How to Coordinate Your Hand and Feet on the Cut

How to Coordinate Your Hand and Feet on the Cut

There are three main things going on as you’re walking through the herd to make a cut. The first is effective communication with your horse. The second is reading an ever-changing situation. The third is making good decisions moment-to-moment.

That’s a lot to manage all at one time! 

This article is about how to use your feet to communicate with your horse on the cut (as opposed to the natural tendency to go to your hand almost exclusively.) The truth is, good communication with your horse on the cut is about seamlessly integrating your hand with your and feet. 

Here are 5 guidelines to help you coordinate your hand and your feet on the cut.

1. Keep your eyes focused on where you’re going. 

When we’re not sure exactly what to do next, it’s easy to get flustered, look down and start moving our hand erratically. 

No matter what, keep your eyes up with a wide vision. Then as you develop the feel of moving your horse with your feet, you will guide him more accurately because your eyes are always focused on where you want to go. 

I’m not sure why this is such a powerful concept, but it is. Controlling your eyes is instrumental in using your feet and hand appropriately. 

2. Know that when you have light contact with the horse’s mouth, he will respond. 

You want to know that at any moment your horse will “listen” to you when you pick him up to direct him or guide him. Ideally, when you pick your hand up, he is light, pauses and waits for you to give him his next direction with your feet. 

3. Point your hand. 

Point your hand on the mid-line of his neck in the direction you want to go. Additional communications as in lateral movement, forward movement, and acceleration come from your feet. 

4. Add your feet purposefully after you point your hand.

  • To add speed to continue on in the same direction, use both feet simultaneously.

  • To shape a horse’s body part, use one foot. For example, a light foot pressed against a horse’s rib cage will typically cause him to turn his nose in that direction.

  • To hold a horse steady, apply consistent pressure with one foot to keep a horse from “wiggling” back and forth. For example, if he wants to move his hind quarters to the right, just move your right foot back and towards his hindquarters and hold it there until he stops moving. Then release your foot.

  • Both feet may be used in sequence or simultaneously for different functions like shaping a horse’s body in the direction of the turn prior to a pivot, but then use the opposite foot to move the horse through the turn.

5. Coordinate your hand and feet when a cow jets quickly across the arena. 

When you get a fast cow on the cut, the movements are the same as described above, but they are happening at mach speed. In general, use your hand to point in the direction you want to go and “keep your horse with you.” However, it’s your feet that shape a horse’s body, move him laterally or across the arena and then up into a cow. 

It takes patience to develop these complex skills. With time they will become more natural.

8 Reasons to Quit a Cow

8 Reasons to Quit a Cow

Quitting a cow is one of those crucial decisions you make at the spur of the moment when you show in cutting or in herd work classes. This article is about helping you make good decisions about when it’s time to decide if you should quit … or not.

But first, here are a few generalities regarding “good, mediocre and bad” cattle.

If your cow is “good” has she been maximized … that is, did you get all the credit-earning work out of her yet?

A good cow faces your horse and goes back and forth for 15-30 feet at a medium speed in the middle of the arena. She has “feel” which means she stops and goes the other direction when you get into the correct position to stop her. The ideal cow never darts toward the turn back people, the herd holders, the back fence or the side walls of the arena.

If your cow is “mediocre,” is she worth staying on for what you need to accomplish in your run as a whole?

Typically this kind of cow wanders around a lot or stays out away from you. She’s not that interested in you and your horse or even interested in getting back to the herd. She also might move at a rather slow speed so she doesn’t give you a chance to earn credit. She’s “safe” but not not run building.

If your cow is “bad,” is the only smart thing to do quit and get another cow?

This could be a cow that doesn’t move, doesn’t respect your horse or who runs all over the arena. Normally, you need to quit that kind of cow immediately.

Here are eight reasons to consider quitting a cow.

1.) She starts off well, but then darts hard towards one of the corners.

The key word here is darts. You can bet that the next time she comes back in the same direction, she will try even harder to get to the corner and/or return to the herd. That cow is no good. Do your best to stop her and quit working her as soon as possible.

2.) She is numb.

She stands there and your turn back helpers are yelling and slapping their chaps. She barely moves. Quit.

