Horse Training

Cut Out for Cutting? Part 2

May 4, 2010

One lesson wasn’t enough.

The more times I did it, the more comfortable I got – and the more I was able to focus on riding aggressively to keep up with the cow.

By Holly Clanahan in The American Quarter Horse Journal

This is the last of this two-part series. Review Part 1?

To stop a cow (or in this case, the stand-in flag), your horse’s head has to get ahead of the cow’s head. If you get behind, the cow’s going to dart around you and return to the herd.

So as we’re turning to the left, I’ll let the mare start the turn, then I’m supposed to kick with my right leg to speed her up. As we straighten out, I’ll use both legs to urge her forward.

“Remember that when your horse stops, you sit and wait, but when that horse makes his first move, that’s the time to start riding,” Teddy Johnson, AQHA Professional Horseman, said. “That horse has to position himself to the head of that cow in order to stop it, and it’s up to you to ride him there. If not, those cows will break off, and then you can’t control it.”

To give me a different feel, Teddy put me up on Smart River Dancer, a dun stallion by Smart Little Lena who’s owned by James and Angela Styles of Coal Hill, Arkansas. Let me just say here that both of these horses drove like Cadillacs. They were gorgeous, well-trained – and kind enough to forgive me for my beginner mistakes.

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Teddy told me that “River Dancer” needed plenty of leg to keep up with the flag as it went across the arena. But he stopped hard and turned fast, and I was starting to relax and enjoy myself.

“Now we got her grinning,” Teddy said with a laugh. And then more directives: “Kick! Kick hard all the way now. Keep up! Both feet! You’re letting that cow beat you.”

After a few more works on the flag, we headed inside to the covered arena – where a herd of calves awaited us.

Teddy told me how to walk quietly up to and through the herd, peeling off a group of cattle that would fan out in front of me. At a show, I would have two helpers in the corner, talking to me and offering advice on the cattle.

“Listen to what they say to you,” Teddy said. “Mind control is your best friend. Think about your moves and practice winning ways. I always say that winners do what losers don’t choose to. You have to focus on your job and your job only.”

Right now, that’s getting one cow separated out, then putting my hand down (grasping the front of the saddle blanket to make sure my hand stays down) and riding my horse just like we did on the flag: sitting deep and taking my legs off when the cow stops, riding hard when it turns and takes off.

It’s a lot to think about. And honestly, the first time I did it, it all went out the window. “Rose,” the horse I rode first, was so fast and so focused on the cow, it took my breath away.

Teddy laughed.

“You didn’t think she’d take ahold, did you?” he said teasingly. “She actually cuts.”

Yes, she does. And so does River Dancer.

But the more times I did it, the more comfortable I got – and the more I was able to focus on riding aggressively to keep up with the cow.

Teddy’s shouted directives kept me focused, and there was even an occasional compliment thrown in.

“That’s the start of a winning run, right there,” he said once, after the horse made an amazingly swift swoop. It was more than enough to get me hooked, and Teddy knew it. There’s a reason they say cutting is addictive.

As Teddy and I said our goodbyes in front of the camera, he winked and said, “I’ve got a feeling you’ll be back.”

I’ve already scheduled lesson No. 2.

Training your own foal is a truly special experience, but not one to be taken lightly. AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal report will help make sure you get it right the first time.