Why cutting? It’s a question that’s been on my mind lately. Lord knows I’ve had the time to ponder it as i’ve gone down the road this year. I’ve walked to the herd more times in the past four months than I ever have in my life, and as it goes, after the dust settles on this year, it may be awhile until I walk to the herd again. So, why cutting? I guess we could start at the starry-eyed scrawny kid who loved horses for no explainable reason, except… she just did. Unlike so many of those that get involved in any horse sports, I wasn’t born into a “horse family.” After tugging on my mom’s wrist to ride merry-go-round horses a time… or twenty, I guess she figured she might as well put me on the real thing. If she had a crystal ball, I’m not sure if she woulda sent me to the horse camps, let me drive out to the ranches, beg, borrow and steal to get on horses, jet off to places unknown and wild, but… knowing my mom, I bet she woulda. The only curious thing about both my parents is that, very much separately, and at different points in their lives, they became consumed by a hobby as well. For my dad, racing cars, for my mom, triathlons. So maybe a penchant for horses wasn’t pumping through my veins, but certainly something else was. After watching my parents fully immerse into these worlds, maybe I was pre-dispositioned for a similar streak. The term “obsession” rings through my mind. And obsessed, I was, I am. For those of you familiar with obsession, it’s only a slight axis shift between positive and negative, between passion and all-consuming. But, why cutting? I mean, it’s a sport barely explainable to your average joe and simple sally. It’s a sport so steeped in tradition, so ingrained by certain bloodlines - horse, and human alike - that it seems odd a kid from the middle of Calgary resolutely decided that this, this was going to be her sport. Why not dressage? Why not jumping?
Perhaps we can rationalize that the vast expanse of the west tugged at her heart strings. It makes sense that rolling wheat fields that run up against wild rose dotted foothills would say to a kid, nose pressed against the car’s window, “you want to be here, and you want to be on horseback.” So why not trail riding? Why not rodeo events? That’s where it gets murky. Because, as we both know, the path to chase cans, or journey down trails, is often a heck of a lot cheaper and easier than the path to Fort Worth, Texas. I queried this to a friend the other day, who retorted, if I had been a barrel racer, I’d be well on my way to trying to make the NFR by now. So perhaps, it’s a personality flaw, my genetic coding makes it so. To always wanting something greater. Of course, I can tell you the story of the first time I rode a cutting horse, the way the horse rocked back and turned was something I’d never felt before. Maybe it was that feeling, I learned later on it was called draw, that settled into my psyche and starting nagging at me. But, I can’t quite say that’s it. Maybe, it was the universe interjecting and forcibly shoving me down this path. As if someone put two strong hands on my back and rocked me forward, left me sputtering in the dirt, looking up and ahead, wondering what the heck just happened to me. It would make sense, a kid thrown on an old cutter, tracking an old flag, in an even older outdoor arena as the sun set after a day of work. Who woulda thought? But, I can’t quite say that’s it either. I was never into sports growing up. Fiercely independent, a little too proud at times, and a severe lack of athletic stamina or hand-eye coordination meant I flunked out of most organized sports by the time I hit high school. I’m an only child. The push and pull of whether or not I was an introvert or an extrovert has been present in my personality my whole life. In my adolescence, I was a popular kid with a bit of a wicked side, I was a confident kid who had a penchant for insecurities. Maybe, maybe that’s what attracted me not only to horses, but to such a high level sport. Little bit of independence there, mixed with a dash of confidence, baked with a layer of insecurity. When I first started watching cutting, it seemed all horse. Magical, the way the horses moved against the cow. Magical, the way they stopped. Magical, the way they moved as if crawling. Magical, the way they turned, as if light as air. At the time, I was a teenager that loved all things horse. Wide-eyed and fresh to the industry, I believed in magic, I’d certainly felt like I’d found it in horses. The way horses just seemed to know what I was thinking. The way that horses had the singular and dominating power to make me feel so free.
These days, I know cutting isn’t all magic, although it certainly still has it’s hints of sparkle. Now I’ve felt the teamwork behind it, the way it feels when your corner help hollers ride away and you ride away and your horse says, okay, we’re riding away, I got ya. The way you ride to a stop, and your horse stops underneath you and says, okay, we’re riding to the stop, I got ya. It’s a dance that feels like it becomes more and more intricate, more and more frustratingly hard, and yet, more and more easy, and more and more simple, every time I walk to the herd. I was a bit of a nerd growing up. Always reading. I was a smart kid, advanced, they said. By the time I hit junior high I had the school system figured out. Advanced kids don’t have to try all that hard to do well, and I carried a similar lack-lustre, but often successful, work ethic all the way through a university degree. So maybe there’s something there too. It’s a sport that forces you to learn, every single day. You can’t be lack lustre with this sport and no matter how advanced you feel, year to year, day to day, movement to movement, there’s always a cow, a horse, or even, your damn self, reminding you that you are, in fact, not as advanced as you felt a turn ago, a ride ago, a horse ago. So maybe, I was a big puzzle that got shaken out of the box, pieces scattered across the table, the final image of a kid walking to the herd on a cutting horse. A love for horses, a bit of an introvert, a bit of an extrovert, fiercely independent, very proud, to a fault at times, a smart kid who never challenged herself like she should have… until cutting. The great equalizer. The tester of patience, of morals, of spirit, of pride, of talent, of skill, of listening, of understanding. The most humbling of sports. The sport where if you’re a city kid sitting in the stands, it all looks like pure, unapologetic, magic. There’s no room for too proud, too fierce, too independent, too dramatic, too catty, too loud, too brash, here. Those people seem to exist, and yet this sport seems to chew them around until they soften, or it gives up on them and spits them out. It seems I likely got hooked onto this sport because there’s a lot of room for growth, for passion, for learning. Now that i'm older, more mature, less brash, quicker to think out a problem than jump to an ill-fitted solution, softer now, much softer than I once was, it seems that there’s still that sense of magic when it comes to entering the herd. To letting it all go... letting go of life, of lessons, of hurt and heartbreak, letting it all go, loudly and proudly by throwing your hand down. The simple act of screaming to the universe, well, watch this. When it all comes together and you can hear, you can feel, that horse murmuring beneath you, “Hey, i’m with ya, I got ya.”