Outrider on a dark horse

Published 4:07 pm Friday, April 19, 2013

by Laura Ward

Reed McNutt may be 61 years old, but watching him canter his thoroughbred, Atticus Finch, across the fields at FENCE on a gleaming spring day, he looks

Reed McNutt

Reed McNutt

more like a little boy having the time of his life.

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Long before the racehorses hit the field for the 67th running of the annual Block House Steeplechase Races on April 20, many of Tryon’s local horsemen and horsewomen will be tacked up and ready to ride. Part of an elite group of volunteer outriders whose job it is to calm the anxious, jittery racehorses and serve as type of invisible shield when horses break loose and unseat their riders, this band of ‘Block House Outriders’ ensures not only the horses are safely captured, but the crowds are protected as well.

For over 12 years, McNutt has served as an outrider on race day, channeling the quick-witted riding skills he honed as a Whipper-In for Tryon Hounds. At first glance, McNutt looks as though he just stepped from a sepia-colored hunt print from the 1700s.

His features are dark and brooding, eyes fixed in a permanent squint he looks at you, then through you. But then comes the moment when you ask him about steeplechase racing or his breathtaking partner, Atticus Finch, a 16-year-old thoroughbred who won the Fox Hunters Cup a few years ago, and McNutt’s face softens, flashing an effortless grin.

“For me, race day is one of the best times of year here in Tryon,” says McNutt. “I love meeting the trainers and jockeys. But more than anything else, I love being able to watch the race from horseback.”

One of the many challenges of outriding requires both McNutt and his horse to be in top shape to keep up with riders and the mounts at a moments notice.

“Should a horse get loose during a race, it can pose an enormous risk to the other riders in the field, as well as to itself,” explains Laura Weicker, executive director at TR&HC Events, Inc. “Having experienced, skilled riders in the field like Reed offers an added level of safety that helps ensure the races run as smoothly as possible.”