10 Tips for Cutting Competitors

10 Tips for Cutting Competitors

Heed this advice before you drop your hand at the next cutting.

bay roan horse cutting a cow at the AQHA World Show (Credit: Kirstie Marie Photography for AQHA)

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Compiled by Jessica Carr

While two-and-a-half minutes may not seem significant to the outside world, it can feel like eternal bliss during a cutting run.

 When it comes to keeping a cow from the herd, it’s important for horse and rider to be in sync for a harmonious performance. These simple tips will come in handy the next time you step into the herd.

  1. Be the cheerleader. Your horse is the star of the show. Sometimes he'll challenge you or might even be a little lazy; your ultimate role is to be the adviser and supporter.

  2. Help your horse keep his cool. Some horses are prone to over react, a response that can be natural or manmade. Your goal is to have the horse mirroring the action of the cow, so critical timing is achieved as the rider and the horse respond harmoniously, creating a fluid performance. 

  3. Keep your cues clear. Your cues must be complementary to the cow’s movements. If you cue too early or late, ultimately, it leaves the horse confused and potentially agitated.

  4. Rethink your rein hand. While most cutters prefer to keep their rein hand on the horse’s neck while they’re on a cow, it’s easy to get your shoulders uneven and feel yourself start leaning, which in turn throws off your horse’s body position. If this is a familiar issue, you might consider cutting with your rein hand on the pommel alongside the horn.

  5. Look for the average-Joe cow. If a cow is throwing her head up and pushing over cattle in the herd, she’s likely to run over your horse. She’s not going to show you any more respect than she’s showing the other cattle. However, you don’t want to pick a cow that is too gentle. Normally, they will not have enough moves to show the horse’s ability.

  6. Never take your eye off the cow. It will help you keep your balance and stay in sync with your horse.

  7. Think “center.” The judges are looking for you to control your cow by getting to its head and stopping hard and deep. Your horse should wait for the cow to move, and when the cow moves, your horse should draw back and turn with the cow.

  8. Aim for simple and accurate runs. You can’t win the NCHA Futurity every weekend, and riding like you’re in the futurity is a good way to lose every weekend.

  9. Breathe and slow down. When you find yourself getting tense and getting ahead of the cow, slow your emotions and your feet. Go back to the fundamental mechanics of riding to the exact same spot every time.

  10. Remember, cutting is a team sport. It takes both horse and rider to make a winning team. As a rider, your role is to ride and keep the horse in position.

Showing and Training Cutting Horses: Additional Resources

Go to www.aqha.com/cutting and you'll find more articles to help you improve your cutting and training game, articles like:

  • Cow-Picking Tips for Cutting Competitors: A leading exhibitor of cutting horses shares how she reads cattle, takes notes and makes cuts.
  • Post-Futurity Assessment: Help your performance horse through the next steps in his career with tips from trainers Jason Vanlandingham and Clay Volmer.
  • Don't Have a Cow: There are other ways to train a cow horse or cutting horse when cattle aren’t available.
  • Reading Cattle 101: How does one go about reading cattle and why is it even important? Boyd Rice and T.J. Roberts share their cow work and cutting tips.
  • Cutting Horses: How to Get Started: This beginner's guide to cutting explains what to look for when purchasing your first cutting horse.