Cutting: A Guide

So i've talked a lot about the equestrian sport that I am part of, "Cutting", on this blog, and I know that many of you walk away from my posts saying... "that sounds very nice, but what the heck is she talking about..." Understandable. It's not the easiest sport to follow along, and I'm still learning more and more about judging, scoring, showing etc. every day. 

Here is a quick little guide that will hopefully explain a bit more about the sport of Cutting.

Phil Rapp, on arguably one of the greatest mares of all time, Don't Look Twice.
Rapp, and "Lipstick", hold a world record score of 234.

What is Cutting?

Cutting is a western event where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single cow away from the herd of cows. While showing, a rider will "cut" from the herd, one cow at a time, up to three cows. The herd of cows is behind the rider and horse, whilst the "cut" cow is in front of them. The cow must stop and turn away from the herd, showing the horse has successfully "cut" it from the herd, before the rider can stop, and retrieve another cow from the herd. The allotted time for this is 2 minutes, 30 seconds. 

Mostly registered quarter horses', the cutting horse has been specifically bred to do it's job. They are athletic, quick, and most importantly possess "cow sense" aka, they have the ability to respond quickly, turn sharply and "read" what the cow is doing. During a showing, the rider loosens their reins and "puts his hand down" on the horses neck, leaving it to the horse to keep the cow separated. This shows the horses cow sense, and also their level of training. If a rider picks up his hand during his cut, points will be deducted or he will mark a zero - depending on what occurs.

When you are at a show, you will also see four other riders on horseback in the show-pen. These riders are "Herd Helpers". The two in the corner at the back with the herd of cattle, are the herd help, and their job is to help keep the cows settled and "help" the show-er get out of the herd. Meaning sometimes you will see them come up on the sides of the herd, to help funnel them up the pen, or keep them calm. Meanwhile, the two riders at the front, the "Turnback" riders, literally do just that - turn back the cow for the rider showing. It is their job to assist the rider in getting the cow to turn and stop. You may also see the herd help putting cows back in the herd, or stopping run-away cows.

You will also see two pens - where the showing is going on, and another pen with various riders, riding around in big circles. This is the "Loping Pen", and is where "Lopers" are prepping horses to show. Cutting horses need to be ridden, generally, for quite some time before they go into the show pen to warm them up, and calm them down. When the cows first come into the arena they are "settled" by a trainer, most riders about to show will watch this "settling" because they can determine by watching how the cows respond to the settler how the cows will act when it is their turn to be cut. Thus, these riders are not always around to get their horses ready, thus, "lopers" are the people doing this while the riders "watch their cows".

Historically, the sport originated from cattle ranches where it was the cutting horses job to separate cattle from the herd for vaccinating, castrating and sorting. The cutting horse was generally ridden by the "Cow Boss" of the ranch, and was seen as one of the best horses on the outfit. This eventually turned into a competition, with the first being held in Haskell, Texas in 1898. Competitions began to sprout up across the states, and a governing body, the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) was founded in 1946. 

Joe Howard Williamson, on Sweet Little Cat, is a Non-Professional Rider currently winning the "Non-Pro" World Race.


Who are "Cutters?"

Cutting is also divided into four different levels of riders.

1. Professional, "Open": 
When you hear the word "Open" in the world of cutting, this means the class of riders are professional riders. They receive payment for training, riding or showing in any equine discipline. These riders can ride horses in competition that are owned by other people.

2. Non Professional, "Non-Pro's":
Non-Pro's may not take money for riding in any equine discipline. The horses that they ride must be fully owned by the rider, spouse, or minor child. 
The only exception to this is if they have won under $2000, they can ride any horse in specifically the $2000 Limited Rider Class.

3. Amateur
A rider with limits earnings less than $50,000 in cutting competition. They MAY NOT work at a horse training operation, or be married to a horse-trainer. Thus, horse trainer wives, their children and lopers (such as myself) MUST BE Non-Professional riders.

4. Youth
Riders must be 18 or under to compete, and have specific classes to show in.

Austin Shepard, an Open rider, riding stallion "High Brow CD" at Fort Worth

Where do Cutters Show?

There are two different categories of cutting horse shows...
Aged Events, and Weekend Shows.

Aged Events
are the major money-making events in the cutting horse world. Showing for cutting horses begins at three years old. This class is called the "Futurity". Small futurities begin in the fall of the end of their three year old year, and occur all over, however the big Futurity, dubbed "The Futurity" is held in December in Fort Worth, Texas. This is one of the most prestigious events in the cutting horse world, and horses cannot have been shown ANYWHERE if they show at the futurity in their three year old year.

From there, the 4 year old year is called the "Derby", and five and six year olds are shown in the same class, called the "Classic." From there, some Aged Events hold "7 Up classes" for horses that have "aged out" aka are no longer 6 or under.

Then there is...

Weekend Shows
Weekend shows have classes based on rider ability, and rider/horse money won, instead of age.

There are 12 Classes at the weekend shows, with the idea that any rider/horse can find their level of ability within.

Horse-Specific Classes
1. Open - you guys know this, any horse owned by an NCHA member can compete, but typically all horses are ridden by professional riders.
2. 5,000 Novice - the horse must have less than $5,000 in WEEKEND show earnings at the beginning of the point year (meaning, they could have won money in aged events, but that doesn't count towards these classes)
3. 5,000 Novice/Non-Pro - for non-pro riders, rider must own the horse
4. 15,000 Novice - horse must have less than $15,000 in WEEKEND show earnings
5. 15,000 Novice/Non Pro - for non pro riders, rider must own horse.