3.) She is crazo!

Her tail goes up and maybe over her back. She is on a mission to go anywhere at jet speed and get by any horse she can. She might aim at the turn back horses or just run around wildly in the arena.

If she is super wild and you keep working her, even if she’s not coming in your direction, chances are she’s going to turn on you sooner or later and come at you hard! Stop working her.

4.) She starts off like an ideal cow, but then starts moving in any direction out of the middle of the arena sweet spot. She may not be that bad, but chances are you’ve gotten all of the good stuff out of her and she’s not coming back to stage center. The choice to stay on her depending upon other factors, like how good or bad the cattle are as a group, how much time you worked your first cow, etc.

5.) She starts running from wall-to-wall. It’s time to quit.

6.) She tries to get through the turn back helpers. Thumbs down.

7.) She snorts at you! Quit ASAP.

8.) From the very beginning she has absolutely no interest in your horse.

She wanders from one place to another … everywhere but in the vicinity of you and your horse. She may or may not be that “bad,” but without you and your horse being able to really affect her behavior and stop her, you won’t be able to earn a lot of credit while working her. Again, it’s your call whether to quit her or work her a little bit longer, depending on other factors.

A great way to practice deciding when to quit is to watch cattle from the bleachers during other classes. As you watch, regardless of what the cutter does, decide when you think it is the best time to quit.

How to Stop Leaning

How to Stop Leaning

Have you ever struggled with a pesky upper body that insists on leaning before and through the turn? Do your shoulders and torso have minds of their own?

Try these ideas to sit (and stay (-:) square, still and deep in the saddle:

1. Let go of trying not to lean.

Our bodies cannot ‘not’ do anything. You will be well on your way to sitting quietly, deeply and still as you focus on what you want, instead of what you don’t want.

2. Focus instead on the mechanics and feeling of a silky, deep cutting turn.

Work towards the goal of being a partner with your horse in a seamless kind of deep swiveling sensation as you turn.

You and your horse are a team. Your horse provides the power and the movement. You provide the support.

You each have your own jobs.

3. Understand your horse’s job.

The turn begins with a square stop on his hindquarters.

He then draws his weight one more notch back.

His primary weight just after the stop and just before and during the turn needs to be on the opposite hind leg away from the cow.

So if you are facing left, getting ready to turn right, after your horse stops, he anchors his left hind leg in the dirt. He holds that crouched position and weight distribution to make a balanced turn in rhythm with the cow.

If you’ve heard the terms, “losing his rear” or “fishtailing” … that occurs when there is less weight (and wait) on the opposite hind leg away from the cow.

4. Understand the rider’s job.

The rider must maintain proper balance and weight, in order for the horse to do his job.

Help your horse stop by collapsing your back and dropping as deeply as you can into the saddle when you see the cow slow down or stop. Stay down. Tell yourself, “Collapse. Go deeper … deeper … deeper.” Try to press your belt buckle down and toward your back bone.

Check in with your hips. The hip on the outside of the turn … the same hip as the anchor leg of the horse … remains quiet and still … and heavy.

Now, ever so softly and deeply, your hips are quietly a part of a swivel turn.

Your job is to stay balanced and allow your horse to turn around.

As your horse turns, imagine your hips going even deeper as he turns. Feel the swivel.

Try exhaling into the stop and turnaround.

Wait to use your feet until you have almost completed the turn and you are approaching traveling on a line parallel with the cow. Your trainer will coach you about when and how exactly to use your legs after the turn. Different trainers have different approaches to this piece.

As you visualize and practice these technical pieces, coach yourself in feeling words, like “soft, deep, collapse, go deeper”.

Always focus on what you want … repeatedly.

Break It Down

Break It Down

It’s easy to lump an entire run together as really good, or really awful, and not think another thing about it. (Well, maybe you ponder it a bit longer if you experience the low end of the totem pole.)

I once had a friend suggest that I should make a decision about how long I was going to feel badly about something based on how truly wretched or slightly off my error really was.

What takes your herdwork and cutting to higher and higher levels over time, is your ability to break it down into very distinct segments.

