What’s amazing about cutting might surprise the non-cowboys out there.
Cutting, or the act of separating a cow from its herd, is an age-old activity at ranches, practiced by cowboys for generations.
But for about 100 years now, it’s been a judged event at horse shows everywhere.
The amazing thing? Riders cannot touch the reins on the horse, instead moving the horse with just the legs and feet.
Colton Miller, a graduated senior at Navarro High School, was a rookie in cutting, having trained for just four months prior to the start of the high school rodeo season this year.
That makes what he accomplished — in what was an entirely new event for him — even more incredible.
Miller won the Region 6 title and advanced to the Texas High School state finals in Abilene earlier this month, where he finished seventh out of 24 riders, and just missed qualifying for the national high school rodeo by three spots.
Not bad for a rookie year in a very technical event.
Miller was a team roper for the last four years, and got into cutting with the help of Don Pooley, a Hall of Fame cutting horse champion and Marcy Blanchard, who put him on their horse, Metro, for the state finals cutting event.
While Miller did rope this year, he didn’t make the state rodeo in the event, so he concentrated on cutting leading up to the event in Abilene.
“It’s fun being able to go down there, put your hand down and let the horse cut that cow,” Miller said. “It’s a lot more precise.
“What I’ve learned is to have your horse working right — Marcy’s always taught me how to work them — so that their mind is right and calm when you go out there.”
Horse and rider work together to cut at least two cows from the herd and then keep them separated from the herd in a two-and-a-half minute run.
Judges score the team of horse and rider on appearance, herd work, clean cuts, and more in the competitions.
“You have to cut it smoothly from the herd, make sure it’s a clean cut and that you are not causing any ruckus in the herd,” Miller said.
Once the rider drops his hands on the horse, he or she can only communicate with the horse through leg movements — no use of the reins is allowed.
“I’m telling the horse with my feet what to do,” Miller said. “It’s why they train the horses real hard when they are 2 and 3 year olds, so they know what they’re doing in the event.”
Miller won Region 6 in the event, over 12 events throughout the year.
“I just tried to stay consistent, and just get points every time I went,” Miller said. “At the end of the year I had enough points to win the region.”
Miller enjoyed the year competing in the event, with the camaraderie of his fellow riders a high point.
“It was a good year, just being able to hang out with friends, laugh, have a good time, and seeing some of my friends do well and get to go to nationals,” he said.
Miller met and competed against buddies Chaser Crouch and Carson Ray, who finished first and second, respectively, at the Texas finals and will go on to the national show.
Pooley owns Miller’s partner in the ring, Metro, an experienced cutting horse, and let Miller know that he and Marcy wanted him to ride the horse at state.
“I had warmed him up for Don so that he could show him in the open class,” Miller said. “I was riding another horse and it went all right, but as I was loosening up the saddle, Don came up to me and said they were going to let me ride Metro the next day.
“I thought he was just kidding around, because Metro is Don’s favorite horse. I never thought he would let me show him.”
It went well — well enough that Miller earned a small scholarship with his finish at a show in Brenham.
“I marked a 73, and placed high enough to win the scholarship,” Miller said.
Metro was trained by the only woman to win two titles at the National Cutting Horse Futurity championships, Kathy Daughn, who like Pooley, is a member of the NCHA Hall-of-Fame.
“It’s real cool to be able to ride a horse that’s owned by Don, and has training by some of the top people in the sport,” Miller said.
“They wanted me to do well at state, so they let me show this horse, which was really nice.”
Miller rode another horse, Dewey, for the shows in Gonzales on his way to the Region 6 title.
But riding Metro is another story, he said.
“He’s just so smooth,” Miller said. “You have to kick sometimes, but he can really turn it on. If there’s a cow trying to run he can definitely move.”
Metro has a special personality that has endeared him to Miller.
“He’s so laid back, a real quiet horse,” Miller said. “Every time you look at him he looks like he’s about to fall asleep, it’s really funny.”
Metro had previous experience at state, winning the event a couple of years ago with a different rider.
The high finish at state was the capper for Miller’s rookie year showing in the event.
“I felt really good about how we did,” he said. ‘I definitely feel like I could have done better, but I was really happy for my first year and what we accomplished.”
Miller has horses of his own, including a yearling and two babies on the way, he said, so the next year will be spent working with them, and possibly working at a ranch or for a cutting horse trainer.
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.