The Flint Hills are the perfect ‘big back yard’ to develop life skills and build champion cowboys and cowgirls while doing it.
“God knew I needed a ‘big back yard,’ and I was fortunate to be born into a ranch family to learn and live the great life it offers,” recognized Heather (Huntington) Fuesz (pronounced fees) of Eureka.
Having just settled down Saturday evening after a busy day with their youngest son at a Heartland Youth Rodeo in Kingman, Heather emphasized, “Now, my husband Cory and I continue to be so blessed to live our lives on the ranch and offer our sons the same opportunity.”
While conversation initiated about 10-year-old son Cash and his vast rodeo achievements, there is much more ranch heritage essential to be briefed in revealing how the Flint Hills are truly a way of life for the family.
“Cash is a cowboy in the arena and on the ranch. He started riding at age two, helps gather and work pasture cattle and drags calves to the fire at branding time. What many of his friends do just on weekends, Cash does every day. The ranch is our home,” Heather qualified.
“Our older son, Clinton Laflin grew up this lifestyle, too, and now is completing a master’s degree in international agriculture business at Oklahoma State in order to tell this important story of his Flint Hills upbringing, its ranching and agriculture tradition and fulfill his life’s goal to become a strong voice for production agriculture,” Mom credited.
Raised on the Greenwood County family ranch developed by her dad and mom, Clint and Irlene Huntington, Heather acknowledged, “Dad had to take over his family’s ranch operation at an early age, and was unable to compete in rodeos. But, he always had a fondness for rodeo, and rodeo champion Ladd Lewis was his best man at their wedding.
“So, Dad and Mom have always been very supportive of me in rodeo and horse activities, as they are of my husband and our sons. That’s one of their biggest gifts to me,” Heather emphasized.
Active in diverse 4-H and community activities, which her parents served as leaders, Heather was a champion in many horse and rodeo events throughout the Midwest while growing up and collected multiple rodeo queen titles, including reigning as Miss Rodeo Kansas.
Graduating from Kansas State University in journalism and mass communications, Heather served as director of development at Pratt Community College, before meeting Cory Fuesz at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas 14 years ago.
“I grew up a cowgirl on horseback in the Flint Hills, and Cory was a dirt bike rider and football star in Colorado. But, he has a strong connection with animals, started calf roping before graduating from Colorado State, and got his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card. It was lucky for me that he became a cowboy,” Heather mused.
After marrying 13 years ago, the couple moved to Greenwood County, and they are involved in ranching operations on their own and with her parents.
“Cory actually always had an interest in the cattle business and even created a small feedlot operation while he was in high school. Now, we run the fall cows, Dad has the spring cows, and together we lease summer grass for grazing cattle,” Heather explained.
Cory’s parents, Gary and Vicki Fuesz, farm at Haxtun, Colorado, and operate the feedlot that Cory started.
Back to Cash, a fourth grader. “He’s had a great year on the rodeo circuit,” credited Mom, in truly an understatement.
During August, Cash collected his fourth trophy saddle in his yet-very-young career, as the all-around cowboy in the seven-to-nine-year-old division of the Kansas Junior Rodeo Association, while participating in ten regular season rodeos throughout central Kansas.
Additionally, Cash won the boys goat tying and barrel racing, was second in both calf riding and pole bending and seventh in breakaway roping, collecting a number of buckles and working- cowboy prizes.
In the rodeo segment of the Sunflower Games at Topeka, during July, Cash also received the all-around age division title after winning medals for first in goat tying and barrel racing and third in calf riding.
“Rodeo is a family sport. We are fortunate to count many of the rodeo families among our best friends. We’re having the time of our lives watching Cash fulfill his dreams,” Heather admitted.
Impressive as this young cowboy’s rodeo honors are, it requires an athlete on a good horse to accomplish them. “Cash takes after his dad in athletic ability, likes competition and wants to win, but he’s also privileged to have good horses,” Mom pointed out.
