A Beginner's Guide to Cutting: Why Showing Horses is Really Hard


Lately I haven’t been writing on this blog very much. Aside from the fact that #LoperLife usually leaves me pretty drained, I’ve actually been hustlin’ trying to sell myself (err… I mean… my work) as a freelance journalist. So if you are an editor/business person reading this, you should hire me to write for your magazine/company. I can do promotion, interviews, self-deprecation, I’ll write reviews, heck I’ll write about dirt. If you need me to write 5,000 words on dirt, I can do it. I promise you. Whatever you want, I’m your girl. Help me pay for my entries by hiring me, when I’m rich and famous and win the NCHA Non Pro Futurity, you can say you gave me my first break. What a story THAT will be – huh?!

BUT, they also say write what you know, and I decided where better to write what I know than on my own little soapbox. So, you ask, what do I know? I know how to be a beginner in the cutting pen, and I know how much it sucks. I’m serious. It’s fricken’ hard. I’m all for inspiration, motivation and discipline – I write the Centre Arena Series as just that. A tool to inspire and motivate by sharing the stories of successful women. However, you know what stories we rarely get to hear? How hard it is when you’re starting out. Sometimes we get little bits of that narrative, but it’s usually followed by “and now look how successful I am”, but so rarely do I get to hear the “here I am and it’s really hard to think of myself as a competitor because I’m constantly marking sixties and trying not to cry in front of my turnback help.”

The other night I sat with some other “beginners” which is something I don’t often get to do. As we complained about ourselves, our horses, our draws, our trainers, our help, our nerves, our riding ability, I relished in the fact that EVERYBODY deals with something that hinders their performance in the beginning. I had walked in feeling like I was, hands down, the most god awful rider to attempt cutting, and I left feeling like, we all have our struggles, and it’s good to talk about it. So, my little writer brain got whirring around and I decided – that’s what I’m going to start writing about on With A Western Twist. 

So welcome to my new series“The Beginner's Guide to Cutting.”

An real image captured at my last show of my horse after I rode her like a complete and absolute monkey

It's going to be fun, it's going to be a little self deprecating, it may be motivational, it will definitely be sarcastic and we're going to talk about how much it sucks to learn how to show cutting horses. Every week, maybe more frequently depending on how damn tired I am, I’m going to post about something/anything that I encounter as a beginner. It may be serious (battling nerves and self confidence), it may be funny (that time I attempted to create confidence by drinking before my run and realistically just had to pee a lot) or it will, most likely, be a healthy dose of both. However, if you are reading this, and you are struggling through learning how to show cutting horses (or any type of horses for that matter), I want to hear your stories too because the more we can make fun of ourselves, but also learn from each other, the more we’re going to grow as riders, and as competitors. So as this series unfolds, if one of my posts speaks to you – PLEASE share the post, write a comment, message me or email me and tell me about your own experience.

So here goes, the first taste of my new series… Why Showing Horses is Really Hard

Showing horses is like… really hard you guys. I’m not even being sarcastic, I’m truly whining about it. Learning how to show a cutting horse can be equated to pulling out your teeth, slowly, one by one, for no reason. As your doing it, your dentist is telling you, “You’ll know why you’re doing this when all your teeth are in your hands and you’re in writhing agony.” Being a beginner in the cutting horse pen has so many different levels of… hard. 

There’s the cows. 


Do you know how to read cattle? 
Can you walk into a herd and confidently cut out the cow you want to work? 
What about cutting for shape – if you have a bunch of cows in front of you, are you able to control the scenario? 
What about after you cut one – are you able to read where they are heading to go? When they are going to stop? 
Can you look at a herd of 20+ pure black cows and tell them all apart? 
What about those ruthless cows that you cut out of the herd, drop your hand on your horses neck and that cow runs wall to wall like it’s jet-propelled? Do you have enough “courage” to hold that cow? 

There’s a reason people say that it’s an art form to pick the best cows in a herd and to show levels of skill, accuracy and difficulty while cutting a cow. That shit ain’t easy.

There’s the horse



A cutting horse is expensive. Very rarely do “deals” work out in the show pen, ESPECIALLY if you are a beginner. So, as beginners we must cough up a pretty decent amount of money for a “starter horse.” Usually those starter horses are seasoned ponies that know their job, but you're looking at maybe a few years of use and a whole lot of maintenance bills from your vet in your future. If you have a solid horse that you can drop your hand on and it will get you through runs, no matter what your feet/body/hands are doing to it, you're one of the lucky ones. That horse is actually a unicorn and you should shower it with rainbow-glitter cookies because that’s what it deserves. Many of us are not so lucky, many of us have to deal with little idiosyncrasies that our horses throw at us in the show pen. Trust me, when your horse pushes a cow right under the judges stand and your practically sitting in their lap – it will not get you bonus points. There are certain places where sitting on people’s laps get you bonuses, and it ain’t in the cutting pen. The judge will check off “charging” on your scorecard and your run will be over before it even began.

There’s you



For many of us, when we first watch cutting, we think, “wow, look how effortless and beautiful that is, the rider just allows the horse to track that cow.” How wrong our innocent & stupid minds were. Unless you have one of those aforementioned unicorns, chances are that if you kick your horse at the wrong time, that horse will react to it. If you nervously hang on their mouth while your trying to cut a cow, that horse will react to it. If you accidently are digging your herd-side spur into their side, you KNOW that horse will react to it. So not only do you have to be equal parts passive and active, but you better keep your shit in check. I mean it, cows read energy, horses read energy, and if you're sitting on top of your horse nervous as heck just desperately trying to get SOMETHING cut, it’ll show. 

