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 keeping 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 or drifting towards the herd throughout a run.
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.
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