During my career as a professional horse trainer, I’ve heard horse owners tell all kinds of reasons why they think their horse could be a winner in the cutting arena. Unfortunately, when it comes to cow horses, a lot of folks are misinformed as to what is fact and what is fiction.
And of course, any time you're talking about horses, there are always exceptions to the rule. But, for the most part… Here are a few of the most common myths.
Myth #1. My colt should really make a great cutter. Whenever our "dog" goes into the pasture, the colt chases him around and works him just like cutting a cow. (For the word “dog” you could substitute “goat”, “another horse”, “a person” or “whatever”).
I wouldn’t enter him up at the Fort Worth futurity just yet. Here’s the usually disappointing truth. The dog isn’t a cow… The colt is doing this without a rider on his back… And most importantly, the colt is doing this activity without any rules he has to adhere to. In reality, there are a lot of colts that like to have fun chasing something around. It’s play, pure and simple.
It’s another thing entirely for a colt to become a cutter. First of all, the newness of working the cow will wear off and the training will eventually become work. When the colt finds out he has to work the cow with precision, form and style, he might not want to do it.
That’s why it’s so important your cutting prospect is bred to be a cutter. If the sire and dam have the attributes to be successful in the cutting arena, the colt has a lot better chance of being successful also.
Myth #2. My colt should make a great cutter. I rode him out to gather some cattle for the first time and he was really good. He wasn’t bothered or scared by the cattle and acted like it was nothing new at all.
Like I said earlier, there are always exceptions to the rule. But, when a colt doesn’t show much of a reaction to a cow it usually means he’s not going to be a good one. Every top cutting horse I’ve ever trained, either was fearful of the cow and wanted to keep a safe distance from it or was aggressive towards the cow and wanted to dominate it.
The 1990 NCHA futurity champion, Millie Montana, was the dominant kind. The very first time I worked her on a cow she wanted to take charge. Her head went down, her ears went back and everything about her body language told the cow that she was the boss.
The great NCHA world champion mare, Doc N Missy, was the exact opposite. She was in my string when I was working for Gene Suiter in Arizona. I’ll never forget her reaction the first time I introduced her to a cow. She was so scared of it she literally tried to jump out of the arena.
The cow would be 150 feet away down at the other end of the arena, but that was too close for comfort for her. It actually took a couple months before she got confident enough to move the cow.
Myth #3. My colt should make a great cutter. He is 99% foundation bred. His bloodlines trace back to Wimpy P1 five times on the top side and three times on the bottom. Those old foundation horses were real cow ponies.
Now, if you own a foundation bred horse, don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. Our topic here is modern-day "competition" cutting. I've ridden plenty of foundation bred horses that would definitely work a cow. But...
If you go to any of the top cutting trainers and ask them to describe what it’s like to try to get one of these old-time “foundation bred” horses to cut, here is the answer you’ll get 9 out of 10 times:
A. Most don’t have enough cow or intensity to make it in modern-day cutting
B. They’re difficult to train for today's type of cutting. For example, they
either learn too slow to be ready for the futurity or they want to argue too
C. If you manage to overcome A and B, it's still tough to win because many of them don’t have the athletic ability and style of modern-day cutting horses.
If you want your colt to be a good cutter, the least you can do is make sure he comes from bloodlines that produce good cutters. And yes, there are horses that are exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between.
Myth #4. My colt should make a great cutter. I’m going to put him in training with this hot shot trainer for six months and have him shown at the cutting futurity.
Actually, this is a misconception a lot of people have about training a cutting horse. It takes a long time to get a horse to the point of being "showable" at a contest. To have a colt ready for a futurity takes a minimum of 18 months of training.
If the colt is an exceptionally fast learner, you might get lucky and have him ready in just one year. This means to have a colt ready to compete in the fall futurities as a 3year old, he needs to be started on cattle in early spring of his 2 year old year.
Owners are afraid of starting their colts that young, fearing injury to the colt from starting him too early. In reality, a good trainer never works a young colt very hard. The idea is to give the colt a solid foundation built slowly so there is no stress. When this is done right, seldom will a colt get hurt.
Myth #5. I’m going to buy my first cutting horse and take him to a show next week-end. I should do pretty well. After all, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. The rider doesn't have to do anything but hang on.
I sure wish it was that simple. It would make my job as trainer and coach much easier. It’s true, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. However, the rider has a "big" influence on how well the horse works.
An inexperienced rider can cause even the best cutting horse to make mistakes. The most common ones are… rounding the turns, missing the stop and being out of sync with the cow. Most new cutters don’t realize they could ruin their horse if they don’t learn to ride correctly in a relatively short period of time.
The best plan is to find a knowledgeable coach that will help you learn to ride your cutter the right way.
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