Read this Quick Tip with cutting horse professional Craig Morris on how to make smoother cuts by controlling the lead cow in the herd. The first step to clean, credit-earning cuts is getting the herd to flow smoothly away from the back fence. This helps set up the cow you have targeted.
But controlling a bunch of cattle isn’t all that easy. Cutting trainer Craig Morris says the key is moving through the herd and then gaining control of the lead cow, which is the first one to walk out of the herd and toward the center of the pen.
Even if the lead cow is a good distance from your horse, you can still dictate where it goes by positioning your horse. Morris wants it to walk toward the judges stands and not swirl back toward the herd.
“If you’re wanting to cut a cow that’s deep in the herd, you still have to control what the lead cow does,” Morris said. “And you do that by stepping into the cattle and starting the flow. You move your horse to make sure the lead cow goes away from you.
“When I step into the herd, I want to be aware of where that cow is and what she’s doing. If I can get her to bump up to the top and walk straight away from me, then I can push the cow that I want to cut toward [the lead cow].”
Driving the lead cow means positioning your horse so that it’s pointing toward the middle of the cow, between its hip and shoulder.
Once the lead cow is heading toward the center of the pen, the rest of the cattle in front of you will usually begin to follow. Establishing that flow makes it easier to drive the cow you want to cut to the same area.
“The other cattle are going to go where the lead cow is, nine times out of ten,” Morris said. “So as long as you don’t get in a spot to inhibit their movement, then most likely they’re gonna go where she goes. It’s all about getting the lead cow to go to the point in the arena where you want your cow to be.”
Morris added that he tries to drive out only a few cows at a time, even after making a deep cut.
“When you get more than four or five cows, you can lose control of that herd real easy,” he said. “You get a kind of whirlpool effect. When they swirl around you, you can only cut what’s left standing out there.”
Morris said that although controlling the lead cow sets up an ideal cut, things don’t always go according to plan.
“If it doesn’t work, then you might have to try to control the third cow behind her, or the fourth cow behind,” he said. “Or there might be a separation in those cattle where you can drive your cow into the gap.”
Regardless of how the herd shapes away from the back fence, Morris approaches his cut with one eye on his cow and one eye on the lead cow. He also observes how those two and the other cows respond to pressure because he likes to keep his options open.
“If you get one separated from the others and she sees your horse, then you can tell what reaction she’s gonna have to you,” Morris said. “If she can’t see your horse because she’s in between seven or eight other cows, you got no idea whether she has respect for your horse. It’s all about learning how cattle react to your horse and how they react to each other.
Read more on the QHN Blog: