The Confident Cut with Tarin Rice

The Confident Cut with Tarin Rice

NCHA’s youngest open futurity winner explains how to make a winning cut.

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By Tarin Rice with Julie J. Bryant

Photos by Julie J. Bryant


Understanding cattle behavior in equine sport is a big part of what I do as a trainer and a cowboy. You can’t be Boyd Rice’s son without learning how to rope and work cattle, and even though the Rice family has gained a lot of attention in cutting, our first focus is to be horsemen and cowboys first; being performers is a distance second.

A set of heifers in a cutting pen is a lot like a set of toddlers you’re trying to get to come in from the playground, snotty noses and all. For the most part, the group will mill around together and move in the same flow, but there’s always that one little rascal who wants to have a little fun. That’s the one we’re looking for. One with some energy, but at the same time, one that honors the horse and allows you to push her out away from the herd so you have the best opportunity.

How you get to that cow is something that starts before you ever get to the herd, and you better have a game plan.

Prepare for Your Cut and Know the Cutting Rules

One of the most important fundamentals in cutting is observing the herd, most often called “watching cows.” That’s when you and your trainer, if you have one, can talk about what you’re seeing among the toddlers. Who’s behaving, who’s not, how they’re acting when a horse is being ridden through them … then taking notes on what they look like and how you might approach that particular herd.

Don’t be shy about asking the riders before you about the cattle. Remember, the other riders in the class are not your opponents. Those cattle are your opponents and the more “intel” you can get on them the better.

Take the information for what it is, though -- information. Sometimes riders psych themselves out because they are overthinking it. Don’t overthink it. These are cattle overthinking everything and you’re smarter than they are.

You and your team of herd holders and turnback help should already have cattle selected and a plan worked out before you go into the herd. Your herd holders in particular are going to be crucial in helping you if the cattle you’ve selected get cut ahead of you or things start to go south during your run. Ahead of that, though, is your initial entry into the herd as you ride out from behind the judges’ stand.

The approach you make to the herd, either from the left or right, really doesn’t matter. Do what makes you and your horse comfortable – how  you’ve practiced it is probably best. As you’re walking toward the herd, work on spotting some of the cattle you’ve already talked about with your help and get a feel for what’s happening with the herd. Once you get closer to the herd, your herd holders should be offering you some direction on where your cow is, which will dictate the depth of your first cut. Make sure your mind is on what you’re about to do. Don’t be fooling with your hat or chaps or whatever. All of that should have been taken care before you even stepped out from behind the judges’ stand. There needs to be nothing else on your mind, other than how to position that cow and the best spot to cut it.

Know your rules. You get credit from the judges when you can enter the herd quietly and with as little disturbance of the herd as possible. In National Cutting Horse Association and AQHA competition, each horse is required to enter the herd sufficiently deep enough to show his ability to make a cut. You only have to do this once, but without at least one deep cut, you will be penalized three points. A lot of people think they need to go clear to the back of the herd to make a deep cut, but that’s not necessarily the case. You need to make a cut that shows the judges you can move a majority of the herd forward and a majority is one more than half. So, don’t feel like you have to push that whole herd out. You have to manage your clock, so think about that, too.

1. Ty Brown works for my dad, Boyd Rice; I’m helping hold herd for Ty as he rides in for his first cut at the 2018 NCHA Futurity. Ty’s riding to the hip of the orange cow in the bottom-left corner of this photo.


2. Ty continues to ride to the orange cow on top. But let's say he had picked the black cow on top. See how that black cow is facing the wrong direction? You wouldn't want to be married to that cow since it's not behaving how you want. This is a case where you could still legally switch cattle and cut something better.

3. Ty’s horse has its head to the left, left shoulder picked up and hip to the left as they ride to the orange cow’s head. Eventually, a horse will learn from your body language, and as your teammate, know what cow you want.

4. Now at a different angle, you can see how Ty continues to drive the orange cow even as it is turned away from him.


5. Ty steps in front of the cow to break her off.


Practice and Know Which Cow to Cut

If you’ve done your prep work for this class, you already have the three cows in mind that you want to cut and you need to start looking for them as you approach the herd. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t matter which side you approach the herd from, but if one of those cows is in a spot where you can get to her, then the side you approach from might be dictated by that. That’s why you need to be very aware of where the cattle are that you want to cut. If I am on my way to the herd, I am going to make my game plan based on which one will be the easiest to cut and get in the best position to cut it.

Now, sometimes the cow you want is not acting the way you want or the position it’s in will end up disturbing the herd too much. That might mean you’ll end up “cutting for shape,” and all that means is that you are basically letting the herd drift back to the back fence and pulling out a cow that looks like it’s going to work out better for you. Rarely will you do this on your first cut, because the field is pretty wide open at that point and you have a full clock. Cutting for shape usually happens at the end of your time period.

