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Why I Ride: Cutting Horses

Posted on: April 16, 2021 by Riley Tadei

Trying to choose a specific style of riding within the western discipline is like trying to choose your favorite color of M & M by taste. Each style is unique on the outside but at its basics it’s identical. The choices are endless and honestly hard to pick just one! I could choose to chase barrels for speed, develop a relationship with my horse in cowboy dressage, or enjoy the wide-open range working on a ranch. Within the tree of the western world, there is one small branch that I do enjoy more than others. The name is very misleading because we are not actually cutting horses, but we are cutting cows on horses. To me, there is nothing more exhilarating than riding a cutting horse in the show pen.

THE HISTORY: You may be asking yourself what exactly is a cutting horse and why is there so much gratification in this sport? The purpose of cutting started on ranches when cowboys had to teach their horses to remove a single cow from the herd for a variety of reasons such as she was sick or was heading to the sale yard. These same cowboys started to learn that with all the repetitive work they were doing, their horses could practically do it by themselves! Over time, they held events to see which cowboy’s horse could hold the cow away from the herd and do it with the best horsemanship skills. The sport has come a long way since those primal cowboy days, but the idea of the sport still stands true.

MODERN CUTTING: The main idea of cutting is that both the rider and horse must enter the herd of cattle and try to cut one cow away from her herd members. Then they must hold the cow till it stops or turns away and repeat it 2-3 times, all within 2 minutes and 30 seconds. This event is judged based on the idea that the rider does not use any hand control while working the cow, he or she is successful at cutting 2-3 cows, and how pretty they can do it under 2:30. But wait did you say no hand control? Yes! That is my favorite part, while training a cutting horse you train them not only to listen to your body but to think for themselves and be able to read a cow. How cool is that?! While it may seem, the horse can do it all by themselves it isn’t quite the case. To be able to have a winning run both rider and horse must work together to pick the right cows, work in synchronization, and do it correctly under very subtle cues. It is an adrenal rush that makes you think. I will never stop smiling while working a cutting horse because of the joy it brings me.

WHY I LOVE IT: To me riding a cutting horse is an art form at its finest. It takes years to finesse its perfection. It takes the right amount of athleticism and desire in a horse for it to make it to the top. You can have all the talent in the world but if a horse does not want to do it, he will make it very clear. Some horses thrive off showing as much as the riders and seek to cut cattle. Riding a well-trained cutting horse that enjoys his job makes the sport a lot more enjoyable. Do not let me fool you, this sport is not easy. I love this sport because of the degree of difficulty. You have so many factors that contribute to creating the perfect run. The cattle must cooperate, your horse has to cooperate, and the rider has to be correct. There will be many times you cannot even cut your cow away from its herd or you accidentally pick your hand up during your run! Yes, this has happened to me WAY too many times. I thrive off perfection, so to have a sport so humbling keeps me coming back for more. When you do hit that perfect run, it is extremely satisfying and well worth the sweat and tears you put into it.

WHY I THINK YOU SHOULD TRY IT: The community of the cutting horse world is what keeps me coming back and what will attract you. It is not a big community, but everyone is very supportive. Everyone knows that the sport is hard and some days it is just luck. Even during the worst run you still have a cheering squad. I have met such amazing friends through the clubs and organizations I have been a part of through the cutting horse industry. Getting started can be intimidating but trainers want to see new people and want to help you exceed. Unless you live in Texas, finding a trainer can be hard but there is at least one in every state. Well, maybe not every east coast state but I know a few trainers there too! The excitement of the sport will attract you as well. For 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it is hard to look away because as soon as you do either something very bad happened or something cool! If you have not watched cutting, I highly advise watching some of the top trainers in the world compete. Both the rider and horses must be such athletes, that can put Lebron James to the test! My favorite run to watch is the world record run, I have attached the run for your viewing. A fun fact, I was there in the stands that night!