Confessions of a novice cutting horse competitor

By Kirby Hidy

Strangely enough, I didn’t feel all that nervous as I led my horse from her stall that hot July afternoon. I felt hot. I felt sweaty. I felt thirsty. But I really didn’t feel nervous.

It must have been 95 degrees, maybe 96 at the annual July 4th Mid-Ohio Cutting. Yes sir, I was feeling pretty calm, all things considered.

I led my mare to the regular spot by the tack room and tied the lead rope to the ring on the wall and began saddling her. I had only shown my horse (or any horse for that matter) twice before, and the bridle had never left the bag in which I had carried it home. The splint boots had been carefully washed so they looked fairly new and white.

I tried to look calm and casual so I might create the illusion I had been doing this for years. I led her from the barn and toward the warm-up area. Everything just like we always do.

We stopped at the edge of the grassy area where the other cutters were loping their horses, getting ready for their own classes. I hoped there weren’t too many who witnessed my rather awkward mount.

My mounting style isn’t all that smooth compared to just about every other rider I’ve ever seen. In spite of my fantasies and dreams, I just ain’t built much like your classic cowboy. In the first place, I’m short and my horse is tall. In the second place, my job does not afford me the exercise necessary to counter my love of Chinese food and bedtime dishes of ice cream. In the third place, it’s hard to keep your stomach sucked in for eight or 10 hours at a show. Sooner or later, it becomes obvious I’m a weekend cowboy, a desk jockey who pushes paper instead of cows and spends more time riding the staff than I do my horse.

All too soon, it was time for my class. My mouth was dry. There was a terrible roaring in my ears. I could barely catch my breath, and my heart was pounding so hard that I thought it would knock me right out of the saddle I had labored so hard to climb into. I tried to assume the “cutters slump,” but the video I saw later showed my posture more akin to a fetal position. I felt a little dizzy and light headed.

I reined my horse to the right side, the herd holders moved in, squeezing the cattle together, as I timidly made my way into the valley of the shadow.

We were surrounded by a rolling sea of black baldies, Hereford crosses, Shorthorn crosses and crosses of indeterminate origin. The herd holders’ voices began to take on a slightly higher pitch suggesting just a hint of urgency, doing their best to verbally help me out of the herd. “Step ‘er on up there … Don’t pick too soon … Way in front, look … Get up to your cow … Step ‘er on up there … Get Up To Your Cow … GO ON, GET UP THERE! … GET BEHIND YER COW!”

I squeezed my legs into my mare’s sides but nothing happened. I squeezed harder. Nothing.

The voices were coming faster and louder now. The cattle were beginning to scatter. My horse wasn’t moving. The tell-tale video showed me indeed squeezing my legs, cueing my horse forward, while at the same time, picking up and pulling back on the reins, signaling a stop. I thumped her hard. She took a reluctant step forward. Three cows stood in front of me. Good knows what was beside me or behind me.

I could feel myself starting to get upset. Nothing was going the way it did when we practiced last week. My mind was a complete blank. I couldn’t remember anything I had learned, heard, seen or read about. I was completely lost. I wanted to scream, “TIME OUT! STOP THE CLOCK. I GOTTA REGROUP HERE BEFORE I THROW UP.”

It was just like the classic nightmare when you’re being chased and your legs won’t work except in this nightmare, I couldn’t make my horse’s legs work.

Just then one of the cows in front of me began to move off to my left. Another began moving off to the right. One stayed in the middle. I went for them all … at the same time. The cow in the middle just stood there … amazed, I think. All three cows escaped easily and I proceeded back to the herd.

This time I didn’t go so deep into the herd. I looked to see if by chance, by some miracle, there was a solitary cow that had dribbled out into the arena, one that I might have a chance of keeping separate from the herd for however much time was left. My prayers were answered. I wheeled my mare around to go after it. As I reined to the right, the cow took off to the left.

I checked my horse, turned her back around and kicked her hard, chasing after a cow that had already been lost. Back to the herd.

It was at this point that I broke out into a cold sweat and began to feel a little nauseous as the thought occurred to me that I might not get a cow out of this herd at all!

Surely not. That surely wouldn’t happen to me. I’ve always managed to get a cow out. Badly yes, and sometimes by accident, but I always got a cow out.

Then it happened. The buzzer sounded. My time was up. I went cowless for two and one half minutes.

I stopped my horse and patted her neck. To each man I nodded thanks. My chin dropped to my chest as I slowly rode from the arena.

I headed toward the pasture to ride around a bit. I knew sooner or later, I’d have to face someone.

My friend Rodney made his way toward me. Near the edge of the grass he stopped his horse and waited. We made nearly an entire lap before either of us spoke.

Finally Rodney spoke up. “This cutting thing isn’t as easy as we tend to make it sound. If it was, everyone would do it. That’s why we work at it so hard. It takes a long time, a lot of practice and a good horse.

“You can’t mark unless you compete. And you’ll never be competitive without experience. And you can’t get experience, good or bad, unless you enter,” Rodney said.

Then I remembered that the Ohio State Fair cutting was coming up pretty soon and quittin’ just isn’t the cowboy way.


Kirby survived his first real attempt at competing on his cutting horse and did indeed show at the Ohio State Fair cutting horse show a month later. A lifelong horse enthusiast, Kirby didn’t get serious about horses until just after his 40th birthday when his wife presented him with a halter, telling him to fill it with what he’d always wanted. With that, Kirby bought his first horse and entered the world of cutting horses. Looking back he says he could have a much bigger house were it not for years of misadventures with horses.

In 1995, Kirby and his family left Ohio and moved to Texas, assuming the position of director of marketing for the National Cutting Horse Association.  Over the next 10 years, showing primarily in American Cutting Horse Shows (the cutting horse world’s equivalent of AAA baseball), he and his horses placed in the top 10 in ACHA world standings three years in a row and won eight champion or reserve champion buckles, as well as several other awards and premiums. He served as president of the American Cow Town Cutting Horse Association for two years.

 In 2007, his horses sold, Kirby returned to Ohio and is an agricultural marketing specialist for Ohio’s Country Journal and Ohio Ag Net. He and his wife, Kim, have three children and reside in Fayette County.

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