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Cutting Tips from Paul Palmowski

Starting the young Cutting horses

Training cutting horses is a very rewarding experience and offers many new challenges along the way. Cutting is a unique sport where the horse needs to have an understanding of a cow in the way it moves at all speeds and different distances in relation to the horse. The horse needs to rate the cow, stop when the cow stops and turn when the cow turns. When teaching the horse to perform these maneuvers it is important to understand that Cutting does not come naturally to the horse. Yes Cutting horses have certain attributes to help them in this discipline such as strong hindquarters, a trainable mind and cow sense. In saying this, these attributes do not mean that these horses will become cutters overnight, they need to be trained.

It is important to remember that horses like humans are all different and through the training process require more attention on their weaknesses and encouragement of their strengths. For example, horses that are physically less mature may benefit from not being asked a lot of, early in their training. Horses that are not able to stop very well may benefit from being held up into a cow more, so as to not make the turnaround too difficult. Horses that are physically and mentally strong will learn and progress smoother and quicker. Assessing your horse strengths and weaknesses will help you help your horse. Your horses breeding is also important. Horses with proven performance on both sides of their pedigree have a much greater chance of becoming cutters.

The first step is to get the horse broken and collected. Before I start my young horse on a cow I like to be able to walk, trot and canter circles in both directions and all speeds. When doing this I use my feet (spurs) to control direction, collection and speed. Using your feet to control your horse as much as possible throughout the training process enables you to have greater control when the time comes to put your hand down. The most important part of training cutting horses is the stop. Performing the stop effectively positions the horse on its hindquarters. This is where all of the horse’s strength comes from and we need to be able to control this area as much as possible. Horses need to stop on command with no fuss or delay so that when the cow stops we can stop the horse and teach the horse that when the cow stops we stop. If we ask our horse to stop and the horse takes two extra steps or throws it head and takes the rains away, we can’t expect it to be in time with the cow when it stops.

The turnaround is one of the most confusing maneuvers for most riders and most problems come from not executing the stop correctly. The horse needs to be stopped so that its weight is on its hindquarters enabling its front end to come over the hindquarters efficiently. Importance must be placed on separating the stop and the turnaround into separate maneuvers so the there is no confusion conveyed to the horse. Also the slower the turnaround is when the horse is learning the easier the horse can read the cow and place its feet where they need to be. Starting the turn around too quickly can lead to many problems like the horse slinging its front end through the turn and rearing. Furthermore if the horse turns faster than the cow hence beating the cow through the turn, can make the cow turn back the other way unpredictably causing a lost cow or a miss.

When the time comes to work a cow I try to place more emphasis on performing the stop and turnaround slow and correct. As the horse becomes more confident the routine of rating the cow, stopping with the cow and turning when the cow turns the horse will be able to keep up with what the cow is doing. If the cow is moving and turning quickly I will still only do what my horse is capable of doing, so I will always make sure I stop my horse and if my horse is not quite ready to turn I will wait and still make sure that my horse goes through the correct procedures. Because horses are flight animals, speed and reaction comes to the horse naturally. Therefore importance must be placed on consistency in every way. The more consistent you can be in applying queues and carrying out maneuvers in time with the cow, the more the horse will draw confidence form you.

For the most part, the majority of the training is a continuation of the basics. As your horse progresses you will be able to get to the stop quicker, turn a little quicker and use your feet to control the speed and direction of your horse. As time goes on, you should be able to pass on some responsibility to the horse. For example, try putting your hand down when just rating the cow. Your horse may still need your help but if you don’t give you horse a chance to take some responsibility then it can’t learn how to deal with it or relate it to a cow. Your horse may make mistakes but it's how you deal with those mistakes that counts. Try not to punish your horse when you start handing over responsibility. If it feels like they are going to make a mistake try to guide them out of it and reinforce how you would like them to do it. Try to distinguish between honest and dishonest mistakes.

Horse training can be very frustrating. Most of the time when I am having trouble with something it's because I am trying to get my horse to progress too fast or haven’t mastered my basics of getting my horse broke. I try to constantly remind myself to keep working on my communication with my horse. Even old show horses can be better broke. Try to keep an open mind and try to think about how the horse might perceive and react to what you might be trying to tell it. If you are in a bind, talk to a trainer that you trust and like the way their horses go. Ask him or her to help you with your horse. The main thing I try to do is keep evolving as a horse trainer. The second that you think that you know it all, it will fall apart on you. So keep learning about training.

Cutting Tips from Casey Tones

The training methods that I use and have outlined below are a culmination of techniques I have acquired in my six years of working for Darren Simpkins and alongside other successful trainers in the USA.

My goal as a trainer is to equip horses with skills that will enable them to perform well and with confidence.

When starting 2 year olds, I like to ride them in the paddock for approximately 6 weeks. I have found this to be beneficial as it allows the horse to be in a relaxed environment where minimal resistance to the training session. It also allows the horse to 'travel out' freely and enjoy the session which enables the learning process to be achieved more quickly.

I believe in teaching my 2 year olds how to move their body, before introducing cattle and/or a mechanical cow. The important mechanics of a 'turn around', 'stopping' and being 'soft' are vital manoeuvres that need to be mastered. Once these basic manoeuvers have been consolidated, the horse is more prepared for the next stage of its training, being started on a cow.

When training, I use my feet to help steer and guide the horse. This allows me to ride the horse into the appropriate position on a cow which makes its 'stops' harder and the way they work, more correct. By keeping the 2 year olds training slow and correct, it allows them to stay relaxed whilst building their confidence.

I use a 110 foot square pen with the corners in. This gives the horse straight lines to travel and provides plenty of stops and turns. I personally prefer a square pen to a round pen as it prevents the cow from just travelling around in circles and giving only a few 'stops' and 'turns'.

As my 2 year olds become 3 year olds, I believe it is important to continue to build a horses' confidence, keep their training 'cow-related' and keep to your 'pattern' (the particular way you prefer them to work). I work my 3 year olds using 'turn back help' and often with one cow in the pen at a time. This allows me to always keep my horse in a positive position.

I prefer to work cows that are going to 'travel out' across the pen. This helps my horse to become comfortable with travelling at a reasonable pace, even if it is from fence to fence. This technique is more beneficial than having the horse shaking and jumping around in the middle of the pen. I believe that a horse's 'ends' are one of the most important parts of them being solid. If their 'ends' are not solid and comfortable in those 'ends', then your horse may not 'come back' (turn around with a cow).

I train my horses so that they perform and achieve to the best of their ability. I feel you shouldn't have to 'step horses up' for upcoming shows; instead I focus on a 'good learning works' where I can strengthen my horse's weak points and build their confidence. I believe if you continue to train your horse the way you have the entire time, when you get the opportunity to work a little faster, and/or more trying cows, your horse is capable, because its confident and has the ability to step up to the task.

As part of my training, I like to take my futurity horses to different arenas and pre-works to expose them to more 'show-like' conditions. By exposing my futurity horses to a variety of situations and settings during their training, they are ready for any show, in particular the biggest of their career, the NCHA futurity.

I hope you find some of my advice and techniques useful and helpful when training you own horses. If anyone has any questions on my training methods or needs help with your horse don't hesitate to call me on 0428971044 or e-mail

Good luck and hope to see you at the next show.

Casey Tones "Woodside" Cutting Horses.

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