The first challenge of cutting is to select a calf from the herd. Both horse and rider must concentrate on moving into the cattle and separating one animal from the herd without causing an uproar. Once this is done, you gently guide the calf to the center of the arena and prepare to hang on tight, because the challenge is putting on a great performance.
When the calf is isolated in the middle of the arena, the rider will loosen his rein to give the horse freedom to show off their skill and cow sense. The horse must control the calf by speed, agility, balance, and motion. By doing this, the horse matches the calf move-for-move to prevent the calf from returning to the herd. The horse and rider work as a team, it has the same concept as “keep away.” The contest time limit allows two to three calves to be cut, but the time spent with each calf is up to the rider’s discretion.
Part of the performance is judged by the activity of the calf, therefore, the calf isn’t singled out by random. After the rider has indicated a particular calf to the horse, neither horse nor rider may change calves without penalty. A three point penalty will be assessed if the horse quits, or the calf is stopped and turned away from the horse. If the calf is lost under any circumstance, a five point penalty is assessed. Many good performances end with a low score because the calf escaped out of the horse’s control.
The contestants in national events are scored by a five judge panel. Smaller events require fewer judges. Each judge submits a score ranging between 60 and 80. A 70 score is usually average at the end of the contest.
The performance is evaluated on several key points:
1 The challenges made by the calves cut
2 The horses instinctive reactions
3 Errors in judgment made by horse or rider during the competition
Source: NCHA website www.nchacutting.com