Plus, if you are out there reining your horse around looking like you're trying to duel Louis the 14th on the battlefield, your turn back guys are likely thinking, “what the fuck is she trying to cut? I’m trying to help this girl but god only knows if she’s cutting that black one, or that brown… oh whoops looks like she’s actually trying to cut that white one that she didn’t drive up far enough... and oh look she’s still committing to it and oh look again... she lost her cow.”
There's literally 7000x other things I could go on about, but you know, for the sake of keeping you reading you may now be able to see why I’m whining… because, to successfully show cutting horses right off the bat as a beginner you need to be equal parts Olympic level rider, cow-hand and mental sport psychologist with a healthy dose of sedative on board in your blood stream. Then, you need the aforementioned unicorn that sparkles erupt from every time you put your hand down to work a cow. That is, I’m convinced, the only way a total beginner to the sport can go out and mark 75’s every time they step to the herd.

As you can probably tell from this sarcasm-ridden blog-post, I am not the sedated cow-hand I need to be, nor is Lady the rainbow-glitter unicorn, but we’re TRYING to get there – damnit! However, the road to becoming a somewhat successful competitor is littered with sixties, sixties and tears people… sixties and tears. Now, just as you've come to the conclusion of this blog post and your going to write me a nasty comment about how i'm making anyone that's interested in the sport completely run in the other direction, hold up keyboard warriors and LET A GIRL SPEAK...

The sick thing with cutting horses is that, despite all the sixties and all the tears, the feeling of dropping your hand and working a cow perfectly in the middle of the pen, is one of the most addictive things in the world. I'm not kidding people, it makes EVERYTHING I just talked about stupidly worth it. It feels like magic. It does feel like your riding a glitter covered unicorn. It may only be 10 seconds of glittered covered unicorn riding but it's WORTH IT. So, we keep pushing forward at it, hoping that one day,we’ll stop sword fighting through our cuts, we'll stop picking literally the worst cows in the herd and a judge may actually think, “good run” and grant you something over 70. Here’s hoping, here's to riding cow-eating glitter-covered unicorns.

Comments

  1. This should be a good series if this one is an example! I think in any sport there are growing pains but cutting is definitely an expensive sport to get in to. Hope you have some good scores this year!

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  2. Thanks Shirley!! I hope so too and yes, don't you worry the cost of cutting will definitely be featured sometime soon in the series - that is the biggest hindrance of it all I think!

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  3. Girrllll... you nailed it!!! We all keep going for that 75 or... even 76 mark that we just know lerks in that unicorn somewhere deep LOL. More addictive than any drug known to mankind,, I swear! lol

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    1. Haha it's so true!! Thanks for liking and sharing on your page. 💕 I don't think we've ever met in person but Lorne turned for me lots last year and is always so helpful and a calming presence in the show pen! I don't think I've cried in front of him yet!! 😂😂 I'm sure it's coming though!

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    2. Wow.. right on the money. Thanks.. Every back yard cutter needs to read this. Keep up the good work.

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  4. Oh...god... I almost fell off my chair laughing. You are so right and your humility is a breath of fresh air. I've done some showing over the years and competed in other equine sports as well... and yes...IT'S HARD, not just to be a beginner but just to keep yourself and your horses at any level. Thank you for making me laugh... and thank you for showing us that we're not alone,and... it takes guts to even get up there and try! Brilliant article....and funny.

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    1. Thank you so much Olivia!! Glad my post could make you laugh!! We have to laugh at ourselves sometimes right?!

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  5. Haha, I cried when I marked my 1st 74. Was so happy & mad at the same time! lol. You nailed this.

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    1. Want to know something sick? The second time I ever showed a horse I marked a 74. The horse was dead broke. Everything came together and it was SO EASY. So I got it in my head I was the best in the world. Then I got my own horse and I quickly learned that 74's (and you know... 70's) are very hard to come by and they are more like a gift from god than anything else 😂😂😂

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  6. Loved this! Horse showing is hard and you need a healthy sense of humor to get through the bad days! One critique not criticism....if you are serious about being a journalist be mindful of the correct use of Your and Your're.

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    1. Thank you Donna! This was definitely written and posted in a bit of an over-tired blur and my criticism of myself as a writer is I often don't take the appropriate time to re-read and edit my work on this blog. I'm much better when I'm sending work to editors. I'll go back and find my mistakes, thanks for pointing that out!

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  7. I love this. My husband and I show in Ranch Horse Versatility and cutting is one of our events. Not one of our better events. We're struggling to get out of the 60's and excited when we score a 68 or 69. You're right this shit ain't easy and it isn't for sissies. As they tell me when I'm hanging off the side, stay in the bus.

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    1. Hahaha been there done that! I'm honestly at the point where I cry happy tears when I mark a 65... not made for sissies indeed!!

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  8. As one who hasn't had the pleasure / adrenaline rush / sheer terror of riding a cutting horse when they are doing their job, I can see that it's damn difficult. Anyone who gets out there under a stopwatch to cut several cows out of a herd and show off the skills of their horse, and their ability to stick in the saddle and let their horse do their job deserves props in my book. From beginner to advanced, watching the horses and riders communicate in a silent dance of keep away is an incredible experience. It's a lot of work to get into the saddle for a beginner, and even more work as you advance up the ranks. That skill, gumption, and drive is appreciated. Have another look at Lady, you may see a horn if the light is right, and look at yourself in the mirror too...there may be something shimmering behind you. (and that goes for all those who show :-) )

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    1. This was just the nicest, cutest comment! 😊 Lady for sure has a horn and does glitter most days... sometimes her rider just gets in the way!! We're getting there! Thanks for the love ❤️

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