In this multiple part video analysis series, I will dig deep into key fundamentals you can immediately apply to your cutting runs. I will breakdown these critical elements:
- Herdwork Planning (Part 1)
- Walk to the herd
- Walk through the herd to set up a clean cut mid-arena
- Proactive cuts
- Key points for working the cow for each cow
- Between cattle strategizing to build a run
To do this I’m using a Youtube video posted by Cutting Horse Central during which Austin Shepard coaches his son, Cade. Austin has a go-pro camera mounted on his hat. While the quality of video is not ideal, there are priceless, classic coaching points made by Austin.
This video depicts “real life” in the cutting pen as experienced by the cutter being coached.
In this multiple part series, I will identify key take always for you to use in your runs during very specific … very individual … segments of a show run.
Video time window, :38 – 2:00
Herdwork Plan Review
Austin reviews the fundamentals of a classic herdwork plan. This includes a discussion of specific cattle to cut, as well as reminders to cut clean and in the center of the pen.
1. Austin discusses five cattle. As you watch Cade’s cuts during his run keep these cattle in mind:
- White cow: My guess is that there was only one white cow in the herd because this is the only description of this cow. There was no need to distinguish it further. This is a typical practice when watching cattle. If one cow is the only cow of that color, the identification of it is quick and easy. Why talk about its ears and hair coat when there is no need to do so? At the same time, there may be another subset of cattle in which they all look like clones! The cattle in that subset look so much alike that a book is written about each one (ha!) to distinguish one from the other. I think that is the case with the “baldies” in this herd as you will see next.
- “Left ear” black baldy: I’m not sure what that means, but there was probably something about the left ear of this particular black baldy that distinguished it from the other black baldies in the herd. The phrase “left ear” was likely decided upon as Austin, Cade and helpers watched the cattle being settled earlier. Perhaps the left ear was bent, cropped (cut off), white tipped … I’m not sure. This is a great example that unique cattle descriptions need only be understood by the cutter and the helpers. Unusual, one-time adjectives usually happen when there are many cattle that look almost identical. Additionally, a “baldy” means the cow has a predominantly white face (no varied splotches of color throughout the face). The baldy might have “rings” or “tear drops”on the eyes, but that’s it.
- “Bonnet-headed” black baldy with the two rings and the “socks”: “Bonnet-headed” typically means color that extends like a “cap” from behind the ears of the head of the cow to in front of the ears. It’s as if you had a small cap of color and slid a “bonnet” over the ears of the cow. The color of the bonnet is usually the color of the cow’s body as contrasted to the white face of the “baldy”. “Socks” refers to white color of varying lengths extending from the hoof and up the leg.
- Big, “clean-faced brown” baldy: Perhaps in this group of Cade’s cattle, most of the other “black baldies” had a truly black hair coat. I’m guessing there were a few “brown baldies” mixed in. This means that the body of the cow was more of a brown color instead of a true black color. Hair coat descriptions are a great way to distinguish cattle. The “brown” could be the actual color of the pigment of the hair, or the brown could be from “dead, fuzzy or curly” hair from a winter coat, etc. Perhaps in this case, there were a number of brown baldies, but the one they were after was tall (i.e. big,); it had a clean face (maybe as contrasted with another brown baldy in the herd with dirt on its face).
- Little slick gray cow: This description sounds like there were several gray cattle in this bunch, but the one being described was small and had a slick hair coat. That was all that was needed to distinguish this cow from the other gray cattle in the herd.
2. Austin reminds Cade and the other herd-holder that the goal is to cut clean and in the middle of the pen:
- Austin reminds Cade to cut a cow in a “good spot”. A good spot typically means a cow on the outer edge of the arc of the flow of cattle … and at the end of the flow. The reason this is important is that the cattle at the end of, and on the outside of the flow, tend to naturally walk up to the center of the arena. They stay out and away from the horse. This allows a cutter to make a gorgeous cut in rhythm with how cattle naturally move. The cow/cattle at the end are usually undisturbed by the cattle at the beginning of the arc who move back to the herd in the opposite direction. For example, in the case of cattle moving in front of the cutter from left to right, the “end of the flow” would be the cattle on the right and on the outside. Training yourself to watch cattle on the outside of the arc and at end of the flow is counterintuitive. It feels “safer” to look at cattle right underneath you. Training your eyes to watch the flow of cattle correctly is one of the most important fundamentals of good herdwork.
- Austin mentions to the herd holder that the goal is to “cut smooth”. Because a run that’s going well can be sabotaged in a moment by one bad, running cut, riders and helpers alike remind themselves just prior to every run that nothing is more important than cutting in the center of the pen.
1. Have a herdwork plan. It is essential.
- Make decisions about your herdwork in regard to cattle prior to your run. Have a plan. Will you cut shape, specific cattle, or both?
- Learning how to “cut for shape” is a fundamental skill that you will use forever because cutting a specific cow doesn’t always work out. If you are just beginning to cut, know that honing your ability to cut for shape will serve you well … indefinitely. As you progress, develop your ability to weave together cutting for shape with cutting specific cattle as opportunities present themselves.
2. Make cutting smoothly priority number one.
- Train your mind to make it a priority to cut clean, up and away from the herd, and in the center of the pen. Simply remind yourself … repeatedly before and during your run.
- Train your eyes to see how situations unfold moment to moment.
- This is something you will forever remind yourself to do. Note that Austin Shepard reminds Cade and the other herd holder to do this. It’s not that they don’t know to do it. For seasoned professional and inexperienced cutters alike, it’s easy to be reactive in the herd and make poor decisions, like moving with a cow in a bad spot.
In Part 2 of this multiple part series, I will talk about the importance of how you walk to the herd. There is more to this than meets the eye! I will also dig into key fundamentals as you move in the herd to ensure that you make a cut in the middle of the arena.