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    Large and in Charge | Fall 2013 Out Here Magazine

    Well-trained cutting horses need no help from their rider to get the job done

    By Colleen Creamer

    Photography by Randy Ziegler

    Watch a cutting horse remove a cow from the herd and you'll be amazed at the animal's problem-solving ability.

     

    Cutting Horse - Tractor Supply Co.

    A good cutting horse needs no signals from its rider, says Kory Pounds. "This is the only discipline where they are in charge."

    Once the horse locks in on a cow, the rider just sits back and lets years of training take over, as the horse stops, then weaves laterally in anticipation of the cow's next move. It's not something people expect of horses, and it is something to behold.

    A horse that is "really working a cow" will halt and turn more quickly than if signaled by the rider, says Kory Pounds, a member of the Cutting Horse Hall of Fame, and one of the country's most renowned cutting-horse trainers.

    "There's no time for signals," Pounds says. "This is the only discipline where they are in charge. Once the cow is separated from the herd, you put your hand down, and you don't touch the reins. That horse has to out-think that cow. Once you feel a horse out-think a cow, you are hooked."

    Pounds is also one of the country's top competitors, earning more than $1 million in National Cutting Horse Association competitions. He lives and trains in Lipan, Texas, just outside of Weatherford, the heart of cutting horse country.

    Weatherford has been coined the "The Cutting Horse Capital of the World" in part because of its proximity to Fort Worth, a city that hosts three major national cutting horse events. Trainers and owners can breed and train on ranches in Weatherford and head to Fort Worth to compete. The city is also the headquarters for the cutting horse association.

    In competition, judges evaluate the performance of horse and rider as if they were working on open range. A herd of roughly 60 cattle is brought into an arena. Horse and rider select a cow to drive out, and the rider is awarded points based on how cleanly the cuts are made, how well the cow is controlled, and how difficult the cow was to handle.

    Kory Pounds, of Texas, has been inducted into the Cutting Horse Hall of Fame, and is one of the country's most renowned cutting-horse trainers.
    "There's a lot of factors; you have a rider, a horse and a cow, and every one of them has their own brain," Pounds says. "But it's no different than any professional sport; there's a lot of pressure because there is a lot of prize money, and there's a lot of adrenalin."

    THE COWBOY WAY

    Pounds learned to ride quarter horses when he was very young on his family ranch in Lubbock. Some 98 percent of cutting horses are quarter horses, a breed known for their power and agility. Cutting horses have had those athletic attributes, and more, bred in over generations.
    "We have our horses bred to where they have a lot of cow sense, and they've got a lot of athletic ability," Pounds says. "You put 18 to 20 months of training on one that's got the breeding, and the cream rises to the top."

    Cowboys began teaching their horses to cut from the herd, mainly for branding, before much of the West had fences, according to Pounds who claims to be "no expert" on the history of the cutting horse, but who nonetheless has a working understanding of it.

    "You can debate the history with anybody, but it all started in the 1800s whenever Texas didn't have a fence; it was just one big pasture," says Pounds. "Every year at the spring roundup, the cattle would have to be sorted by people who owned certain brands, and they used cutting horses to do that."

    Though cutting cattle has moved off the range and into competition arenas for the most part, working cowboys still cut cows for branding, earmarking, or moving livestock to different pasture locations.

    IN TRAINING

    Training is painstakingly methodical. Pounds attributes his training philosophy to his time working with legendary trainers Buster Welch and Gary Bellenfant. Pounds first breaks his horses slowly "under saddle" like most other trainers. Then the real work begins, and it can take nearly two years.

    "The way we start is we put one cow in the pen and we let him correct around a little bit until they figure it out," he says. "You put a little pressure on the cow and let the cow react, and they will react off that cow's movement."

    Training is painstakingly methodical. Pounds attributes his training philosophy to his time working with legendary trainers Buster Welch and Gary Bellenfant. Pounds first breaks his horses slowly "under saddle" like most other trainers. Then the real work begins, and it can take nearly two years.

    So, what does Pounds look for in a horse as far as temperament? The top cutting horses he has trained were initially "very interested'" in cows such as his two top earners, Playin' N Fancy Smart and Cats Quixote Jack.

    "When a cow does something, they naturally reacted to it," he says.

    Still, there are no shortcuts to training cutting horses.

    "It's about a two-year process of just everyday repetitiveness and working cattle. It's no different than when an athlete trains," Pounds maintains. "You train the physical and the mental."

    MAKING THE INVESTMENT

    For the average pleasure rider, Pounds says, a cutting horse can be a good choice, having been so extensively handled, but that can come at a price. For competition-ready horses, the cost can be "anywhere from $25,000 on up."

    Kory Pounds - Tractor Supply Co.

    Kory Pounds, of Texas, has been inducted into the Cutting Horse Hall of Fame, and is one of the country's most renowned cutting-horse trainers.

    "You can go and buy a beginner horse to learn how to cut, and be competitive at the small weekend level for probably $15,000 or even a practice horse to learn on for $10,000 or under," Pounds says.

    What he looks for in a cutting horse is what he calls "a good set of withers," the high point on a horse's back, not too high nor too rounded. He also looks for legs that are proportionate, as the sport has the animal reacting so fast that injuries can occur.

    What is required of the rider training a cutting horse is not just patience, according to Pounds, but a commodity hard to come by in the 21st century.

    "It takes lot of time," he says. "It takes a whole lot of time."

    Writer Colleen Creamer grew up around cutting horses and showed extensively on the Florida circuit.