Choosing a Cutting Horse

National Cutting Horse Association All-time Leading Sire High Brow Cat

Choosing a Cutting Horse

By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne

“There’s a lot of common overlap between reining horses, cow horses, and cutting horses,” says reining trainer Cheryl Mitchell. “A lot of the bloodlines overlap. Horses going back to Smart Little Lena are found in cutting, reining, and cow horses.”

Jerry B. Black, DVM, concurs, saying: “Cutting and reining horses are often closely bred down single genetic lines to capitalize upon their innate ability to ‘read a cow’ and to perform specific athletic maneuvers such as a hard, deep stop.”

Smart Little Lena cutting horse sire

With life time earnings of $743,275, the #2 All Time Leading Cutting Sire and one of only three horses ever to win the National Cutting Horse Association Triple Crown, Smart Little Lena is found in the pedigrees of many successful cutting, reining, and working cow performance horses. Photo courtesy of Frank Holmes.

While Mitchell agrees that cutting horses share many similar characteristics with reining horses, namely athleticism, good temperament, and trainability, she points out that “cowiness” (the horse’s degree of cow sense) is a top priority in a cutting horse, who is expected to “hook up to the cow.”

The AQHA Handbook explains the importance of the horse “maintaining control of the cow at all times” and “exhibiting superior cow sense,” going on to describe how a good cutting or working cow horse should demonstrate good manners, a willingness to respond softly to a light rein, and the ability to shift direction suddenly but smoothly, keeping its feet under it at all times.

A cutting horse with these qualities will take the initiative to stay with the cow on his own, while remaining attentive to his rider.

Main article photo: The only horse thus far to surpass Smart Little Lena (who happens to be High Brow Cat’s maternal grandsire) as the all-time leading sire of National Cutting Horse Association money earners is High Brow Cat, whose offspring have earned over $49 million. T. Jett; Courtesy of Frank Holmes.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal. 

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