In a time when space was vast and fences were few, horses that could assist their riders with the cattleman's duty became the pride of the cowboy and soon, their competitive nature came to the fore.
In 1898 the first known cutting horse contest was held at the Cowboy Reunion in Haskell, Texas. Today, in twenty two nationals worldwide some forty two million dollars is paid-out annually as prize money, the majority in Australia and the United States of America. Stallions are valued in the millions, while the breeding and selling of cutting horses is a multi-million dollar industry within itself. In Australia, nearly $2,000,000 worth of prize money is paid-out across some one hundred and seventy NCHA affiliated shows every year. More than $700,000 is paid-out at the NCHA Futurity alone each June, the richest indoor performance horse event in the southern hemisphere.
Cutting horses are treated as athletes, while their riders as professional sports people. Top cutters train on a daily basis, working their horses at incredible facilities while caring for them with the utmost respect and confidence. When so much time and money is invested into an animal's breeding, nurturing and training program, the importance of horse care and serious nature of competition is at an all time high, making cutting the most prestigious equine discipline world-over.
In a cutting contest, horse and rider have two and a half minutes to work two or three beasts and keep them from returning to the herd. The herd, a body of cattle situated at the working end of the arena, is entered by the contestant and one beast is in-turn separated and moved to the front of the herd at the contestants discretion. Once split from the other cattle the selected beast is worked by the horse, it's rider setting his or her hand on the horse's neck and only using his or her feet to assist the horse in it's job; this is where more than two years of training comes into the equation.
The contest is judged by one, two or three adjudicators, each responsible for offering a score between sixty and eighty based on the rider's cuts, the horses ability to control a cow and the overall attractiveness or eye appeal of the run. Penalties of one, here and five points can be subtracted from a run, while the cleanest, most confident, aggressive and difficult runs are awarded credit. Every horse is different and every rider trains and shows for a different style, yet all horses enter the herd on an average score of seventy. Highly trained Australian and international judges use their knowledge and experience to place competitors within an ever-evolving judging system. The score means everything and every final is a clean slate - two and a half minutes for $75,000 in the NCHA Open Futurity final.