Cut Deep For a High Score
Make a good, deep cut with these tips from AQHA Professional Horseman Teddy Johnson.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Teddy Johnson | March 15, 2011
The American Quarter Horse Journal
The way you approach the herd is your first opportunity to show the judge you are a quality showman and add credit-earning points toward your final score. It is also your chance to analyze the cattle to see if they are soft and controllable or if they will be fast and wild. The time you spend entering the herd paves the way to a quality run.
Before you cross the time line, you and your help should have a well- laid plan to know if you are cutting for shape or cutting for specific cows.
Enter your herd slowly from either side so that you do not scare or surprise the cattle. If the cows are alert and wild, stop for a few seconds and then make your moves slower to allow the cattle to adjust to the presence of your horse. Continue moving softly and precisely, always keeping your horse faced up toward the center of the pen. Use your rein hand smoothly for direction, and use your legs to move your horse to the position you want.
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When you’re cutting for shape, drive a portion of the herd up and away from the back wall towards the center of the pen, allowing the cows to slowly walk around your horse while you step up to the last cow standing in front of your horse.
When I say “last cow standing,” I don’t mean the cow that’s positioned at the end of the line of cattle being pushed up. I mean the last cow that’s up there when they start to fan out across in front of you.
As you push them up, those cows will start walking across you and you’ll get down to three or four. You can move your horse left or right to control the flow of your cattle. Usually the better cow is the one that will honor your horse and stop and won’t try to run by. Usually that one is going to be your last cow standing there. It’s important to cut the cow that wants to stay there for you.
While making your cut, it is very important that you keep your horse faced up and direct to the cow, not letting your horse fade toward the back wall. Be patient and wait for your cut to develop.
If you are cutting a specific cow, you must be able to recognize your cow when you enter the herd either by colors, distinct markings or hair patterns. As you enter the herd, stop and locate the cow with the assistance of your herd holders. Continue in behind your cow and drive slowly up through the herd, trying not to commit until it is absolutely necessary.
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Commitment to a cow is making two definite moves toward a specific cow. When you have pushed your cow up to the top of the herd, step directly to your cow’s head and drive it out a sufficient distance from the herd.
Keep pushing that cow as long as it will walk forward. Don’t go all the way to the judges’ stand, but do go a good distance from the herd. Eventually, after you take three or four steps up to that cow, that cow is going to break laterally. When he does that, put your hand down. When you stop moving forward, then you have to put your hand down.
Early commitment to a specified cow and driving it up and out of the herd in a controlled manner should add credit points to your score. But if you find that it becomes too difficult to cut your specific cow, and you have not committed, then change your plan and cut shape. If you have committed, you must stay with that cow in order to avoid a penalty for switching cows.
Whether you cut for shape or a specific cow, when your cut is made, drop your hand immediately once all other cattle are clearly back past the tail of your horse. Don’t take a one-point penalty for holding on too long. If needed, after your hand is down, you can gently squeeze your horse forward to gain sufficient distance between you and the herd.
Work your cow as long as it is presenting a good challenge to your horse. When quitting, your cow should be turned away from your horse, traveling at a definite angle away from your horse, or be standing completely still at any position.
When cutting a cow, it's important that your horse moves swiftly and easily. Horse trainer Martin Black says that by experimenting with your weight position, you will discover a place that you can feel your horse move freely and easily. Learn how in AQHA’s downloadable report, Horse Training Techniques with Martin Black.
After quitting your first cow, you want to be aware of the time left on the clock, re-enter the herd slowly and take time cutting your second cow. Don’t think you have to rush and force your cut. Clean cuts are always credit earners.
Work your second cow as long as possible if it is presenting a crisp challenge to your horse and you are not in danger of it running over you. If you think you need to quit your cow, check your time left by asking your herd holders, making certain you have sufficient time to cut another cow. If not, you may decide to stay until time runs out.
When choosing to cut a third cow, a deep cut is not necessary if you already made a deep cut. If possible, chip one or two cows off the top of the herd, make your cut and use the time left to work your cow.
You develop your herd work skills by learning to control your mind for two and a half minutes. If you are nervous entering your herd – sometimes it will look like an ocean of cattle all stuck together – just stop, take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and, with the help of your herd drivers, drive up.
Focus on self-discipline, smooth cuts and clean quits. Remember, winners do what learners don’t choose to.
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