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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Student heads to horse cutting nationals

    a cut above the rest

    When it comes to the term cutting, the average person would think of scissors and a piece of paper. If you were to ask Arizona sophomore Heather Raftery about cutting, her answer would deal with anything but those tools.

    Raftery has competed in a sport called horse cutting since she was 12. She currently ranks third in the world for the 2006 season in the 3,000-novice nonprofessional class.

    This coming weekend, she will be competing in the National Cutting Horse Association competition in Ogden, Utah. A total of 705 participants qualified for nationals from 2005, according to the association’s Web site.

    Based on her standings from last year, Raftery will compete in the senior youth class, which includes riders aged 13 to 18, for the national competition.

    “”You win a really nice scholarship that’s worth $5,000 to $10,000 and cash prizes varying, and the title and a nice trophy and buckles down to 10th place,”” Raftery said.

    The competition lasts for 11 days, as participants are eligible to compete in 11 different classes. Each state is allowed to have 10 representatives in each class compete in the competition.

    This weekend is exclusively for the western half of the country. The eastern half already competed in Jackson, Miss., on March 17.

    For each class there is a trial-style competition that allows people to qualify for the final round. The classes are divided by skill and age and range from professional – the actual horse-cutting trainers – to amateur, to youth.

    Being good at the sport does have its payoff. Raftery has earned a total of $8,000 since she has started riding, including, $4,000 from the start of this season in January.

    Being around horses is nothing new to Raftery, who grew up with them her entire life. Her mom and dad were both involved in rodeos in their younger days, and her dad is currently a horse-cutting trainer. Her mom ran barrels and her dad rode bulls before he began training.

    “”He started without any help and has been able to develop some unique techniques,”” she said. “”I’m extremely lucky to have all of that knowledge without having to work for it my whole life.””

    Raftery said she always enjoyed riding horses, but her dad wouldn’t allow her to start cutting until she had observed and understood the sport more.

    “”If you start too young, you can develop bad habits that you have for the rest of your career,”” she said.

    Throughout the year, there are four-day monthly competitions in each state sponsored by that state’s cutting association. Raftery competes in all of the Arizona competitions but has to travel during the summer months because it is too hot to compete locally, she said.

    During that time period she competes in California, New Mexico and Colorado to keep up with her skills.

    She trains every Friday and Saturday at her parents’ house in Green Valley from 6 a.m. to noon and then 1 to 4 in the afternoon. During the summer, however, she works with her dad and does the same shift every day.

    The sport is very difficult to conquer, Raftery said.

    She said the rider starts off in a rectangular arena with a herd of cows at one end. It is then the riders’ job to selectively choose a cow from the group, using one hand in the reins.

    Once the cow is separated, the rest of the work is up to the horse. The horse must keep the cow from going back to its herd.

    The total time for the entire event is 2 1/2 minutes, an allotted time period in which a skilled rider can cut three cows.

    When the rider enters the group of cattle, deciding which cow to cut is the most important and hardest task to master. Observing the cattle while entering the pen helps the rider decide which cow looks best by the way it’s moving when the horse is coming toward it.

    “”You want a soft cow, but not too soft to where it will stand there, but you don’t want one that will run over you,”” Raftery said.

    This aspect of the sport doesn’t come easily. Raftery said it can take up to 20 years for someone to fully understand how to choose a cow.

    “”A soft cow will set up really well in the cut,”” she said. “”They won’t get scared (or look) back for their buddies. When you get them out there they will trot a little bit and try to get past you, but they won’t be running full on and stop and turn.””

    Once the cow is separated, the horse is trained to keep the cow away from the herd. Well-trained horses allow the rider to not have to work too hard.

    Yet good riders use their legs to help their horses by kicking to keep in position to stay in a straight line.

    The pace of the horse with the cow is set by the cow. The tougher the cow is, the faster the rider will go, which will raise the score because the judges will notice the difficulty.

    The judges decide the winner based on a point scale. A rider starts at 70 points, and the lowest a score can drop is 60, whereas the highest a rider can receive is 80 points, Raftery said.

    The average score is about a 72, and the highest she has received so far is a 76.

    A varying number of points that can be deducted for any of several different penalties that one can acquire. If a rider leaves the arena too early or uses a hand, he or she can lose points.

    During the time period with the cow, a rider hopes for a penalty-free run, clean cuts and a horse that makes it look effortless. This will allow for the greatest score.

    Raftery said she has used a couple of horses throughout her career. With her horse named Bubba she won the Arizona Youth competition three times.

    Her current horse has been raised and trained by her family, and this is the first year that she has used him to compete. It took her dad six years to fully train him before he was ready, but the horse is doing a great job aiding her in her current ranking.

    “”With my third-place ranking, I feel like I’m on top of the world,”” Raftery said. “”It’s such an adrenaline-packed, awesome sport.””

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