The Amazing Cutting Horse

The amazing thing about the Cutting Horse is his ability to out-think

and out-guess the cow he is working. This outstanding horse's ability

was introduced to the contest arena and has now developed into a

fascinating participation and spectator sport, with an ever increasing

number of contestants and interested people taking part.

As the Cutting Horse contest grew in popularity, the National Cutting

Horse Association (NCHA) and the Canadian Cutting Horse Association

(CCHA) came into being to establish adequate rules whereby the Cutting

Horse could best be judged. The rules have been designed to result in a

pleasing performance in the arena and to show the Cutting Horse at work comparable to ranch conditions.

A calm. cool performance in actual ranch work is a definite asset to any stock owner, likewise the same type of smooth performance in the arena is not only pleasing to the spectator but shows to the full amazing ability of this valuable animal.

The addition of turn-back men and other factors totally unlike ranch work have been added to increase the action and entertainment from a spectator's point of view. Rules have been established as would be required in ranch cutting work.

The horse that carries his head low, travels cautiously toward the herd, alert and intent on the job before him, will usually turn in an interesting and action packed performance. The horse that carries out all of his duties well, keeps full control of the cow after it has been separated from the herd, and displays continuous cow sense is deserving of a great deal of credit and will score well.

It then becomes the objective of the contestant to quietly pick from the herd an animal that will give him maximum play and sustained action to test and show the ability of his cutting horse. Along with action goes the risk of penalties; out of position, reining, and many others, not to mention a severe penalty if a cow is lost back into the herd.

During the two and a half minutes of work, a rider demonstrates the ability of his horse to out-think the cow with terrific short bursts of speed, the ability of turns in mid-air, fabulous foot work and coordination between horse and rider that is unexcelled in any other arena event.

In judging the performance of a cutting horse, marks will range between 60 and 80 points. Winning points are based on a display of a horse's ability to work cattle and the amount of play he is able to cope with. Any horse who keeps constant careful control of a cow that is severely testing him will mark well in any judge's book.

The uninitiated may not be familiar with the cutting horse, but once seen in action, spectators all over North America are amazed at the uncanny ability of this animal. They all agree that to watch a cutting horse in action is indeed a spine tingling experience long to be remembered.

*Extracted from the Canadian Cutting Horse Association Rule Book 16th Edition


Some Points on Showing and Judging the Cutting Horse

The following questions and answers are included in the Rule Book as an aid to a clearer understanding of the Rules for Judging Cutting Horses.

  1. What is the desired number of cattle to work?

  2. Approaching the herd.

  3. Entering and working the herd.

  4. When should a horse be turned loose?

  5. Brining the cow from the herd.

  6. When is a cow set up (in working position)?

  7. When is a horse out of position?

  8. Picking up cattle.

  9. What is a satisfactory way of quitting a cow?

The opinions expressed are based on surveys and judging clinics conducted by the NCHA, and have the endorsement of the CCHA Executive Committee.

What is the desired number of cattle to work?

The preferred number of cattle to cut in the two and one-half minute time limit is two or three head. If a person can do as much and show sustained control on two head as another can do on three, the person working the two head should have the higher score because he/she has not spent as much time in the herd.


Approaching the Herd.

A horse should never be set down hard approaching the herd. Walking or trotting to the herd is acceptable provided the horse is taken up very easily before getting close enough to disturb the cattle. The horse should display no hesitation, weaving or reluctance to approach and enter the herd.

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Entering and working the herd.

The true cutting horse enters the herd with ease, concentrating on the job to be done. Not looking over the back fence or biting. Alert, but quiet, making no unnecessary movements that might disturb the cattle.

How far should a horse go into the herd to cut a cow?
He should go deep enough to show his ability to one out.

Is it all right to enter the middle of the herd on either side and go to the middle or back side to get one out?

Is it all right to go behind the herd and bring out the one wanted?

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When should a horse be turned loose?

A rider entering the herd may have a light-rein contact with his horse, and maintain this contact while he is in the herd and while he is in the process of cutting the animal free from the remaining cattle. When the animal has been cut, he should let his horse alone, and the horse should be given enough slack so that it is obvious to the judge that the horse was on his own.

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Bringing the cow from the herd.

The cutting horse should stay a reasonable distance from the cow if possible, showing a great deal of expression but no illness toward the animal being cut. He should be on his toes making counter movements to the cow regardless of the distance separating them. The horse should not rush or push cattle excessively in bringing one from the herd unless the cow turns around and tries to get back at the edge of the herd. The horse should bring the cow a sufficient distance from the herd toward the centre of the arena, so the herd will not be disturbed while working and setting the cow up.

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When is a cow set up (in working position)?

The cow should be in the middle of the arena or as near this point as possible with the horse making movements to counteract movements of the cow. This does not mean that the horse should be moving while the cow is standing still. When the cow moves, the horse should make faster moves so that he will hold the cow, not only from returning to the herd, but also from going from side to side (wall to wall), without excessive help from his turn-back men. When the turn-back men are heading the cow and not the working horse, he should be marked down and receive a lower score.

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When is a horse out of position?

A horse is out of position when he has gone past an animal further than necessary to force the animal to turn. One must take into consideration the speed the animal and horse are traveling; one must also take into consideration whether the animal being worked is a rank cow or one that is merely running, or a slow-moving , easy to hold animal. If the animal is running at a fast rate of speed, it is almost impossible to turn this animal without going by its head at least as much as a third or half a length. But, if an animal is working slow, then the horse should be able to turn this animal without going by more than a neck. It would also be taken into consideration the distance the cow has traveled before it is turned. If a cow only goes a short distance, a horse should be able to work head to head with this animal. But, if a cow makes a long run, then it is almost impossible for a horse to turn head to head with an animal making such a run. The general working position of a horse should be such that he can counter any move in and direction so as to prevent the animal from returning to the herd.

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Picking up cattle.

After a horse has cut a head of stock and moved it to working position, and one or more cattle come from the herd through no fault of the horse working, and he quits the stock he is working in good shape, there should be no penalty. However, if the horse will not drive his stock to a working position and gets in trouble with stock moving out, then he should be penalized.

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What is a satisfactory way of quitting a cow?

A contestant may quit an animal without penalty when it is obviously stopped, obviously turned away, or obviously behind the turn-back horses and the turn-back horses are behing the time line. A penalty of three points must be charged if the animal is quit under any other circumstances.

The duty of the herd-holders. A herd holder's duty is to assist the cutter in containing the herd and group of cattle the cutter is trying to cut from. This gives the cutter ample opportunity to demonstrate to the judges his ability to work the herd, drive a cow, and set a cow up in the middle of the pen. These conditions allow a judge to give credit to the cutter under Rules 1A, Two (2) and Four (4). After assisting the cutter in making a cut, the herd-holder should move to a position toward the arena wall that will enable him/her to contain the herd, but not distract from the run. Any excessive noise or action by the herd-holder is prohibited. Although there is no specific penalty for this action, it does hinder the cutter's horse from showing his full potential.

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*Extracted from the Canadian Cutting Horse Association Rule Book 16th Edition

Photo by Barbara Glazer, Glaze Photography