The history of cutting goes back to when ranchers and cowboys needed the skill to remove a cow or calf from a herd for an injury or otherwise. Eventually competitions arose, and once the animal is cut' the challenge is left up to the horse to prevent the cow from returning to the herd of approximately 35.
The rider loosens the reins and places both hands on the saddle horn. The dance between horse and cow begins at a countdown of 2.5 minutes. If a rider's hands leave the horn, they could lose up to three points. Points range from 60 to 80, with the average being around 70 noted Eastern Canadian Cutting Horse Association, President Brian Kelly.
On St. Sept 7, horse cutting could be seen first hand by spectators at the 155th Russell Fair, which is now considered the largest east of Calgary. "This has become a highly competitive event that carries a heavy winning purse -- even more than racing in some circuits." said Kelly.
To have some fun, "as what is the point of all work and no play" noted Kelly, he organized a celebrity cutting at the fair with a few locals lined up like Dr. Ruth Irving from Russell's Village Veterinary Clinic.
The sport is gaining momentum in Eastern Ontario. Kelly currently has about 20 students he trains and keeps six to eight stalls at Twin Pines, a few who will be competing at the Russell Fair, including Kelly himself.
The ECCHA, headquartered in Russell at Twin Pines Equestrian Centre on Larry Robinson Road, was started in 2008 and now includes members from all over Eastern Ontario, Québec, the Maritimes, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Even the owner of Twin Pines, Frank Duguay, has taken up cutting in the past three years after a career with the RCMP Musical Ride. Kelly himself has competed many times at the national and North American levels and is a qualified trainer and judge, stating that judging has become a passion. "It makes you a better competitor and you get to travel and continually learn about the sport."
He also noted that cutting can be relatively affordable recreation at the entry level, but can become expensive as riders compete to win higher classes, as good horses are more expensive. But with that comes the winning purse -- sometime reaching into the multiple thousands.
Kelly plans on attending the next national show to be held in Jackson, Mississippi, in Feb 2014, "which will show the best of the best."