Starting out on an old horse called Streak, Cash won numerous awards in his early rodeo career. “That gelding was a great confidence builder for Cash. Streak passed away at 29 years of age about a year ago. He certainly is a tribute to a life lived well,” Heather noted.
Another old horse called Rat, at 19, took Cash to his first all-around title while collecting barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying and even trail class awards.
His present rodeo mount is Flaxy, who Heather contended “has been just amazing, a smoking little barrel racer, and puts Cash in the right spot every time to throw in breakaway roping.”
“Admittedly, these are great horses, but Cash is a natural with them, too. He has a real connection with his horses, dogs and even cattle,” Heather said.
Not only competing in rodeos, Cash participates in the horse show ring, entering several 4-H competitions this year, and qualifying to participate in showmanship and horsemanship at the Kansas State Fair 4-H Horse Show with his mare called Lace.
Now, as if this little cowboy isn’t busy enough, born November 17, the same day as his dad, although years later (What Heather calls: “Magical.”), Cash also takes after his Dad’s other initial interests. He plays football, with his horse loaded in the trailer at the edge of the field, to take off for a rodeo as soon as those often breathtaking games are completed.
Likewise, Cash is a dirt bike rider, and in somewhat contrast takes piano lessons, too. “I didn’t learn to play the piano, so I wanted my sons to know how, and they’ve both learned,” Heather commented.
Older son Clinton has always been a noted spokesman for agriculture, yet also still young.
Serving in numerous leadership roles including as the district FFA president, Clinton was on winning livestock judging teams at Butler Community College, served two terms on the National Junior Angus Association Board of Directors and completed animal science and Ag communications undergraduate degrees at Oklahoma State.
Indicative of his lifetime goal of spreading the agriculture story around the world, Clinton, has just returned from the World Angus Forum in New Zealand. “Clinton is very good with people and helping others better understand all aspects of agriculture,” Heather related.
Taking after his older brother, Cash is already a capable speaker, too, as verified by collecting awards for his talks about horses, including a first place during the Kansas 4-H Horse Panorama at Rock Springs Ranch.
Besides ranch, rodeo, a ten-year-old and all of the other advantageous aspects of Flint Hills life, Cory and Heather operate the Spring Creek Guest House.
“We have guests stay there, and they get an opportunity to live in our ‘big back yard,’ too. They’ll bring their families to experience the rural lifestyle, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to help them understand the Flint Hills,” Heather shared.
Additionally, the active ranch woman-mom, who does contract marketing work for several groups, serves as fundraiser for Horses of Hope (therapeutic) Riding Centers at Baxter Springs, Kansas and Buffalo, Missouri.
“This is really neat; a fluke deal. I gave riding lessons for ten years, love children, and with Clinton’s disabilities, it’s a totally fantastic calling for me. Horses are magical, that’s the only way to describe them, for many handicapped people,” Heather declared.
A rotor cuff injury and recovery have put a hold on Cory’s roping temporarily, but he’ll be back tying calves, according to predictions. Cory is also now serving on the Kansas Junior Rodeo Association Board of Directors.
Previously a dedicated barrel racing competitor, Heather has been out of the personal competition circle for a time, but a new four-year-old prospect as a gift from her husband is getting the adrenaline following again.
“Actually, we’re having such a great time working with Cash and his horses and going to the junior rodeos that we don’t have much desire to compete ourselves at the present,” Heather revealed.
With Cash Fuesz’ already enviable rodeo career, life could become busier for the Eureka family as Cash becomes a teenager involved in more school activities and all of his many other diverse interests.
“There will be choices that Cash will have to make. That’s for certain, but many top cowboys and cowgirls have excelled in other sports along the way. It’ll be up to him, and we’ll do our best to help him make those decisions,” Mom promised.
“In the meantime, the Flint Hills remain the perfect ‘big back yard’ to develop life skills and build champion cowboys and cowgirls while doing it.”