This includes everything from how mentally focused you were, to how well prepared your horse was, to your ritual before you went in, to watching (or not watching) cattle, to how you made your cuts, to how you worked the cow, etc., etc. You get the idea. 

The key is to discover within each small piece where an error just began and make your corrections there. 

I see herdwork in seven distinct large categories.

Then, within each of these 7 categories, there are even smaller chunks.

Getting better at herdwork by approaching it in larger categories and then even smaller segments within those categories has worked for me in my training and in my teaching.

These are the 7 larger categories:

1. Mental and emotional skills to perform at your best “under pressure,” as well as to make the best out of difficult times.

2. Horsemanship knowledge and skills to be able to effectively communicate with your horse in and out of the herd.

3. Herd-work skills to maneuver well in a herd, choose the best cow in a particular situation, and earn score credit for herdwork.

4. The ability to be accurate and in the correct position as you work the cow; anticipate and counter a cow’s moves with grace and speed.

5. The ability to school your horse at home so you can maintain his correctness and become a pro-active rider instead of a vulnerable passenger.

6. Showmanship skills to escalate your competitive advantage and be successful in competition.

7. An ability to design your own program and your horse’s program according to what you enjoy as you stay true to your personal values.


The best news is that sometimes as you master one seemingly small chunk within a category, many other things fall into place naturally.

It doesn’t matter so much about your God-given talent. What does matter is your willingness to build your confidence by improving your abilities within the small pieces within the categories.

Be sure to give yourself credit for what you already know (and can do with relative ease) and then take the next steps to improve that next small step.

How to Guide Your Horse on the Cut With One Hand​​​​​​​

How to Guide Your Horse on the Cut With One Hand​​​​​​​

When guiding your horse with one hand in the herd (with fast cattle sometimes!) smoothness and accuracy can be a challenge.

That’s because sometimes in the heat of fast action, cues can get confusing for the horse. 

You see, early in a cow horse’s training career, he is taught to turn with a specific sequence of cueing. 

A trainer typically initiates the turn with a “pull” of a direct rein. (Direct rein means if you’re turning right, you would pull the right rein.) That direct rein points the horse’s nose initially in the direction of the turn and begins the turn. Then the turn is completed with offside rein and leg pressure to bring the shoulders across the hind quarters to complete the pivot.

Sometimes amateurs and non-pros (and trainers, too!) can have a challenge steering their horse in the herd with one hand, instead of two hands. 

Here’s why.

When you neck rein with one hand during a cut, if the rider is unaware, the horse’s nose ends up inadvertently pointed in the wrong direction at the beginning of the turn. The horse gets confused and becomes “bound up”.

That’s because the horse responds to pressure in his mouth first, instead of pressure on his neck. He feels the offside rein shorten and “thinks” it’s a direct rein cue. He points his nose toward the offside shortened rein, but unfortunately, it’s opposite the direction of the turn. 

Then, the harder you try to neck rein, the more the offside rein shortens and pulls the horse’s nose even more in the wrong direction.

The secret to an accurate turn is to always make sure your horse’s nose is pointed either straight ahead or in the direction you want to go before you apply the offside rein and leg.

Here’s how …

To initiate the turn, first lift your hand to lightly connect to your horse’s mouth. (This is one of the reasons we back horses right before walking to the herd … so they get back off the bit easily.)

Next, place a soft calf/leg pressure on the horse’s side in the direction you want to pivot. The key words here are “soft pressure.” Most horses will respond with a tilt of the nose toward the same side where you lightly touch your calf/leg to your horse’s ribs.

Only THEN, when the nose is faced forward or pointed toward where you want to go, do you apply offside rein and leg pressure to initiate and follow through with the turn.

Needless to say, this sequence of rider cues requires muscle memory when things happen quickly in the herd. 

You can make this an automatic skill by practicing guiding your horse outside of the herd with one hand. Take your time. Practice slowly and frequently to get the sequence down:

  • Look where you want to go.

  • Have light contact with your horse’s mouth.

  • Apply just enough soft calf pressure on your horse’s ribs to tilt his nose in the direction of the turn.

  • Apply neck rein and off side leg pressure to initiate and complete the turn or pivot.