Connie Down-Cicoria, a non-pro exhibitor, clearly remembers her first experience on a cutting horse, 15 years ago. The first time I rode a cutting horse I couldn t wipe the smile off my face for three days! Connie laughs. I loved it, and it soon became addicting.
The sport of cutting originated in North America when cattlemen needed to separate an individual cow from the rest of the herd. This was especially challenging as most of the prairie wasn t fenced, and early cattle were half wild. It took an athletic horse with the ability to stop and start quickly, and natural herding instincts to handle this job. These early cow horses were bred to others with similar traits, developing a specific line of equines with herding abilities similar to those seen in border collies. Eventually competitions arose between the best of these early cutting horses, with the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) being formed in 1946. Almost all of cutting horses are American Quarter Horses.
Connie Down-Cicoria will be competing at this year s Canadian Supreme on a five-year-old bay AQHA mare named Rey Lena Rey. The mare was only a yearling when Connie purchased her in Texas, and quickly went on to prove herself as a worthwhile investment, earning $30,000 in cutting competitions. She s very quick, Connie says. And she has lots of eye appeal. She won the Supreme in 2009, and has a lot of good years ahead of her. In the future I d like to do some embryo transfers with the mare so we could keep competing while producing some foals.
Connie owns a number of cutting horses including a stallion, and raises many of her own mounts, which she finds particularly gratifying. Cutting is really about teamwork, she explains. The horse and rider have to work together. And when you consider that the rider can only cue with their legs, you really have to appreciate the horse s natural talent.
Bill Speight, a professional cutting horse trainer, has been involved with cutting since 1977. I was running a construction business with my brother, but got involved in the sport after watching a cutting show at Fort Worth, Texas, he explains. There was a really talented horse competing, and I said I d like to have a horse just like that one. Someone overheard me and pointed me towards that horse s full sister. I ended up buying the mare and we had some big wins. Before long I got out of the construction business, and into training.
Bill explains that cutting is unique among cattle sports as the horse does much of his job by natural instinct. The horse and rider work in a small group of cattle, with the rider selecting a specific cow and guiding it away from the herd. At this point the rider puts his hand down, and the horse must then outsmart the cow without the rider using his reins! Bill says. A contestant has two and a half minutes to show the horse, working two to three cows.
Bill will be competing on two horses at the Supreme this year. I ll be riding a five-yearold bay AQHA mare named Pistol Smart Holly, Bill says. This mare won the four-yearold Derby at the Supreme last year with me in the saddle, and then was Reserve Non-pro with my wife, Elaine, riding. Bill describes the mare as brilliant a good mover in front of a cow. Mares might be somewhat rarer than geldings in cutting, Bill explains. But a good horse is a good horse, no matter what its gender. In fact, I used to really enjoy riding the studs, but now I find they re a bit more work.
Canadian Supreme committee member Dave Robson says they re expecting 230 cutting entries competing for a total of $250,000 this year. The majority of contestants come from western Canada and northwestern U.S. The Supreme has the largest total payout for cutting in Alberta, Dave says. Especially when you consider the Supreme nominated classes that pay an extra $77,000. Dave has a deep understanding of cutting horses having competed in the sport since the 1970s. I think Ian Tyson got it right when he said, Cutting is a disease for which there is no cure. Dave adds. You might retire from it, but you ll never lose interest in the discipline. .