Top Five Myths About Cutting Horses

Larry Trocha at the PCCHA cutting horse futurity
Showing at the PCCHA futurity
with a 3 year old filly.

The Top Five Myths About
Competition Cutting Horses

By Larry Trocha

A pro’s advice about cutting horses
and cutting horse prospects.

Watch the VIDEOS that showcase
how to train horses on cattle.

Dear Friend and Horseman,

Welcome to another Horse Training Tips Insider.

During my career as a professional horse trainer, I’ve heard horse owners tell all kinds of reasons why they think their horse could be a winner in the cutting arena.

Unfortunately, when it comes to cow horses, a lot of folks are misinformed as to what is fact and what is fiction.

And of course, any time you’re talking about horses, there are always exceptions to the rule. But, for the most part… Here are a few of the most common myths.

Myth #1. My colt should really make a great cutter.

Whenever our “dog” goes into the pasture, the colt chases him around and works him just like cutting a cow. (For the word “dog” you could substitute “goat”, “another horse”, “a person” or “whatever”).

I wouldn’t enter the colt up at the Fort Worth futurity just yet.

Here’s the usually disappointing truth…

The dog isn’t a cow… The colt is doing this without a rider on his back… And most importantly, the colt is doing this activity without any rules he has to adhere to, such as form and style of working.

In reality, there are a lot of colts that like to have fun chasing something around. It’s play, pure and simple.

It’s another thing entirely for a colt to become a cutter.

First of all, the newness of working the cow will wear off and the training will eventually become work. When the colt finds out he has to work the cow with precision, form and style, he might not want to do it.

That’s why it’s so important your cutting prospect is bred to be a cutter. If the sire and dam have the attributes to be successful in the cutting arena, the colt has a lot better chance of being successful also.

Myth #2. My colt should make a great cutter.

I rode him out to gather some cattle for the first time and he was really good. He wasn’t bothered or scared by the cattle and acted like it was nothing new at all.

Like I said earlier, there are always exceptions to the rule. But, when a colt doesn’t show much of a reaction to a cow it usually means he’s not going to be a good one.

Every top cutting horse I’ve ever trained, either was fearful of the cow and wanted to keep a safe distance from it or was aggressive towards the cow and wanted to dominate it.

The 1990 NCHA futurity champion, Millie Montana, was the dominant kind.

The very first time I worked her on a cow, she wanted to take charge. Her head went down, her ears went back and everything about her body language told the cow that she was the boss.

The great NCHA world champion mare, Doc N Missy, was the exact opposite.

She was in my string when I was working for Gene Suiter in Arizona. I’ll never forget her reaction the first time I introduced her to a cow. She was so scared of it, she literally tried to jump out of the arena.

The cow would be 150 feet away down at the other end of the arena, but that was too close for comfort for her. It actually took a couple months before she got confident enough to move toward the cow.

Myth #3. My colt should make a great cutter.

He is 99% foundation bred. His bloodlines trace back to Wimpy P1 five times on the top side and three times on the bottom. Those old foundation horses were real cow ponies.

Here’s the actual facts…

Many of the old-time foundation Quarter Horses of the 1940s and 1950s were not good cutting horses (compared to today’s standards).

Most were either common, every-day ranch horses or competition race horses.

And yes, there were exceptions to the rule… horses like Poco Lena… but those kind were few and far between.

Now, if you own a foundation bred horse, don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way. Our topic here is modern-daycompetitioncutting.

Yes, I’ve ridden plenty of foundation bred horses that would definitely work a cow.

King, Leo and Three Bars were the most dominant cutting horse bloodlines. There were a few others too.

But the vast majority of those old foundation horses can’t compare to our present-day sires when it comes to consistently producing winning cutting horses on a large scale.

Side Note: The horse industry in general, didn’t start seriously breeding for specialized cutting horse competition until the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1980s we had horses that were really bred to cut cattle in the show pen.

That period in time (the 1980s), is considered the start of the modern-day cutting industry. Some of the most INFLUENTIAL horses came out of the 1982 – 1983 NCHA cutting futurities. Horses like Smart Little Lena, Royal Blue Boon etc.

