Trainer and judge Tim Smith says there are sure-fire ways to improve your run content scores.
Cutting penalties are difficult to overcome. If you lose a cow, you lose five points. Rein your horse after a cut and subtract another point. Make a hot quit or neglect to make a deep cut, and there go another tl1ree points. But how about that sometimes-mysterious column on the judge’s card that’s labeled “run content?”
Although run content can be somewhat subjective, there are things you can do to ensure that the pluses outnumber the minuses when this column is filled out. Top trainer and judge Tim Smith offers the following ways to improve your run content scores.
Make a Clean Cut
According to Smith, the best way to start your run on a high note is to cut cleanly and deliberately. The worst tiling you can do is to begin by chasing a cow. If your pick isn’t in a position to be cut, come up with an alternative. Don’t get so attached to your first choice that you can’t be flexible.
Getting the cow cut is just the beginning. Driving that cow out of the herd far enough to really control it means you have an opportunity to show your horse.
Whether you’re cutting at a weekend show or at a major National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) event, driving a cow up and away from the herd provides more opportunity for you and your horse to impress the judge.
Controlling the cow is all tied to how you cut and drive the cow, Smith stresses. When you drive out and get away from the herd, you’ll be able to control the cow.
“When you’re just going back and forth in front of the herd, you’re not controlling the cow,” he says. “You’re just protecting the herd.”
Judges are taught to reward a person who gets to the head of a cow and stops it, versus someone who is simply protecting the herd, Smith says
Make it Tough Enough
What, exactly, is “degree of difficulty” in a cutting run? In Smith’s eyes, the degree of difficulty involves multiple elements within the run.
It’s the horse’s job to mirror the cow and control its movements. When the horse is doing more than the cow, Smith says, it’s obvious there is little degree of difficulty. Although it’s ideal for a horse to hold a cow in the center of the pen, there are rewards for holding a hard-running cow and then bringing it back to the center.
When the going gets tough in cutting, the tough stay hooked. And they reap the benefits with pluses under “Anlow1t of Courage” on the scorecard.
The amount of courage shown by a rider can make the difference between an average score and a memorable one. Although it’s linked to degree of difficulty, courage also is reflected in how willing a rider is to cut a tough cow and stay on it.
Study the Cards
Smith says that riders who want to improve will study their scorecards with an open mind.
Smith knows, however, that it’s sometimes hard to be objective about your own run, because often a run feels better than it looks.
Reviewing your judge’s card may also improve your perspective.
Watching the video of your run can also help you understand how the judge arrived at your score.
“Look at the judges card with a clear mind and see what they did or did not like, and then go watch the video,” Smith advises. “You might say, ‘Maybe he was right. I didn’t cut very well and, no, the cow never really tried me. And maybe my reins were a little short.’
“A run never looks as good on video as it felt,” Smith adds with a laugh. “That’s experience speaking.”
About Tim Smith
Tim Smith grew up on his family’s small horse farm in Minnesota, and started out in the show ring on jumpers and pleasure horses. He started training on his own in 1984, and two years later won his first Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association (PCCHA) event, the Gelding Stakes, aboard Cal Van Bar.
Smith has served as PCCHA president and as a NCHA director for Region 2, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada. He is a member of the NCHA Riders Hall of Fame and has earnings approaching $6 million.
He and his wife, Diane, an accomplished non-pro rider, live in Temecula, California.