If you’re only now learning about Texas trial lawyer Ernest Cannon’s legendary cutting horse Jae Bar Fletch, it only makes sense that the more you know about the art of horse cutting itself, the better you can understand his achievements. This demonstration of grace, intelligence and discipline has a distinguished history, imposes some strict rules, and requires specific traits in the horses selected for it.
Origins of Horse Cutting
Horse cutting is an equestrian discipline in the Western style (as opposed to European disciplines). The modern sport of horse cutting wins awards and garners attention from enthusiasts as an exhibition of skill, training, and temperament. However, its origins stem from everyday practical work. Old West cowboys who led 19th-Century cattle drives depended on their horses’ ability to manage the direction of both individual animals and entire herds using a technique known as cutting.
Although cowboys and ranchers had long competed casually to determine whose horses made the best cutters, Haskell, Texas hosted the first official horse cutting competition on record in 1898. As more and more stock show began hosting horse cutting competitions, an official body called the National Horse Cutting Association or NHCA was created to establish standard rules and regulations.
Jae Bar Fletch and Ernest Cannon at the 1990 Will Rogers Futurity - photo by G. Willis
Modern Horse Cutting Rules and Standards
Modern horse cutting competitions involve 2.5-minute runs in which the horse makes sharp motions known as cuts to divert or guide cattle as skillfully, stylishly, and efficiently as possible. During a typical run, the horse must make two cuts, with at least one of the cuts diverting cattle from the middle of the herd.
Once a horse has managed to peel a cow away from the herd, the rider relies purely on the horse’s skill at keeping the cow away from the herd. Scoring for a cutting run is based on a scale ranging from 60 to 80.
Jae Bar Fletch and Ernest Cannon at the 1983 NCHA Futurity - photo by Ray Bankston
Ideal Cutting Horse Characteristics
As an American Quarter Horse, Jae Bar Fletch represented one of the most popular breeds in the horse cutting world. Breed isn’t everything, however, since Arabians, Morgans, Australian Stock Horses, and other breeds can also make excellent cutters. The traits and abilities of the individual horse play a much more important role, with trainers keeping a sharp lookout for the ideal blend of characteristics. An ideal cutting horse (like Jae Bar Fletch) will exhibit the following qualities:
An ideal cutting horse will have the right overall shape, size, muscle development, and proportions to get the job done with ease, authority, and athleticism.
Cutting horses must be able to make fluid motions, spinning, sliding, or stopping on a dime as needed to cut and control cattle.
A cutting horse must have a kind of sixth sense about how and where cows will naturally want to go, so they can anticipate and control the cows’ movement. An ideal cutting horse will display boldness and confidence in its guidance of the cattle.
A cutting horse must work well with its rider and trainer. A good temperament, along with a willingness to work hard and accept training, all count as necessary qualities.