Texas was built by hardworking cattlemen and horse wranglers, but spending the day in the hot sun working with livestock is not the way most people want to earn a living anymore. For Glen Rose locals Garry Acuncius and Megan Cooke, the only way to see the world is from the top of a horse.
“I grew up on cutting horses,” Acuncius said. “We (Cooke and I) get up on a horse and we’re at home. We can probably communicate with a horse better than with people.”
Acuncius seems to have been born with a natural talent for training horses. His father won a 1957 cutting title on top of a mare Acuncius trained. He was just 17 and that was the first title of many.
Acuncius stayed with the circuit. He received an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University. He received his master’s degree from Tarleton State University and worked as a graduate assistant in the small business incubator.
And that’s where he met Megan Cooke. She was a student working with Acuncius and had experience handling horses. She was working with a horse when she spotted Sixteen Acres, a Palomino owned and partially trained by Acuncius’ son Grady. She told him Sixteen Acres could be a world champion someday if Acuncius would just enter him in a show.
At first, Acuncius just shrugged off Cooke’s suggestion and kept working with his students and their horses. After all, Acuncius had not shown a horse in a few years and Sixteen Acres was small, just over 14 hands. Finally, Cooke took matters into her own hands and entered Sixteen Acres in a cutting competition.
That was in 1999 and Sixteen Acres won the World Champion title for Senior Cutting at the Palomino Show.
And titles just kept coming for the 11-year-old horse. Sixteen Acres ranked first in the nation on the Palomino Horse Breeder’s of America (PHBA) Honor Roll, and again in 2000 and 2001. He won the Amateur World Champion title for Senior Cutting again in 2001 with B.T. (Ted) Acuncius. In 2002, he took his first of four American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Open Show All-Around titles.
Sixteen Acres is still the highest point earning PHBA cutting horse in history. He won his last award in 2003 and Acuncius thought is was time to turn the 15-year-old stallion out to pasture.
“He could still be shown; there’s not a knot on him,” Acuncius said. “But he’s earned his retirement and he’s standing as a stud.”
And just as Acuncius was born with a talent for training horses, Sixteen Acres seems to have been born to help him create more champions.
“His sire was also a multiple world champion and his sire’s sire was a reserve,” Acuncius said. “And he has produced a world champion.”
Cooke just took the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo AQHA Open Show All-Around titles on High Acre GDA, another stallion produced by Sixteen Acres.
Acuncius said the key behind Sixteen Acre’s success is his stride. He walks with a strange waddle. Acuncius describes it as an old woman carrying a heavy wash bin. He said it looks strange, but for a cutting horse it spells natural ability and Sixteen Acres has passed his stride on to his offspring.
“People return year after year to breed him since his foals inherit his kind and trainable personality, along with his athletic ability,” Cooke said.
Sixteen Acres seems to have taken to his retirement. He has a girlfriend, a Quarter horse named Lil’ Annie Highbrow, also owned and trained by Grady. Acuncius reluctantly admitted that Lil’ Annie won’t have anything to do with any other male horse. He said it is embarrassing as a horseman, but still thought it was sweet. Perhaps Lil’ Annie just knows a good thing when she sees it.
Cooke and Acuncius still run GDA Livestock in Somervell County. For 10 years they have bred, trained and shown world champion cutting horses. The pair has earned too many titles to list.
“It’s not about owning a great horse and saying, ‘Oh look at my great horse,’” Acuncius said. “It’s about seeing what that horse can do and being a part of it.”