Horse Training

Cut Out for Cutting? Part 1

April 13, 2010

One lesson wasn’t enough.

This mare knows how to cut. It's my job to stay on and provide acceleration.

By Holly Clanahan in The American Quarter Horse Journal

Holy cow!

That’s about the best way to sum up my first cutting lesson. It came courtesy of AQHA Professional Horseman Teddy Johnson of Gainesville, Texas, as part of a shoot for “AQHA Presents,” the AQHA’s TV show, which airs on America’s Horse TV, americashorse.tv.

In the series, “What’s It Like To … ”, Team Wrangler members give a one-on-one lesson from their discipline, such as cutting or roping, to a member of the AQHA publications staff.

I much prefer to be behind the camera, but the opportunity to take a cutting lesson with Teddy, on some of his good horses, was something I couldn’t refuse.

Teddy was also enthusiastic about the chance to introduce someone to the excitement of his sport.

“I tell everybody, if they want to enjoy something, come learn to cut, because there’s no limit to what you can feel when you come up out of the herd, and you’re confident in your riding, and you put your hand down, and that horse takes control of that cow, and you just go along as a passenger,” he says.

He’s not lying. It’s an amazing feeling, but as I learned, the passenger doesn’t exactly just sit there. I had to learn a very specific job.

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First, I had to change up my riding a little. I normally ride dressage (yes, on an American Quarter Horse), and cutting is very different. The stirrups are even shorter than what I’m used to, so you can more easily turn your toes out to kick the horse when needed and so you can balance yourself through the lightning-fast changes of direction.

I also had to learn to stop my horse with my seat.

To start the process, Teddy put me up on Boons Rose, an athletic 2000 sorrel mare who was a finalist at the AQHA World Championship Show in amateur cutting in 2007. She’s owned by Teddy’s wife, Lynn.

As Boons Rose loped easily around, Teddy told me that to stop, “you’ll want to put your heels down and rock your hips back a little bit. Just barely pick up your hand. When I say stop, just elevate your rein hand softly, but push straight down on your hand that’s on top of the horn. That’ll let your hips rock back a little bit.”

The secret is to round your lower back – “Slump a little bit, like Mom said never to do,” Teddy says – and avoid pushing your legs forward. The cue is all from the seat.

After “Rose” and I got more used to each other – me to the different style of riding and her to the cues that felt different than what she was used to from Teddy and Lynn – Teddy moved us over to the flag.

Teddy has a black plastic flag strung on a line across the arena. With a remote control, he can move it right or left as quickly as he likes. This back-and-forth action mimics the movements of a cow, and the cutting horse follows it like she would a live animal.

Because the flag is controllable, it was the best place for me to get used to the quickness of the horse’s moves – and for me to learn my job: acceleration.

Actually, my first responsibility was to stay centered in the saddle, which isn’t an easy task when your horse is juking and jiving underneath you.

“Put your hand on the horn and push back with it,” Teddy advised. “I’ll scoot up in that saddle, and then I’ll just let my hips rotate back. It’ll kind of make you a smaller person. Breathe deep and release it. Round your back a little bit. It just gives you a lot more ability to control the upper part of your body. These ponies get going pretty fast, and when they hit that stop and turn around, we want to be able to keep our composure and keep pushed back, so we’ll push back on that horn and then keep our toes out.”

So with that in the back of my mind, Teddy went on to describe my job. As the flag travels to the right side of the arena and stops, my horse needs to stop straight over her hocks (so it’s important that I don’t lean), then turn around to her left. I will sit deep in the saddle as we stop, but it’s her job to make the turn, and she’s well trained for it. Then as the flag travels back across the arena, it’s my job to hit the gas pedal and make sure my horse keeps up with it.

Be on the lookout for the rest of this article coming soon!

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