Cutting: What's it all about?

One of the world's fastest growing equine sports, cutting, offers tremendous excitement and drama for horse, rider and spectators alike.

The challenge to select a single calf from the herd...gently guide it into the center of the arena... and then, with lightening fast starts and turns, prevent it from ducking past the horse and escaping back to the herd.

In the contest arena, the art of the cutting horse comes alive in a classic test of intelligence, training, breeding and skill. Many factors play a part in the making of a cutting champion. To understand the distinction, the contest must be seen from the judges' points of view.

In competition, the cutting horse and rider must work together as a team in demonstrating their cattle-handling skills. The contest begins as the pair approaches the herd. Quietly. Deliberately. And without hesitation. The horse and rider have two and one-half minutes to complete their work.

Approaching the herd, both horse and rider must concentrate on moving into the cattle to separate one animal from the herd without provoking disturbance. Performance is judged in part by the activity of the calf, so the animal selected is singled out by choice, not at random. After the rider has indicated a specific calf to the horse, neither horse nor rider may change calves without penalty. When the cut is complete, the challenge really begins.

Once the calf is isolated near the center of the arena, the rider must loosen his rein to allow the horse freedom to demonstrate its cutting skill and real "cow sense". Controlling the calf by speed, agility, balance and motion, the horse matches the calf move-for-move to prevent its return to the herd (the calf's natural inclination.) A true champion is trained to react instinctively to the calf's movements without the need for direction. A loose rein is one of the keys to a highly marked performance.

Although the contest time limit allows two to three animals to be cut, the time spent with each calf is left to the rider's discretion. The horse may "quit" the calf without penalty (a 3 point penalty will be assessed ) when the calf is obviously stopped or obviously turned away from the cutting horse. But if a calf is "lost" under any circumstance, a 5 point penalty is assessed. Even a good performance can end with a low score if a calf escapes the horse's control.

The contestants in national events are scored by a five judge panel. Smaller events require fewer judges. Performance is evaluated on the basis of several key points: 1)the challenges made by the calves cut; 2)the horse's instinctive reactions; and 3)errors in judgment made by horse or rider during the competition. Each judge submits a score ranging between 60 and 80 with a score of 70 being average at the end of the contest period. After the high and low scores are discarded, the middle three are added together to obtain the final points earned.