Noble Life

Understanding Cutting

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There are only a few ways to experience true horsepower, and I’m not talking about what’s underneath your hood.

In the horse world, there are specialties that push a horse’s true physical and mental potential to the limit time and time again. Among those highly specialized disciplines, including racing and jumping, cutting ranks right near the top.

An expertly trained animal mirroring the moves of another completely untrained animal with power, precision, intensity, and mental acumen.  Most anyone who has ridden a really good cutting horse will describe the experience as downright magical.

The rules of cutting are fairly simple to understand if not always easy to follow. It basically consists of riding a horse into a herd of cattle and separating one animal from the herd, keeping that cow from returning to the herd until it is legal to “quit” the cow (when it is dead stopped or turned away from the rider) and showing the ability of your horse to do his job in the meantime.

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Any visible reining cue that the rider gives his horse will result in a 1 (picking your hand up while in the working area) to 3 (two hands on the reins) point penalty. The judge subtracts this penalty from the rider’s score which is based on a scale from 60 to 80 points.

The horse’s job is to “read” the cow and anticipate his every move so that he is able to stay with it throughout the duration of a 2.5 minute “run”.  Normally the cutter will make 2-3 “cuts” during a run, meaning he or she will work 2-3 different cows in that 2.5 minute duration. Did I mention all this cattle-working (except for the herd work) is done with the rider’s hand resting quietly on his horse’s neck?

Any visible reining cue that the rider gives his horse will result in a 1 (picking your hand up while in the working area) to 3 (two hands on the reins) point penalty. The judge subtracts this penalty from the rider’s score which is based on a scale from 60 to 80 points.

Any score over 70 is known as a credit-earning run.  The judge starts with 70 points and either subtracts for penalties or adds points for credit maneuvers.  A “lost cow” or a cow that returns to the herd before the rider has made a legal “quit” is a 5 point penalty. Examples of credit-earning scenarios are “degree of difficulty” (how well the horse is able to control a cow that really tries to get by him) or “eye appeal,” (the flashiness and style of the run).

If you are interested in getting into cutting yourself, it is imperative to seek the guidance of a reputable trainer. You can find a list of those in your area on www.nchacutting.com. Cutting horses can be very expensive, so it is important to have a trusted guide to help you find a horse that fits with your goals, budget and riding ability.

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With the right horse, almost anyone can start having some success right off the bat.

One of the great things about the sport of cutting is that it offers classes for all different levels of riders and horses. With the right horse, almost anyone can start having some success right off the bat.

After all, the only thing more rewarding than competing with your horse is competing and winning with your horse.

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The Author:


Alyssa Barnes is a freelance copywriter and online marketer committed to helping people live a little more western. She is a peculiar combination of polished marketing professional and dirt-covered cowgirl in muddy boots. As the typical offspring of a performance horse trainer, she is well versed in colt starting, cutting, reined cow horse and rodeo. You can see more of Alyssa’s writing at www.earnyourspurs.com or visit her business website, www.cowgirlcopywriter.com.

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