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Continued: Horse cutting returns to the Minnesota State Fair

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 23, 2013 - 7:11 AM

Instead, observers often are perplexed by the way cuttings are scored.

Here’s a primer:

• Classes are held for “open’’ (mostly professional) riders, as well as non-pros and amateurs. Some classes are restricted by a horse’s earnings, others by a rider’s earnings. Men and women compete in the same classes, usually in front of one judge.

• A cutter has 2½ minutes to show what he and his horse can do. In that time, two and sometimes three cows are cut.

• A rider and horse have four “helpers.’’ Two sit on horses in the corners of the arena alongside the herd, “holding’’ it, while two face the rider and “turn back’’ a cut cow, ensuring it stays engaged with a horse and rider.

• A rider is judged by how quietly he enters a herd and cuts a single calf, ideally in the center of the pen, facing the judge (and the turn-back riders). The rider then drops his rein hand to the horses’ neck, controlling and/or aiding the horse only with his boots, spurs and center of balance. The rider’s opposite hand grips the saddle horn.

• Well-bred and trained cutting horses work low to the ground while blocking attempts by a calf to return to its herd. The rider enters the herd with a score of 70 and earns credits, demerits or both. The highest possible score is 80 (this virtually never happens), while 60 is the equivalent of zero. A winning score is often in the 73 or 74 range, with occasional 75s and even rarer 76s.

• Cutting can be relatively affordable recreation at the entry level. But to win in higher classes, good horses are required that can cost $10,000 to $50,000 and more. Riders also must be very good, and a trainers’ help is often required. Entry fees at the State Fair will range from $155 to $195 per run.


For some of the approximately 130 members of the 52-year-old Minnesota Cutting Horse Association, Monday and Tuesday’s events will be homecomings of a sort.

Trainer J.P. Bell of Duluth showed pleasure horses at the Fair as a kid in the early 1970s. So did non-pros Mike and Mary Jo Lehmann of Menomonie, Wis., and trainer Tom Bjorklund of Waverly, Minn.

“I ran away from home at 14 to work on a ranch in New Mexico,’’ said trainer Dave Scribner, who grew up in St. Paul and now lives in Stacy, Minn. “By then I had seen cuttings at the Fair, and knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life.’’

That riding cutting horses is addictive — the best and most electrifying seat in the house — is a common refrain. Even those who give up the sport for reasons of money, family, work or injury never quite forget the smell of saddle leather, the dusty arenas and long summer nights passed running down the road in a pickup, a trailer full of hope pulled behind.

Other equine competitors experience these as well.

But cutters alone know the thrill of riding to the herd, cutting a calf, dropping their rein hand and gripping the saddle horn, hoping that for the next 2½ minutes they sit deep and “get along.’’

In the end, it’s all any cutter wants.

Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424


  • related content

  • Kathy Lessard of Rochester competed in the Non-Pro division of a cutting-horse competition sponsored by the Minnesota Cutting Horse Association.

  • Cattle are herd-bound animals that band together while a cutting horse rider separates, or “cuts,’’ one away to show his horse. Runs last 2½ minutes. Cutting returns to the Minnesota State Fair at 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at AgStar Arena.

  • A rider tries to keep a cow away from the herd during a horse-cutting competition.

  • Star Tribune outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson, who wrote the accompanying story, has ridden cutting horses for 20 years. In another 20, he says, "he might get it right." He'll compete at the State Fair next week.

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