Rider-Specific Classes
6. Non-Pro - again, you guys got this! Riders must own the horses, and it here that you will see the best of the best non-pro riders and their horses.
7. 35,000 Non-Pro - this is for Non-Pro's that have earned less than $35,000 at the BEGINNING of the point year.
8. 50, 000 Amateur - this is for Amateur level riders, and must have less than $100,000 ($50,000 Weekend/$50,000 Limited Age) in eligibility earnings at the beginning of the point year.
9. 15,000 Amateur - same as above, with a $15,000 limit
9. 1,000 Amateur - must be an amateur level rider, with under $1000 in earnings
10. 2,000 Limit Rider - I discussed this class briefly before, this is an entry-level class where people can ride their own horses, or horses owned by other people. They must have less than $2,000 in earnings at the beginning of the year to show in this class, and can only show other people's horses in this specific class.
11. Senior Youth - for riders 14-18
12. Junior Youth - 13 and Under

Often you will hear people in the cutting horse world talking about "hauling for the world." This generally means they are going to shows in hopes to make the "world show" at the end of the year. Each of the above 12 classes has a "finals" at the end of the year, where the best of the best are asked to come to Fort Worth to compete against each other. The best is judged by money earned that year. 

For example, as of right now, Joe Howard Williamson of TX is winning the 2015 race in the "Non-Pro" Class. He is currently at $79,098 for THIS YEAR, has hauled to 81 shows (that is A LOT of shows), and has shown five horses to get there. Remember - the Non-Pro is rider specific, so as long as he owns all the horses he has shown, those earnings go toward his goal. However, the "Open" is horse-specific, so currently Special Nu Baby is leading the world, with rider Matt Gaines, at $114, 747, they have hauled to 51 shows. Some open horses will have different riders ride them to get them to their goal, "Baby" has only had the one rider this year.

Lindy Burch, an Open rider, riding Stylish Bet

How is Cutting Judged?

Cutting is judged on a scale of 60 to 80, each run begins at a 70, and points are either given or dedicated from there. 

A judge scores a performance on a number of factors - points can be added, or subtracted, for courage, eye appeal, herd work, controlling the cow, degree of difficulty, time worked, and loose reins. A rider can be disqualified for using illegal equipment, leaving the working area before the time limit is reached, and for inhumane treatment of the horse (excessive spurring, whipping, etc.)

However, where it gets a little confusing is when you are talking about major aged event shows, where they use a five, or sometimes three, judge system. According to this system, the high and low scores are tossed out in a five-judge show, leaving three scores to be tallied. A monitor is assigned to make rulings on major penalty discrepancies and to evaluate the judges' performance during each go round.

So what does this mean? Well, at a small show with one judge, if you mark a "75", that is a very good score. It means the judge has given you quite a few points for the various different factors.

At a bigger show, with three judges, if you mark a "75" across the board, that means that your score will read as a "225". Each of the three judge has scored you a 75, so, 75x3=225.

With the five judged system, it is the same, except the high and low score are thrown out. So if each of the five judge scores you a 75, you will still mark a 225.

Kind of make sense? It is a little confusing at times. 
Remember that the world-record score is a 234, (234/3=78) meaning that he scored a "78".

Here is a video of trainer, Matt Gaines, with current World Open Horse leader, Special Nu Baby, marking a world record score of 234 at El Rancho.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion, with all the different types of shows, judging systems, and horse abilities and styles, I know it can get pretty confusing! :) However, I still don't really know what jumping 3.0 m looks like in my head... so I think we are all fair. ;)

Comments

  1. This is so helpful. My trainer trains reiners and cutters, but I've never asked him about the way either is judged because I understand much better from reading. Luckily I know about the 3/5 judge system and non pro/amateur type distinctions from breed shows, so that wasn't new to me. I think you explained it well though!

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    1. Glad it could help! :) cool your working for a Reiner/cutter trainer too! Yeah the judging system gets even more complicated once you go into exactly how they score (style, level of difficulty etc) haha but that was a little much to go into in one post haha maybe for another day! It can be pretty complicated!!

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  2. WOW. Special Nu Baby is one hell of a horse - that's amazing stuff. Thanks for writing this all up!

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  3. So glad you finally wrote this post! Super helpful and informative.

    I do have a question about the loping for an hour or two thing beforehand. How wound up do the horses get without that much riding time? It seems like a lot. How does that excessive energy show up and maybe disrupt the performance in the in ring? Genuinely curious!

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    1. It really depends on the horse - I would say the average horse takes maybe 45 minutes to an hour realistically, but I've been on horses that almost take two hours. You'll hear the saying a lot in the cutting world "that horse had its legs loped off" which essentially means that it was so hot it became sore/lame/crippled due to the amount of riding it took to get the horse shown - again; not ideal. So to answer your first question - it totally depends on the horse. A lot of cutting horses can be very hot. Especially when they are in a show situation - they just "know".

      The ideal way a horse walks into the pen and works cows is really quiet, with a lot of draw (movement backwards and over the hocks) and a big stop. You really don't want them jumping around or getting fired up out there because the cow will read that energy and also get fired up. They also can't become distracted by the crowd, music, turn back horses etc. Which can be tough because by nature cutting horses are pretty reactive and "looky". Hence the loping which brings them down and tires them out.

      However, it's a science - so if you totally go overboard and exhaust the horse, they will probably not be able to keep up with a really fast cow. So it can be difficult, and I think the really good lopers know cutting horses, know the specific horse well & can manage a show situation well.

      Hope that ramble answers your questions :)

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