“That Mr. San Peppy, he could cut a cat out of a stove pipe!”
The cutting horse is not a modern invention. Long before there were corrals and headgates, when herders and drovers needed to sort animals for care and sales, there have been horses with an inborn tendency to focus their attention on other animals. In a young horse this might even be expressed as “cow dread.” Such is the morbid fascination with a cow, that any eye movement or ear twitch can produce a violent reaction by the colt. It doesn’t make them easy to ride, but you know they will really pay attention to cows later on. In Spring Roundup, cows and calves are separated to vaccinate and brand and “other operations.” Then at shipping time in the fall the big calves are “stripped off” the cows for shipment to market. This can be done in a chute, but before corrals, it was done in the open, with some riders holding the herd and others holding “the cut” while the cutter sorted all of the animals that were to be worked or sold. The skilled cutting horse still can do the job faster than the chute and with less injury and anxiety to the cows. When a cow is cut out, she will make several attempts to get back to the herd, which are blocked by a horse who can run and stop and turn around and even move sideways quicker than she can. There is no way to “ride” a horse into working a cow, because our own reflexes are too slow. The horse has to do this work on his own, being allowed to make split-second decisions.
It’s pretty exhilarating work riding a cutting horse, whether it be in a contest, or sorting cattle on the ranch. Not just any horse can do this type of work. The ones who can, mostly come from specific family lines, mostly from the Quarter Horse breed. However there have been other breeds that have done their share such as the Varian Arabians who are known to cut cattle well. We find that the Iberian breeds such as Andalusian(PRE) , and Lusitano have a lot of “cow sense” also. They have some common ancestry with quarter horses and many of them fight bulls (brave bulls or Toros Bravos) in the arena in a sport known as the Rejoneo. Horses who cut must have quickness, agility and early speed. They also need to develop “nerves of steel” to work in close to cattle, sometimes in contact almost like rugby or football. The rider must be ready for stopping, starting and jumping sideways repeatedly. If you are up to it, you’ll find yourself giggling at the strange sensation of a horse working on it’s own. If you’re not deep in the saddle and ready to adapt to quick changes in a millisecond, you may end up eating the horse’s mane!