last time the event was held) in Las Vegas, he met Modine Smith, who is a walking encyclopedia of the cutting horse industry. In addition to being an invaluable source of information, she has become like a second mother to Holt. Holt said tongue-in-cheek, “Sometimes, she lets me go out at night. When Mom’s not around, she asks me the questions Mom would. Really, we’re buddies.” “Before I started announcing, I was the judges’ escort at the Futurity and for four or five years, was working at a lot of PCCHA weekend shows,” he said. “I learned a lot by watching and listening. I had no vision of doing this full time. When I worked for the PCCHA and for the college, I would take off a week or two at a time. In 1988, I decided to take a year off to see if I could make it full time.” Through the PCCHA and Nick Arismendi, he made contacts with the NCHA, which employed him to work at the Breeder’s Cutting twice in the 1990s because he was very familiar with the Reno Livestock Events Center arena. When he met Bobby Pidgeon and started working shows put on by Pidgeon and Ben Emison in cities such as Memphis, Tenn., and Abilene, Texas, that enabled him to meet show producers from that part of the country.

Holt’s first NCHA Futurity was in 1988, when Smith invited him to watch from her box seat section. Later, NCHA Director of Shows Bruce McCarty asked him to work the stall office. He then went from being a relief man at the microphone for McCarty, who now works for the Southwestern Livestock Show and Exposition, and Glenn Beck before becoming the primary announcer during cutting horse competition. He also has served as commentator on a lowpower radio broadcast for spectators and is featured with NCHA Director of Judges Russell McCord as commentator for a compact disc that explains rules for judging contests.

Holt’s baritone voice frequently belts out the national anthem at cutting horse events. Once, when a number of Canadians qualified for the finals, Tad Free sang the U.S. national anthem and Holt was asked to sing the Canadian national anthem. “I love singing, just like I love announcing,” he said. “I hope everybody enjoys my singing and announcing. I’ve been fortunate to sing the anthem at the big [NCHA] Futurity, the Super Stakes and the Summer Spectacular.” Modine Smith has been an invaluable friend as she worked at elbow’s length at the PCCHA scoring

Much of what Holt has learned has come through his association with Paula Gaughan, who has staged two major aged events, along with her husband, Michael, each year at either their Rocking K Ranch or at an arena in downtown Las egas. Holt’s duties at Augusta began as tractor driver 12 years ago and he estimates that he now announces about half of the week-long show. The distance he’s traveled in the industry was demonstrated at the PCCHA Futurity and Cutting Stakes, Oct. 27-Nov. 4 at Reno, Nev. When the association prepared to present the Ed Smith Memorial Sportsmanship Award, trainer Tim Smith, a former PCCHA president and Smith Award recipient, explained that the presentation had been moved from the annual banquet to the Reno show because the recipient was on hand. Holt, unaware of the change in plans, noted a group of former recipients walking out from behind the judges’ stands. Also, trainer Chubby Turner, a former West Coast resident who was serving as a judge at Reno, was standing nearby, so Holt thought, “Oh, great! Chubby’s going to get it.” Little did Holt know that he would be the 29th recipient. For the first time in years, he was speechless, and as tears flowed, he said he couldn’t remember anything else that was said as he made his way to the arena floor. “The thing most important in the whole deal is all the surviving past winners vote,” Holt said. “For those people to think that about me and give me that award, that’s pretty special.” The award, which is named in memory of Modine Smith’s deceased husband, Ed, who died in 1979, was donated by the California CHA. The trophy will be kept by Holt for a year. A plaque reads, “Presented to those who are dedicated to giving of their time and effort to the success and growth of cutting.”

Although the cutting horse industry is family oriented and loaded with quality people, human nature means that there occasionally will be “family” differences. Holt seems to have an uncanny ability to rise above that and work with different personalities. “I love people, whether they are amateurs, nonpros, trainers or owners,” he said. “A lot of them, I consider dear friends. It has made it easier to get along as friends first, then as employers second.” Some of his dearest friends have yet to reach age 10. Holt has helped raise money for youth programs and at shows, kids continually seek him out. “I’m just a big kid at heart,” he said. “For some reason, they gravitate to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They will come up to the announcer’s stand to see how I’m doing and I get to see how they’re doing. It’s great. “When I was working at the junior college in Yuba City, I was working with teenage kids. Now, it’s 8- and 9-year-olds. My dad had kids around him all the time. He would dress as Santa at Christmas and dress up at Halloween. I’ve done the same thing. There’s nothing like the smile of a kid.” The Holts have a son, Brian, 25, who is in the restaurant business in Fort Worth. “He’s a wonderful young man,” Holt said. “Although he doesn’t ride, he loves cutting horse people. He wore the Purina horse costume at last year’s [NCHA] Futurity.”

Twelve years ago, the Holts moved to Texas so that Tom could take care of a ranch owned by Paula and Michael Gaughan, a task he performed until June 2005. “Paula played a big part; not just working for her, but also learning from her,” he said. Colleen Holt has been busy while running a mare care operation for almost 10 years. She also fits horses for public auctions. “She likes to show a little, but she hasn’t had much time to devote to it,” he said. Holt’s love for people took on a deeper meaning in June 2004, when he had a salvation experience at the “Week With the Stars” camp at the Dead Horse Ranch. He is grateful to a longtime friend, trainer Bruce Morine, who had been urging him to attend the camp for a number of years, and trainer Bill Riddle, who also asked him to go.

“I’m committed to my Lord and Savior,” said Holt, who frequently has a Bible within reach when he is announcing at a show. “It has made me more concerned about my friends. I want my friends to enjoy what I’m enjoying.” He’s also experiencing the dream of many people, getting paid to do something he loves to do. “It doesn’t matter if I’m announcing, taking care of the grounds, or helping in the office,” he said. “I love doing all those things, because I’m doing them with people I like.”

Article courtesy of Quarter Horse News/Robert Eubanks
  Tom Holt: 817-235-7507
mailing - 217 Ruby Drive
               Weatherford, TX 76087
ranch - 8301 Old Brock Rd
            Weatherford, TX 76087
Colleen Holt: 817-235-5720
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