By: Kathy Avolt
In the song “My Way,” which was popularized by the great Frank Sinatra, he sang…
“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.”
Debbie Cuvelier of Cascade, IA and Dixon, IL has certainly done it her way. She recently relinquished her AQHA judge’s card by her own choosing. She has many accomplishments and few regrets.
Cuvelier was awarded her card in 1997 along with several popular judges: Christa Baldwin, Brad Kearns, Patti Carter-Pratt, Patty Campbell, Scott Neuman, Marilyn Randall, Dale Livingston, and Sam Rose. She recalls that in October of 1997 the procedure to find out if a card was awarded was a bit different than it is today; applicants could call AQHA to be informed of their test outcome. Christa Baldwin and Cuvelier were at the All American Quarter Horse Congress in the Beef Barn calling from a pay phone. Baldwin called and was told that she had been accepted, and then she asked about Cuvelier. AQHA told her to put Cuvelier on the phone. After receiving the good news, they hung up the phone and danced around the Beef Barn together.
Cuvelier has been thinking about giving up her card since 2009. What many people do not realize is that she and her husband Scott run two very successful cattle auction barns: Cascade Livestock Auction in Cascade, Iowa and Walnut Auction Sales in Walnut, Illinois. The Illinois-based facility has a sale every Thursday and the Iowa facility has a sale every Monday. Both of these facilities are governed by the USDA Packers and Stockyards Administration. In November of this year, they ran nearly 6,000 head of cattle through the two facilities for combined sales of roughly $9 million dollars. There are approximately 15 employees at the Illinois facility and 20-25 employees at the Iowa facility.
Cuvelier handles the office at both sales, following USDA guidelines. Custom livestock auction software that’s installed at both facilities allows her to run the office by herself: entering customer information, tracking the sale of all livestock, invoicing the buyers, printing checks, and paying the sellers, besides accounts receivable, accounts payable, and the payroll. This position has been growing and growing over the past few years and has made accepting judging assignments more difficult. For example, her last show was at the GQHA Classic in Perry, GA on December 7-8. She arrived home at roughly midnight and spent 45 minutes to an hour at the office getting paperwork ready for the next morning’s sale. Sometimes, it can take her two or more hours after a Sunday night show getting ready for a sale.
Cuvelier’s parents were involved with the Illinois facility since the 1960s. When Cuvelier married her husband, her parents taught him the ropes because he was not a “farm kid.” In time, the couple bought the Iowa facility in 2009. They will celebrate 35 years of marriage this year.
Cuvelier has judged in nearly every state and in every Canadian province along with Germany and Japan. She also coached the Youth World Cup team in Australia. She says that her favorite place to judge, without hesitation, is at the Sun N’ Surf show in Del Mar, California. She has judged at the AQHA Youth World Show and the All American Quarter Horse Congress as well but sadly was never awarded the chance to judge at the AQHA Amateur/Open World Show.
She fondly recalls her judging experience at the Congress in 2010. She spent a large portion of the first week in the hunter pen and jokingly thought, “please let me see something other than hunters.” Finally, she got to judge the first go of the 3-year-old Western Pleasure Futurity. She was the furthest judge from the in-gate. She recalls the moment when those horses came jogging in. The organ started playing, and her excitement was hardly containable.
When Debbie posted to her Facebook page that she was turning in her card, she received overwhelmingly positive feedback from exhibitors and fellow judges alike.
Lynda Danielson – “Debbie Cuvelier and I grew up together showing horses at the open shows and the Quarter Horse Shows. We attended the first Youth World Show in Amarillo. Our families became great friends. She has devoted herself to her family and their businesses. She is a great judge and will truly be missed.”
Christa Baldwin – “Debbie has been one of our best judges. She has been fair, honest, and proficient in all the events. We got our card the very same year, in fact at the very same moment, and have been able to travel many times together all over the world. Many of us have tried talking her out of this decision. We understand, but aren’t happy about it. AQHA is losing one of our great judges!”
Mary Luther-Eggleston – “I always loved to judge with Debbie. She is very professional but always fun to be with. My very first judging job was with Debbie at the Red Bud. She had to do most of the work because I was on crutches! She is always taking care of people and is a true friend to many. [She is] an accomplished horsewoman and an amazing businesswoman. [I] love and respect her very much.”
Liz Flohr – “Debbie was one of my favorite judges to show to. She always judged it the way she saw it that day. We have always had a lot of respect for her as a person too. We will miss her in the pen, but I’m happy for her to be making choices for the quality [of life] and less hectic life that she so wants. We wish her the best.”
Suzanne Pickard – “AQHA is losing one of their great judges! [She is] a favorite in my book. Placing high on Debbie’s card was always an honor! I will miss trotting into the ring and seeing her in the center, but I wish her the very best on her future endeavors!”
Joni Nelson – “[This is] so sad. Every time we would show to you, we knew you were going to place it how you saw it. We respect you to the fullest!”
As successful as she has been as a judge and as thriving as their auction companies have become, Cuvelier and her husband are looking forward to spending more time playing golf, traveling for leisure, and generally cutting down on their stress levels. They have a condo in Ft. Myers, Florida that they would like to spend more time at.
Debbie Cuvelier is an exhibitor-friendly judge, she is well-liked by show management, and she will be missed in the center of the arena. But, she is looking forward to the time when catching the next plane means a trip to someplace warm or shooting below par on the golf course. We wish her nothing but birdies!