“Cutting Horse Herdwork Best Practices:Part II, Setting-Up, and Cutting a Specific Cow”

This is Part II of a two part article about cutting horse herdwork best practices.

In Part I, I talked about how you can help yourself make a clean, pretty, flowing cut when you cut a cow that’s near the end of … and on the outside of cattle as they roll around you.

When the cow you cut is chosen randomly, it’s called “shape”. When you arrange for a pre-determined cow to be in a good spot to make a credit earning cut in the middle of the arena, there’s no special name for it. You are simply cutting a specific cow.

In this article, Part II, I am going to share some tips with you about how to make cutting a specific cow work for you.

Tip #1.) Prior to approaching the herd, whether it is your first, second, or third cut … make sure you locate the cow, or cattle you want to cut BEFORE you enter the body of the herd.

While this sounds pretty basic, it’s easy to feel rushed, and begin moving randomly if you are not disciplined about stopping, locating your cow, and then moving. Of course, you can’t wait too long, and if you must move, stay cool. Usually between your own searching, and the help of your herd holders, you will find your cow. If you can’t, just switch to cutting shape.

Tip #2.) As you feel confident about where your cow is located, you and your helpers can now approach the cow with definitive, confident moves to either move it to the outside of the flow … or … drive it confidently up, and through the rest of the of cattle.

This is where you take bold action, and earn credit.

Tip #3.) Once you begin driving your cow into a good position to make a clean cut, two things are necessary. The first is to drive with authority to control the cow. The second is to make a critical decision during your drive. Notice if the cow is still a good choice depending on how it is acting. As you advance in your skills, you will be able to “opt-off” to another choice if your cow begins to move quickly, or won’t drive, etc.

I have inserted three short video clips of examples of approaching, arranging, driving, and controlling a specific cow for a cut. The longest is about 30 seconds.

For each clip, read my perceptions of the cut, first. Then, after you read my comments, watch the clip. I invite you to watch the video a number of times to see the details I describe. This is easy to do because each clip is so short.


This first video is a classic, approach to cutting a specific cow from the herd. The rider is me. I located the cow (the gold lined back) to the right, drove it to the outside of the flow, and stepped into her for the cut.


The next clip is another example of driving a cow toward the outside of the flow. You will need to watch this one a couple of times. Watch the black mott with the largest bridge nose. The clip is in slow motion when the rider actually makes the cut, so you can see the movement of cattle away from the center of the arena, and where she positions her horse on the cow she cuts.

This cutter does a nice job (in fast moving traffic), allowing the main flow of the herd to go around her as she stays in front of, and moves up toward her black mott. The way she positions her horse and moves is key to putting her cow on the outside.


The last clip is not specifically about putting a cow on the outside of the flow, but shows a cut during which I am driving, and moving, and responding to a changing situation.

My target is a gray lineback cow.

Three to four seconds into the clip, you can see the gray cow. She is the gray one closest to me. She moves up, and to the very point of the herd, quickly. I had to alter my route to accomodate her changed position. (This happens on most cuts, and your ability to be responsive, and take the best route to get your cow so you can take charge of her is key.)

My walk to the top of the herd (initially, along side of the herd) is designed to take the least number possible of cattle with me when my cow moved to the point of the herd. An aggressive drive always has the potential to earn credit to your score.

The gray cow ends up second from the end. (She is not the last gray on the outside.)

I moved up into her hip, initially so she separated from the other gray cow. After the other gray cow left, I stopped my cow by moving into her neck.

Then, I momentarily turned at her hip as she turned. This “opened the door” so she could come back to the middle of the arena. Once she moved back to my right, I could stop her again for a cut in the middle of the arena.


Here’s a great way to practice cutting specific cattle at home. If you have access to used cattle at home, try the following exercise. If you have a practice, or turnback horse to do this repeatedly, it’s even better!

Pick a certain cow prior to entering the herd, and make it your goal to put that cow on the outside of the flow. If you can make that happen, great!

If your cow moves into the body of the herd, practice driving her up through the other cattle. Be aggressive, and move forward. One tip for making that happen is to move into her shoulder/neck area before she rounds the top of the arc of the flow. Catch her before she rounds the bend! Be aware to move with your cow so you might simultaneously allow “traffic” to leave if you can.

Cutting specific cattle … moving around in the herd … seeing the situation develop … and responding well … all these things are FUN as you develop your skills on your cutting horse.

Enjoy becoming more and more aware of what’s happening in the herd, and increasing your ability to be responsive to an ever changing situation. It’s one of the cool things that separates cutting from other sports.

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