Today’s modern cutting horse carries out its job with the same fiery intensity and quiet competence as its forebears. Originally used by American cowboys to sort and herd cattle on the open range in the 1800s, the modern cutting horse sorts and cuts cows today in competitions across the United States. Although cutting horse competitions have swapped the endless grassy hills of the open range for the smooth dirt waves of a freshly dragged arena, the other ingredients of a cutting have largely stayed the same: one horse and rider work in tandem to sort and cut one cow from the herd, and that’s exactly how the dance begins. A good cutting horse moves with the speed and agility of a matador, completely in tune with the quicksilver darting motions of the cow he’s tracking.
“We’re the only equine sport where you put your hand down and can only use your feet,” said Zeke Entz, a multiple world champion cutting horse trainer and National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee from Collierville, Tenn. “A cutting horse has to be highly intelligent and athletic, as well as highly trained. They have to be really good at their job and really tied to the cow.”
Entz has been training cutting horses for more than thirty years, with multiple world championships, reserve championships and other titles to his name. He’s also won over $1.8 million in NCHA lifetime earnings. Today, he trains horses and coaches riders out of his own facility in Collierville.
“I started cutting horses over 30 years ago, and that’s what I’ve dedicated my life to,” Entz said. “I thoroughly enjoy it. I’ve been able to show at just about every event you can name and trained some good horses from start to finish.”
Entz continues to be amazed by the power and talent of a good cutting horse.
“If you ever get to sit on a really good cutting horse, it is amazing how much they like it and how intelligent they can be,” Entz said. “If you cut a tough cow, they handle it quicker than you can even think about it. Cutting horses love their job. The first horse I won an open competition on was 18 years old, and he still had the electricity in him when we cut a good cow. It was just like plugging him in. He had so much intensity and desire. I can remember it to this day.”
WHAT MAKES A GOOD CUTTING HORSE?
The majority of cutting horses today are American Quarter Horses, although other stock breeds, including Appaloosas and American Paint Horses, also compete. Physically, cutters are small, compact horses, with powerful hind legs that enable them to get down low and move quickly with the cow.
“They’re usually going to be a little shorter, but they’re going to be really strong in the hind end and real wide in the butt, with a lot of strength going down through their gaskins in the hind legs,” Entz said. “Most cutters are going to be in the 14 hand to 14.3 hand range, although I’ve ridden some good ones that were as tall as 15 hands and I’ve seen them all the way down at 13.2 hands.”
The cutting horse has to be highly intelligent as well as innately “cowy.” Cowiness is a matter of breeding and instinct. Cowy horses know instinctively how to work with a cow and anticipate its every move.
“As a rule, you're not going to take a horse with no cutting blood and get him to cut a cow,” Entz said. “They might follow the training flag, they might follow a cow, but to go make those hard decisions fast and correct under show pressure is an inherent talent and instinct.”
During a cutting run in the show pen, judges award pluses, checks or minuses in several different scoring criteria, including herd work (driving the cow), controlling the cow (working with the cow in the center of the arena), degree of difficulty, eye appeal, time worked, amount of courage and loose reins. Riders are penalized for reining or visibly cueing the horse, adding a second hand to the reins or using their toe, foot or stirrup on the horse’s shoulder.
“When you enter the pen, you want to be smooth and you’re looking to have a lot of control,” Entz said. “You want to cut your cow smoothly and have a pretty controlled run, which is one of our credit boxes. Control is handling that cow towards the middle of the pen and controlling it with balance. They say you win your cuttings in the middle of the arena as you’re working that cow. But a good run is going to start off with a good cut and a lot of control on the cow.”
READY TO LEARN MORE?
If you want to learn more about cutting horses, visit the National Cutting Horse Association website to find an NCHA event near you. If you think you might be ready to try a cutting horse, Entz says it’s important to find a good coach first.
“You want to find someone with the time and knowledge and willingness to share it,” Entz said. “There are a lot of fine points to cutting, including learning how to get along with a horse and handling a cow with your hand down. Find someone who’s going to help show you the way and match you with a good horse.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Although there are many great bloodlines in the cutting horse industry, one of the most popular sires is Metallic Cat. Owned by Rocking P Ranch, Metallic Cat is a 2005 red roan American Quarter Horse stallion who is only the fourth horse in history to sire earners of more than $40 million dollars. The only horses whose get have earned more include Metallic Cat’s sire, High Brow Cat ($85.4 million), Dual Rey ($47.7 million) and Smart Little Lena ($42.5 million). Other popular cutting horse sires include Woody Be Tuff, owned by Center E Ranch; Reyzin The Cash, owned by Iron Rose Ranch; and Smooth Talking Style, owned by Dual H Horses.