Like most ranch horse classes, ranch cutting has its roots in the regular cutting but is a cross between that and solo penning, writes Philip Holliday.
Ranch Horse cutting is unlike regular cutting in that the cattle are individually numbered and the rider gets his cow by picking a number out of the judge’s hat. Time will begin when the competitor crosses a line just prior to entering the herd. The competitor must then quietly separate the allocated cow from the herd and keep it there, the turnbacks doing their work in the same way as in a regular cutting contest.
You’ve got three minutes and, as it’s a judged rather than timed class, it’s up to you how you make best use of the time. A whistle will be blown at the 90 second point to let you know how things are progressing and most people would say that if you haven’t shown your horse’s cutting skills by then, it’s best to forget that and start working on penning the cow. If you exceed the three minute time limit without penning, it’s a heavy penalty. So work your cow against the two turnbacks until you feel your boy has done his best and then tell the turnbacks you have done cutting and take the cow away up the arena, making sure it passes between a marker cone and the pen, and pen it. Just like that!
Where ranch cutting departs in a significant way from the regular cutting class is that you will not be penalised for reining your horse while working the cow. As you might expect, given the overall ranch horse ethos, your horse is being judged for its natural cattle working ability – in the real world, you get the job done whether you need to rein your horse or not. That said, if your horse can do it all on his own without need of cues from his rider, he’ll score higher than one that does need a bit of guidance. The moral being that if your cow horse isn’t quite finished for cutting work, he can still do well in a ranch cutting class where a lot of the quality decisions (such as which cow to pick to start with) are made for you.