Top Five Myths about Cutting Horses

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Photo: Flickr/Tomas Caspers

By Larry Trocha

During my career as a professional horse trainer, I’ve heard horse owners give all kinds of reasons why they think their horse could be a winner in the cutting arena. Unfortunately, when it comes to cow horses, a lot of folks are misinformed as to what is fact and what is fiction.

Of course, any time you’re talking about horses, there are always exceptions to the rule. But, for the most part, here are a few of the most common myths about cutting horses.

Myth #1: My colt should make a great cutter...Whenever our dog (or goat, other horse, person, etc.) goes into the pasture the colt chases him around and works him, just like cutting a cow.

I wouldn’t enter the colt up at the Fort Worth futurity just yet. Here’s the usually disappointing truth...A dog isn’t a cow. The colt is doing this without a rider on his back. And, most importantly, the colt is doing this without any rules he has to adhere to, such as form and style of working.

In reality, there are a lot of colts that like to have fun chasing something around. It’s play, pure and simple. It’s another thing entirely for a colt to become a cutter.

First of all, the newness of working the cow will wear off and the training will eventually become work. When the colt finds out he has to work the cow with precision, form, and style, he might not want to do it.

That’s why it’s so important your cutting prospect is bred to be a cutter. If the sire and dam have the attributes to be successful in the cutting arena, the colt has a lot better chance of being a successful cutter also.

Myth #2: My colt should make a great cutter...I rode him out to gather some cattle for the first time and he was really good. He wasn’t bothered or scared by the cattle and acted like it was nothing new at all.

Like I said earlier, there are always exceptions to the rule, but when a colt doesn’t show much of a reaction to a cow it usually means he’s not going to be a good cutter. Every top cutting horse I’ve ever trained either was fearful of the cow and wanted to keep a safe distance from it, or was aggressive towards the cow and wanted to dominate it.

The 1990 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) futurity champion, Millie Montana, was the dominant kind. The very first time I worked her on a cow she wanted to take charge. Her head went down, her ears went back, and everything about her body language told the cow that she was the boss.

The great NCHA world champion mare, Doc N Missy, was the exact opposite. I’ll never forget her reaction the first time I introduced her to a cow. She was so scared she literally tried to jump out of the arena. The cow would be 150 feet away down at the other end of the arena, but that was too close for comfort for her. It actually took a couple of months before she got confident enough to move the cow.

Myth #3: My colt should make a great cutter…He is 99 percent foundation bred. His bloodlines trace back to Wimpy P1 five times on the top side and three times on the bottom. Those old foundation horses were real cow ponies.

The fact is, many of the old-time foundation Quarter Horses were NOT good cutting horses. Most were either common every-day ranch horses or competition race horses.

Now, if you own a foundation bred horse, don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way. Our topic here is modern-day “competition” cutting.

Yes, I’ve ridden plenty of foundation bred horses that would definitely work a cow. (King, Leo, and Three Bars were the most dominant cutting horse bloodlines, and there were a few others too.) But the vast majority of those old foundation horses weren’t worth two cents when it came to working cattle or producing cutting horses.

If you go to any of the top cutting trainers and ask them to describe what it’s like to try to get one of these old-time foundation bred horses to cut, here are the answers you’ll get nine out of ten times:

  1. Most don’t have enough cow or intensity to make it in modern-day cutting competition.
  2. Most are difficult to train for today’s type of cutting. For example, they either learn too slowly to be ready for the futurity or they want to argue too much.
  3. If you manage to overcome #1 and #2, it’s still tough to win because many don’t have the athletic ability and style of modern-day cutting horses.

If you want your colt to be a good cutter, make sure he comes from bloodlines that produce good cutters. There are horses that are exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between.

Myth #4: My colt should make a great cutter...I’m going to put him in training with a hotshot trainer for six months and have him shown at the cutting futurity.

Actually, this is a misconception a lot of people have about training a cutting horse. It takes a long time to get a horse to the point of being “showable” at a contest.

Preparing a colt for a futurity takes a minimum of 18 months of training. If the colt is an exceptionally fast learner, you might get lucky and have him ready in just one year. This means to have a colt ready to compete in the fall futurities as a three-year-old, he needs to be started on cattle in the early spring of his two-year-old year. Owners are afraid of starting their colts that young, fearing injury to the colt from starting him too early.

A good trainer never works a young colt very hard. The idea is to give the colt a solid foundation built slowly so there is no stress. When this is done right, seldom will a colt get hurt.

Myth #5: A new owner usually thinks: “I’m going to buy my first cutting horse and take him to a show next weekend. I should do pretty well. After all, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. The rider doesn’t have to do anything but hang on.”

I sure wish it was that simple. It would make my job as trainer and coach much easier. It’s true, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. However, the rider has a big influence on how well the horse works. An inexperienced rider can cause even the best cutting horse to make mistakes such as rounding the turns, missing the stop, and being out of sync with the cow. Most new cutters don’t realize they could ruin their horse if they don’t learn to ride correctly in a relatively short period of time. The best plan is to find a knowledgeable coach that will help you learn to ride your cutter the right way.

Related: Cutting: A Sport of Precision and Strategy

With over 30 years of experience working with cutting, reining, and working cow horses, Larry Trocha has trained winning horses in all three events, including association, circuit, and limited-age event champions, and he offers expert training for horses of all levels – from green colts to finished horses – out of the Sliding J Ranch in Acampo, California. He has also produced an entire set of training DVDs. For more training tips and information about his DVDs, visit Larry’s website at

Main Photo: Flickr/Tomas Caspers


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