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Cutting is an equestrian event in the western riding style where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.


The horses involved are typically Quarter horses, although many other stock horse breeds may be used. A cutting horse is an athletic and willing animal that is trained to instinctively keep a cow from returning to the herd.

In the event, the horse and rider select and separate a cow (typically a steer or heifer) out of a small group. The cow then tries to return to its herd; the rider loosens the reins ("puts his hand down" in the parlance) and leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the cow separated, a job the best horses do with relish, savvy, and style. A contestant has 2 ½ minutes to show the horse; typically three cows are cut during a run, although working only two cows is acceptable. A judge awards points to the cutter based on a scale that ranges from 60 to 80, with 70 being considered average.


The sport originated from cattle ranches in the American West, where it was the cutting horse's job to separate cattle from the herd for vaccinating, castrating, and sorting. Eventually competitions arose between the best cutting horses and riders in the area. Rules were added, and in 1946 the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) was formed, which today is the governing body of the sport.

Cutting is one of the fastest growing equine sports in the world. In 2006, the contestants at the United States NCHA Futurity competed for more than $3.7 million—over a hundred times the offering of the first year. Total purses at NCHA-approved shows now exceed $39 million annually, not including prize money distributed at Australian Cutting Horse Association, American Cutting Horse Association, single-breed shows, or European and Canadian events.

In Australia

In 1972 the NCHA was formed in Australia and is an affiliate of the American National Cutting Horse Association. The showcase of Australian cutting is the NCHA Futurity which is held every May or June at the Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centremarker (AELEC), Tamworth, New South Walesmarker. During the 36th cutting futurity held in 2009 AUD$540,000 in prize money was distributed during the 11 days of competition.

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