From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 40 - 6/1/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Horse vs. Steer: An unidentified competitor at last weekend's cutting in Marlbeton.
Cutting Comes to Sublette County

by Linda James

"You have got to have desire. It is a team effort, the horse and rider as a team," said Will Speight, a cutting horse trainer from Canada, who was attending the Fold-A-Feeder Classic Cutting Competition held last weekend at the new Sublette County Ag Center in Marbleton. "It is not a 'Catch-22' where the rider does all the work or the horse does all the work," Mr. Speight added. "If the horse is not performing well, half the team is gone."

Mr. Speight is one of several dozen competitors from all over the Western United States who came to compete and show off the skills of their horses at the three day event - Sublette County's first cutting competition in several years.

"Cutting" Explained

In a cutting event, a single horse and rider approach a small group of steers at one end of the arena. The horse and rider move into the group of cattle, and "cut" one of the steers from the rest of the herd. Naturally, the singled-out steer wants to return to the group. This is where the skill of horse and rider are tested.

The horse and rider position themselves between the singled-out steer and the group of steers, and work together to prevent the steer from rejoining the group. The steer does all it can to get by the horse and rider. It jousts quickly to the right, then to the left and back again. The horse and rider work to block the steer's every move, mirroring and anticipating the steer's jabs back and forth until the steer stops trying.

Local cutting legend Steve James of Daniel (left) was the top money winner in the Open Class of last weekend's competition.
To someone who appreciates horses, this is an incredible sight to see. Before entering the arena, the cutting horses are warmed up for several minutes by their riders. They enter the arena with loose muscles, and in a heavy sweat, ready to work.

These horses are true athletes, and once the real "cutting" begins, the rider's job is mostly to hold on. In fact, the rider is docked points if he or she uses the reins or too much direction to move the horse.

As it blocks the steer's movements, the cutting horse squats low to the ground, and pivots powerfully on its haunches, blocking the steer's every move. The action is fast and impressive.

Desire is a big part of a successful cutting horse. The horse has to "want" to keep the steer from returning to the group. If the horse does not have the "heart" and "willpower" for cutting, then the horse is not where it belongs.

Technique and Style

While the basic idea of cutting seems simple, the rules and judging for these events are very complex. In this National Cutting Horse Association show there were 13 different cutting horse classes. These include professional, non-professional, fifty-thousand-dollar rider, two-thousand-dollar rider, and several youth classes. The classes are organized around the age of the rider, money won by the horse in previous shows, and the skill level of the horse.

The goal of each ride is to select, drive and separate different steers from the herd as many times as possible in the 2-1/2 minute time limit. Horse and rider are judged on criteria such as working with the herd of cattle, working with the selected steer, driving the steer away from the herd, and the time used for each steer.

Daniel's Steve James, my uncle, is a legend in the cutting horse world. He says the key to a good ride is reading the steer and anticipating its next action, balance, and being 'in sync' with your horse.

The judge scores the horse and rider in a range from 60 to 80 points; 60 being a poor ride, 70 being an average ride and 80 being a perfect ride. Each step of the ride has parts that must be performed to a certain degree and the judge makes many deductions if certain aspects are performed well.

The Horse is the Star

Unlike other horse sports, such as ropings and equestrian events, the rider is hardly acknowledged in the cutting horse world. For example, when a contestant is entering the arena the announcer only mentions the horse's name. When the results are posted, again, only the horses' names are mentioned. Further, cutting horses enjoy long breeding lines, similar to race horses. Several popular bloodlines are San Peppy, Doc O'Lena, and Don Quixote.

Fold-A-Feeder Classic

This weekend's cutting event was organized by the Espenscheid family in Big Piney. Brothers Brian and Chad Espenscheid are the inventors of the Fold-A-Feeder, a foldable hay bag used to feed hay to trailered horses. Over the three-day event, there were 269 entries in the cutting, said Brian. The organizers rented 55 horse stalls to visiting competitors. Overall, Mr. Espenscheid said he was "real pleased" with the event - the first cutting he had ever organized or been to. The turnout was what he had expected, and several of the competitors said that if the event was held next year, the turnout would be even greater.

While most of the competitors were from out of county, a handful of local competitors placed very well. Daniel's Steve James was the weekend's high money winner in the Open Class of the competition and Grant Whitman of Big Piney was top money earner in the $2,000 rider's class.

Big Piney's Bartie Bray placed 3rd on Saturday in the $10,000 Novice Class and Mike and Tara Miller of Big Piney placed several times in different classes over the weekend.

Praise for the Ag Center

Last weekend's cutting event was the first ever held in the new Sublette County Ag Center. "People just raved and raved about the facility," said Mr. Espenscheid. Several told him they thought it was "the best in the state by far." According to JoAnn Wagner, a rider and owner of several cutting horses, the arena was great in many ways. "I have told everyone that this arena is one of the best arenas I have been in for a small town," she said.

On Sunday, the Wyoming wind was howling in Marbleton. "It was dang sure nice to be in that building when the wind outside was blowin' about 50 miles per hour," said Brian.

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