Showing

Purchasing Your First Cutting Horse

A horse-showing how-to: Prepare to step into the cutting pen.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

It’s time.

You’ve taken a few lessons and perhaps even ridden a show or two aboard someone else’s horse. Now you’ve decided you’re ready for your very own cutting horse.

But how do you go about finding the right one for you?

National Cutting Horse Association former president and AQHA judge Mike Mowery of Llano, Texas, offers this advice on choosing your first cutting horse:

First, Get Some Help

Finding a cutting horse for a beginner can be tough. Many times, a beginner doesn’t know what he or she needs in a first cutting horse.

That’s why I think it is important to get hooked up with someone who is knowledgeable in cutting horses, whether it is a trainer or a friend. As a buyer, you want somebody you have confidence in and who can guide you in the right direction.

Then don’t get in a hurry and buy the first horse you see. You might have to look at a lot of horses before you find the right one, but if you have someone helping you, they can help spot the right one when it shows up.

My philosophy when I’m helping someone buy a horse is that I want the horse to sell himself rather than me trying to convince the buyer this is the right horse.

Do Your Homework by Asking Questions:

1. Ask the person helping you if he is familiar with this horse or seller.
2. Has the horse had any previous history of lameness?
3. Does the horse have any bad habits, such as cribbing, biting, bucking, kicking or hauling problems?
4. What is the horse’s show record and cutting experience?
5. Has this horse been passed around a lot or had several different owners?
6. Does the seller guarantee this horse to be sound and is he willing to allow a veterinary check of this horse?
7. Is there anything else you should know about this horse?

Older Is Better

What you want is a seasoned horse that is so solid and disciplined in his job that he can almost teach you as much as a trainer can. You want a horse that knows his job, day in and day out, and takes you to the right spot every day. This type of horse will be about 7 years or older.

As you're looking for a new horse, remember that conformation has a direct effect on athletic ability. Download the AQHA Form to Function report to help ensure that you end up with a horse physically sound for cutting.

It is better to find an older horse who has experience rather than trying to get a younger horse and growing together. This is a very difficult task. A beginner needs to learn how to show a horse first before trying to understand how a young horse thinks. That means showing older horses before climbing on a baby.

These older, seasoned horses will cost anywhere $8,500 to $25,000. There are some that might be a little bit more. But, also, if you want to cut, I think it is great to buy a relatively inexpensive horse and see if it is a commitment you really want to make. Then I highly suggest when you are ready to go show, you step up and spend the extra money to buy a horse that does it correctly or you will pick up too many bad habits.

Gelding or Mare

I don’t think it matters whether a beginner chooses a gelding or mare for a first cutting horse.

The advantage of a gelding is the temperament. Your gelding is going to be even-tempered and an easy-going horse.

But it also depends on the individual. I have this old saying, “If it fits, that is the one you want.” So no matter if it is a gelding or a mare, I think when a certain horse fits a certain rider, it just fits.

You can drive the whole state of Texas or the whole United States and not find another horse that fits as well. I think the secret there is when one really fits you, definitely jump on that.

What’s in the Pedigree


Bloodlines don’t play an important role in your first cutting horse.

When looking for a horse, the emphasis needs to be placed on the age and experience of the horse, not necessarily what’s in his pedigree. You’re looking for a horse that you can ride and show, not one that you will later use for breeding.

First Ride

When you have found a prospect, it’s up to you whether you or the person helping you rides the horse first.

I have done it both ways. If the person I am helping has ridden a little bit, sometimes I would just prefer he climb on first and find out where this horse is. If I like what I will see, then maybe I will get on and see what the horse feels like.

Usually if the horse doesn’t fit really quickly, he won’t ever fit. Of course, the cattle can have a big bearing on that, also.

Typically, if someone is trying to sell a horse, they are going to have some cattle that are fairly easy to show the horse on. They want you to see what the horse feels like with a pretty good cow.

Sometimes you get cattle that won’t cooperate, and you can’t tell anything about the horse. This discourages a lot of people, but I’ve had enough years that it does not affect me.

If I see something in this horse that I like and the cattle aren’t getting him shown, I will just reschedule and take another opportunity to look at that horse.

Health and Soundness

If you decide this is the right horse for you, I strongly advise you putting him through a thorough veterinarian exam for health and soundness issues. This will be an expense that is the buyer’s responsibility.

With AQHA’s Form to Function report, you’ll learn how to evaluate a horse’s conformation and see how conformation affects a horse’s performance. Download the report so you can be confident in your new cutting horse’s ability to perform!

If a problem is found, it’s then up to you to decide whether you are still willing to purchase the horse. If it is something that you think is manageable, you can’t find another horse at this caliber and you are willing to make the commitment to manage that particular situation, buy the horse. However, if it’ something that you are not sure you can handle, then pass this horse by and continue your search.

I have done it both ways. I’ve bought a horse or two that I knew had some problems, but they were manageable, and I thought they were horses I would enjoy and be very competitive with in the cutting pen.

After the Purchase

You’ve written the check and brought your new cutting horse home. Now what?

A lot of beginners are going to make a lot of mistakes learning how to ride. That first horse is the one who is going to consequently be at the blunt end of those mistakes.

Sometimes you can find a horse who is so honest and, no matter how many mistakes a beginner rider makes, that horse is so confident in his job, he doesn’t get to fudging or cheating. However, most horses will.

A trainer is going to tell you what to do on a horse who isn’t taking you to the right spot. That’s why I think a beginner needs to get the right supervision. The sooner a beginner rider learns the real fundamentals of cutting, the sooner that individual will be able to help his own horse do a better job of showing.