History & Background
Cutting had its origins among ranches and remudas of the old west. Ranchers used horses to separate individual cattle from the herd for branding, or to separate a sick heifer from the rest of the herd, or move them into corrals or pens. On long cattle drives, cutting horses were invaluable to the trail boss and herdsmen in forming and moving the herd.
In the contest arena, the art of the cutting horse comes alive in a classic test of intelligence ("cow savvy"), training, breeding and skill. Cutting is a sport in which women and men compete equally, both young and old, around the world, and from all walks of life. In competition, the cutting horse and rider must work together as a team, demonstrating their cattle handling skills. The contest begins as the pair approaches the herd; quietly (so as not to scatter the herd), deliberately, and without hesitation, then separate a single cow by guiding it into the centre of the arena. The cow's natural instinct is to want to run back and rejoin the herd. Mirroring and anticipating the cow's movement, and with quick bursts of speed, some fancy footwork, sharp twists and turns, the cutting horse's job is to prevent the cow from rejoining the herd.
How It's Judged
Horse and rider have 2-1/2 minutes to complete their work. Cutting, like skating or gymnastics, is judged by a panel of experts who rate the horse performance in points. Each judge’s point rating may range from 60 to 80 points.
What The Judge's Look For
The most desirable cow to cut is one that is fresh, energetic and responsive, but respects the horse. A calm, docile cow will not challenge the horse - which in turn will not show the horse's true potential to the judge and audience. Judges credit a horse that shows agility, assertiveness, intelligence, courage, determination, style and grace when cutting a cow. Once the cut has been made, the rider may not "cue" the horse in any visible way by spurring or using the reins to guide the horse.
Making The Cut: as they approach the herd, both horse and rider must concentrate on selecting a cow to separate from the herd without provoking a disturbance. Performance is judged in part by the activity of the cow, so the animal selected is singled out by choice, not at random. After the rider has indicated a specific cow to the horse, neither horse nor rider may change cows without penalty. When the "cut" is complete, the challenge really begins.
Loose Rein (or Drop The Reins): once the cow is isolated near the centre of the arena, the rider drops his reins to signal he has made his cut, and with a very loose rein, allows the horse freedom of movement to demonstrate his cutting skill and “cow savvy”. The horse controls the cow by mirroring the cow's movements with speed, agility, balance and motion - and prevents the cow from returning to the herd (the cow’s natural inclination). A true champion cutting horse will react instinctively to the cow’s movements without the need for direction. A loose rein is one of the keys to a highly marked performance.
Quitting The Cow: although the time limit of 2-1/2 minutes allow for perhaps 2 to 3 animals to be cut, the time spent with each cow is left to the rider’s discretion. Horse & rider may quit the cow without penalty if the cow is sluggish, unresponsive, or obviously stopped or turned away from the cutting horse. But if the cow is “lost” (gets away) under any circumstance, a stiff penalty is assessed. Even a good performance can end with a low score if a cow escapes the horse’s control.
The horse's performance is evaluated on the basis of several key points:
1) assertiveness, agility, and style in handling the cow
2) the horse’s instinctive reactions
3) error in judgement made by horse or rider during the competition.
Each judge submits a score at the end of the contest period and they are added together to determine a final score.
Cutting competitions are often divided into several divisions. Some examples being:
- Open: The open division is open to any horse and rider, regardless of breed or ownership. Professional trainers must ride in the open division.
- Non Pro: “Non Professionals” are persons who have not received remuneration to show or train any cutting horse. This division is open to all card-holding non professional members of the CCHA and NCHA. Any horse exhibited in the non pro must be owned by the contestant (or contestant’s spouse or child) showing the horse.
- CCHA: Canadian Cutting Horse Association
- NCHA: National Cutting Horse Assocition
WATCH THE VIDEO: The Thrill Of Cutting (NCHA)