Cutting (sport)

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A cutting horse working a cow.
Highest governing bodyNational Cutting Horse Association
CategorizationWestern riding
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A cutting horse working a cow.
Highest governing bodyNational Cutting Horse Association
CategorizationWestern riding

Cutting is an equestrian event in the western riding style where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.



A cutting horse is an athletic and willing animal possessing an innate "cow sense" and ability to respond quickly and turn sharply that is trained to keep a cow from returning to the herd. The horses involved are typically American Quarter Horses, although many other stock horse breeds are also used.

In the event, the horse and rider select and separate a cow (typically a steer or heifer) out of a small group. The cow then tries to return to its herd; the rider loosens the reins ("puts his hand down" in the parlance) and leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the cow separated, a job the best horses do with relish, savvy, and style. A contestant has 2 ½ minutes to show the horse; typically three cows are cut during a run, although working only two cows is acceptable. A judge awards points to the cutter based on a scale that ranges from 60 to 80, with 70 being considered average.

As the cow turns, the horse is to draw back over its hocks and then turn with the cow. The rider is centered over the horse keeps his or her eyes focused on the cow’s neck so as to anticipate the cow’s next move. The horse’s shoulders during a run are parallel with that of the cow’s. The team is judged on how the horse moves in relation to the cow. Leg aids may be used to steady a horse and keep them from falling in on the cow throughout a run.[1]


The sport originated from cattle ranches in the American West, where it was the cutting horse's job to separate cattle from the herd for vaccinating, castrating, and sorting. Eventually competitions arose between the best cutting horses and riders in the area. In 1898 the first cutting horse competition was held in Haskell, Texas. With the growth of such cutting horse contests, a group of owners decided to form an organization to establish a universal set of rules and regulations. As a result, in 1946 the National Cutting Horse Association was founded.[2]

Today, cutting is a fast-growing equine sport. In 2006, the contestants at the United States NCHA Futurity competed for more than $3.7 million—over a hundred times the offering of the first year. Total purses at NCHA-approved shows alone now exceed $39 million annually. Additional prize money is distributed at Australian Cutting Horse Association, American Cutting Horse Association, single-breed shows, European and Canadian events.


Any breed of horse may compete, although the American Quarter Horse is most commonly used. Regardless of breed, the horse needs to anticipate the actions of the cow and keep it from turning back into the herd.[3]

A judge scores a performance on a number of factors; points are added 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. A horse and rider team is penalized if forced off a cow, if the horse charges a cow, excessive herdholder help, and judges either add or take away points based on the horse and rider's performance throughout their run.[4]

A western saddle is required. A breast collar and back cinch are optional. A bridle is also required with varying options for bits and curb chains as long as they meet competition guidelines. A saddle pad used under the saddle. Splint boots and back or skid boots are recommended for the horse’s leg protection during competition. Chaps are not required but are recommended,[5] and commonly used in competition.

Competition divisions common in cutting are:[6]


A variety of breeds of cattle can be used for cutting as long as they are sensitive and herd bound. Before a run riders will watch other riders to see how cattle react and perform for other riders and their horses. When cutting a cow out of the herd some riders use characteristics or markings to help identify an individual animal. A rider who is able to differentiate between cattle offers the horse the best opportunity to have a good run. The cow selected by a rider needs to challenge but not overwhelm the horse and result in losing the cow. [7]



The National Cutting Horse Association governs most cutting horse competition in the United States. The American Cutting Horse Association is the US affiliate,[citation needed] and in 1972 a branch of the NCHA was formed in Australia. The showcase of Australian cutting is the NCHA Futurity which is held every May or June at the Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre (AELEC), Tamworth, New South Wales. During the 36th cutting futurity held in 2009 A$540,000 in prize money was distributed during the 11 days of competition.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Dunning, Al; Jennifer, Paulson (December 2011). "Cirlce Up!". Horse and Rider L (12): 32-33. 
  2. ^ "In the beginning there was the horse...". National Cutting Horse Association. Retrieved 3/29/2012. 
  3. ^ Kirkwood, Bill. "Cutting Basics". AMERICA'S HQRSE DAILY. World Press. Retrieved 2/15/2012. 
  4. ^ "2012 Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations". National Cutting Horse Asssociation. Retrieved 3/29/2012. 
  5. ^ "NCHA-Getting Started". National Cutting Horse Association. Retrieved 3/29/2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Cutter's Glossary". National Cutting Horse Association. Retrieved 3/29/2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Shulte, Barbara. "A Big Part of Riding a Cutting Horse is Cow Identification". BarbaraShulte. Retrieved 3/29/2012. 
  8. ^ "36th futurity a smooth ride". Northern Daily Leader. 11 June 2009. p. 27. 

External links