If you go to any of the top cutting trainers and ask them to describe what it’s like to try to get one of those old-time “foundation bred” horses (1940s & 50s) to cut, here is the answer you’ll get 9 out of 10 times:

  1. Most don’t have enough cow or intensity to make it in modern-day cutting competition.

  2. They’re difficult to train for today’s type of cutting. For example, they either learn too slow to be ready for the futurity or they want to argue too much.

  3. If you manage to overcome A and B, it’s still tough to win because many of them don’t have the athletic ability and style of modern-day cutting horses. You may find a good one but you’ll do a lot of sifting before you find him.

If you want your colt to be a good cutter, the least you can do is make sure he comes from bloodlines that produce good cutters. And yes, there are horses that are exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between.

Myth #4. My colt should make a great cutter.

I’m going to put him in training with this hot shot trainer for six months and have him shown at the cutting futurity.

Actually, this is a misconception a lot of people have about training a cutting horse.

It takes a long time to get a horse to the point of being “showable” at a contest. To have a colt ready for a futurity takes a minimum of 16 months of training on cattle.

If the colt is an exceptionally fast learner, you might get lucky and have him ready in just one year. This means to have a colt ready to compete in the fall futurities as a 3year old, he needs to be started on cattle by spring-time of his 2 year old year.

Owners are afraid of starting their colts that young, fearing injury to the colt from starting him too early.

In reality, a good trainer never works a young colt very hard. The idea is to give the colt a solid foundation built slowly so there is no stress. When this is done right, seldom will a colt get hurt.

Myth #5. A new owner usually thinks… “I’m going to buy my first cutting horse and take him to a show next week-end.

I should do pretty well. After all, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. The rider doesn’t have to do anything but hang on”.

I sure wish it was that simple. It would make my job as trainer and coach much easier. It’s true, cutting horses are trained to work on their own. However, the rider has a “big” influence on how well the horse works.

An inexperienced rider can cause even the best cutting horse to make mistakes.

The most common ones are… rounding the turns, missing the stop and being out of sync with the cow. Most new cutters don’t realize they could ruin their horse if they don’t learn to ride correctly in a relatively short period of time.

The best plan is to find a knowledgeable coach that will help you learn to ride your cutter the right way.

If you’re looking for some of the best cutting horse instructional videos, just click on this link.

That’s all for now. Good luck.
Larry Trocha

Reining & cutting horse trainer, Larry Trocha
Reining & cutting horse trainer,
Larry Trocha

About the author, Larry Trocha

Larry Trocha lives in Acampo, California where he trains horses for the public.

Larry also offers instruction to riders who want to learn reining, cutting or reined cow horse.

You can contact Larry via his website:

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  1. says

    I just got my hands on a high brow cat, peppys boy 895 grand baby. He is just now 2 I want to start him in cutting and see what happens. I live in eureka mt does anyone know who I could contact about training, not just him but me to?


  2. Julia says

    Need an answer

    My 11 year young Morgan Gelding that had been my show horse in hunter/jumper and dressage only he seemed to get board. Switching to reining that he took to well and likes much better, he moves off the rein to the point of not needing a bit.
    So I had moved him to a rural area where the owner had unlimited trail and even cattle. I had him in a pasture next to 2 bulls and he seemed spooky at first for about a work week. Well they had cattle on one side of the arena so he got used to working past them. One day they were sorting cattle so I had him enter the arena with me leading him he was a bit hesitant about it but seemed okay, so I lead him up to the cattle to move them around he was very interested and after about 5mins he was the one pushing the cattle around.

    Then he started getting a bit aggressive to the cattle such as pinning his ears, and even lunging toward them with his mouth open. So I mounted him in order to give control and direction. That seemed to calm him down and we would sort them out slowly just walking he did great took direction well so we started moving a bit faster allowing a jog and once the cattle got to close to him or tried to get around him he would nip them not to hard just to keep them moving away.
    He has always had a dominant personality but is well behaved and takes direction well. With more work on cattle of course I’am sure he would settle down a bit more.

    So this posses the question, is this normal or good behavior to have when starting a horse on cattle?

    Also would nipping of cattle take points off when showing?

    I was unable to find a good clear answer on if this was good or not.

    Thank you,


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