Cutting Horse – the best seat in the house!

Cutting Horse 1
The Cutting Horse and it’s reason for being

I’ve said that reining defines the western horse and that rollbacks are at the very core of what it does but, simply, for a cutting horse it’s his reason for being. It’s what a working cow horse does every day of his life on a cattle ranch in America. The rest is just what he does for fun on his days off.

A cutting horse must walk quietly into a herd of cows without unsettling it, nose one cow out so softly that it doesn’t even know it’s happening and then, when the cow realises the enormity of its situation and tries to duck back to be with its chums, the cutting horse is there to stop it.

After that, it’s cat and mouse and you’ve got the best seat in the arena. Because the more you can look to the judge as though you are just along for the ride, leaving your horse to do the work, the better you’ll score. In this class, any indication of cuing from you after your horse has started work will be a mark lost. Once you have positioned your horse between the cut cow and the herd, you are there to direct operations and make sure that your turn-backs and herd holders are doing their job – which is to keep your horse and its cow free to play their game.

Cutting Horse in the UK

My abiding sadness is that there aren’t more people in England that want to enter a cutting competition. There have been various attempts over the years to start a National Cutting Horse Association in England. However, simply put, there are probably only about 20 riders in the whole country who do it well and, perhaps, another 20 or 30 interested enough to have a go. With those riders spread around the country, it’s no surprise that you don’t hear more about it.

Jack Enright, one of the riders trained at the Bar –S- who went off to seek his riding fortune in America, was so passionate about it that it was probably one of the main reasons he left these shores. Certainly he’s now winning lots of money on the cutting circuit over there where they’ll have over a 1000 riders competing for a million dollar purse in the national end of season championship final.

Cutting Horse Environment

The reasons why it has not caught on over here in quite the same way as it has in America have perhaps to do with the fact that the Western Riding community here is a comparatively small one. Our western riding set established itself with a preference for reining and the showing classes generally.

And the roots of that preference probably have much to do with the fact that, for a cutting contest, you need not only a horse and four other competent riders but a herd of cows as well. You then need a sizable arena that’s cow proof. That is, with a stout railed fence around it that’s a good bit higher and stronger than that around your average sand school.

A cow on the run with a horse hot on its heels will just charge through your standard post and rail and I’ve seen one put a sizable dent in a steel five bar gate… Not that we hound our cows but, every now and again, there will be just such a situation. And, in England, it’s not an option to knock on your neighbour’s door with a: “Mister, can we please have our cow back?”

But Stuart Powell had none of those facilities apart from a horse and a herd of cows when, 35 years ago, he taught himself and Chico how do it.  Perhaps it has more to do with the “glass ceiling” we perceive between what we’re doing now and what’s on offer? So read on and see if it really is as awe inspiring as you may have thought…