Now that you’re in the herd, your horse is going to be tested. Yes, the majority of your scoring comes when you drop your hand, but there are style points to be earned in the minds of the judges when you’re going through the herd and your horse is clearly paying attention to the cattle around him.

It’s true that some horses, especially the younger ones, can get intimidated when they get into a big bunch of cattle. Not many people can have as many cattle at home as what the horse will see when it gets into competition, but that’s where practice comes in. Working the horse at home in and among cattle, in the practice pen, pasture, an arena, wherever, will help keep that horse from being intimidated by the cattle.

Some horses are more confident about moving through the herd, some horses are easier to show because they feel which cow you're wanting just as early as you do and try to help you position it and or help when there could be other cattle. You could still be in traffic and they already know which one you're wanting, and they're not messing up anything else.

Some horses, you'll be trying to put them on one cow and they're trying to cut four others. It ends up messing everything up, because they try to take every cow instead of the one you want. Some of them are more patient and wait on that.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings While Making Your Cut

It is crucial that you keep pushing the cattle up and that your turnback help and herd holders position themselves to get the cattle to flow around you while you continue to push the one you want forward. As you get into the herd, you horse’s body position is going to be the difference between a really good cut and a mess. The position of your horse’s head, shoulder and hip are key to the flow of that herd around you.

For example, your horse can have his head slightly to the right, with his left shoulder moving forward and his right hip slightly to the right behind, with your right leg applying pressure. What usually happens there is that the cattle to the left of the horse will start rolling back to the left because his left shoulder and eye are communicating a barrier to coming over to the right. Straightening the horse back to the middle then relieves that pressure and the cattle will slow down behind you while you’re busy getting the cow you want. Keeping your hand up and guiding your horse’s body is so important when it comes to breaking out the cow that you want, especially if two are hooked up together.

Sometimes you’ll have a situation where the cow you selected is in a bad position, say facing the wrong direction. That’s where you need to be fluid in your plan. If your cow is in a bad spot, don’t try to get that cow in the right spot at the expense of really disturbing your herd. Look for a cow that is honoring your horse and switch to that cow. There is no reason to panic or think you can’t switch cows. There is nothing written in stone about that herd. Your job is to be prepared when you get in there and be able to respond to the situation as you see it to give your horse the best chance.

Be aware of your surroundings as it relates to the distance between the cow you want and the herd before you drop your hand. Getting pushed back into the herd can get you into a real wreck that can be difficult to get out of.

Again, you’re required to make one deep cut, but don’t get so focused that you fail to focus on the right cattle, where they are and getting them to the right position.

1. Now onto another cut, Ty is “cutting for shape” with the gray. 


3. 4.

5.The gray cow isn’t honoring Ty the way he needs her to.

6.Ty now legally switches to the outside black cow on the left. In riding to the outside cow, he pushes on the inside cow to get her out of the way.

7. Here he rides to the outside cow’s eye.

8. And now Ty has gotten her split off from the herd.

Transition Between Cows Quickly and Smoothly

Transitioning between each cut is another key factor. As soon as I am done with a cow and raise my hand, I am already looking over my shoulder for the next cow. While you’re working your cow, there is still movement going on behind you. It could be a little or it could be a lot. You don’t know. Again, this is about managing your clock and making every second count. Don’t waste those seconds watching the cow you’re working trot off. You need to be looking for your second cow, and your herd holders, if they’ve done their job right, will be pointing out that cow for you.

If you haven’t made your deep cut yet, go ahead and move toward the back of the herd. Again, you don’t have to go to the fence if you’re cow isn’t back there. Even if she’s on the face of the herd, you can keep an eye on that cow and work the cattle so that they flow around you and leave her where she needs to be. Don’t get in a hurry. If you do, you’re likely to disturb the herd more than you should. Your cattle need to stay relaxed yet still honor your horse.

Two and a half minutes can seem like an eternity, but once it’s over, you need to know that you did everything you could do in that time period to show your horse’s talent.

About the Source: Tarin Rice

In December 2012, Tarin Rice became the youngest open trainer in history (second youngest overall) to win the NCHA Open Futurity. At 28, he has already accumulated more than $2 million in total lifetime earnings. His second major aged-event win at the 2014 NCHA Summer Spectacular also let him write his own page in cutting history by being the youngest open rider inducted into the NCHA Hall of Fame.

After training for years under his father, NCHA $4 million rider Boyd Rice, at the family ranch in Spearman, Texas, Tarin and wife Katie are now based in Poolville, Texas. .