Teen has competed in cutting contests since age 5.
By Lionel Ramos
For those who compete, the sport of cutting a cow from the herd is not just another weekend outing with the family; it’s a way of life.
“There’s not a season for it; it’s all the time,” said Haylee King, a 13-year-old from Abilene. She competed with her American Quarter Horse, Swingins Lucky Mate, in the National Cutting Horse Association cutting competition Feb. 9 at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
Haylee said she entered her first cutting competition when she was about 5 years old, and she’s been competing ever since.
Cutting is a sport derived from the 19th century practice of cowboys separating a single cow from the rest of its herd while on the trail, according to the association website, nchacutting.com.
The website explains cowboys, while on the trail, had with them a “remuda” or line of horses that followed close behind.
Each horse was trained and used to complete a different task, and the cutting horse was an essential member to any remuda.
The practice, though still widely used on ranches, is now one of the most popular equine sports in the world, according to the site.
The site’s “spectators’ guide” says the rules allow the competitor 2½ minutes to separate two cows from the rest of the herd, one at a time.
One cow should come from inside the herd in what’s called a performance run, and the other can be selected from the edges.
Once the rider successfully isolates a cow, the rider puts the reins down and lets the horse “work.”
Working the horse means allowing it to keep the cow away from the herd without any direction or help from the rider.
The idea is to train the horse to fight the instinct a cow has to return to its herd, without showing aggression.
The horse is judged on its “style and exertion used to keep the cow under control,” the site reads.
There is not a solo competition; each competitor is allowed four riders of their choice to help contain the herd and keep it from running into the judge’s stands.
Each competition can have from three to five judges.
For only 2½ minutes of showtime, however, the sport requires a lot of time for both the rider and the horse spent practicing.
For Haylee, that means sometimes waking up at 3 a.m. during the summer months to finish her schoolwork before the day gets hot.
She said her schoolwork is her priority, but when she’s done, she saddles and works all six of her horses before moving on to her father’s horses.
Normally, she practices four days a week, but the day can be long and exhausting, she said, sometimes ending at 10 p.m. just to wake up the next morning and do it all again.
Despite a lifetime of practice however, there is no guarantee of winning.
Haylee and Swingins Lucky Mate placed seventh out of seven competitors on her run Feb. 9 with a score of 128.
“I lost a cow,” Haylee said during a phone interview Feb. 11, explaining her low competition score at the rodeo.
“I drove the cow up, put the reins down and the cow got away. That was a really determined cow,” she said.
She said riders have to read the cows and mentally separate “good” cows from “bad” cows and she did not do that.
A good cow is one that will try to out-maneuver the horse, giving the horse a chance to showcase its agility and intelligence, while a bad cow is one that will mindlessly run for the herd–effectively keeping the horse from performing.
First-place was Brea Collier and Smartys Boon, Cypress, 150; second-place was Makenzie Cowan and Exclusive Thyme, Ardmore, Okla., 148; third-place was Will J. Bushaw and Velvets Revolver, Weatherford, 146.5.
Haylee has competed in cutting competitions at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo every year since she was 7.
She said she expects to compete at the rodeo in Graham or Houston next, though she hasn’t decided.
Meanwhile, she said the horses used in the competitions will take time to rest and do light exercise like trotting or walking.
Haylee said the purpose of the exercise, is to get the horse’s muscles to stretch after the intense movement required while cutting.
Haylee said she hopes to do better at her next competition.