The skills honed by cattlemen and women centuries ago are becoming hobbies in the new West and aficionados like Jay Spinney are using every opportunity to fine-tune their craft.
Spinney is a member of the Four Corners Cutting Horse Club, an organization dedicated to the equestrian event where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time. The event is rooted in Western history, when ranchers needed to maneuver a single animal away from the herd for various reasons.
Though fairly new to the sport, Spinney is dedicated to developing his skills in competitive cutting, and a visit to his home in McElmo Canyon shows his commitment.
Ive been on horses most of my life, but I was a ship captain and that didnt really work with an interest in horses, Spinney said. So I retired and started building my home here.
In addition to his home, pastures and cattle pens, Spinney is building an indoor cutting facility, using a tent-like structure he purchased from Sky Ute Casino.
The massive structure will feature horse stalls, a mechanical cutting training device, and plenty of room to train with real cattle.
I just put it up in the last two months, but it will allow us to cut all winter and keep the horses legged up and working with the cows, Spinney said. You can use (the mechanical trainer), which will be a flag suspended between cables and you control the speed and such from your saddle. You can use it to train your horses to stop and correct and really read a cow.
Though cutting competitions rely solely on cattle as the herd animal to be worked, Spinney is trying a new technique at his ranch using much larger animals.
Housed in their own pasture, Spinney plays host to five cow buffalo, three of which have already given birth to calves. Spinney plans to use the calves to train cutting horses because they have one key characteristic unpredictability.
The buffalo will stay feral, Spinney said. With cows, when you start cutting you will get two or three good days but then they will just mellow. The buffalo will always run from you; they will never tame out.
Spinneys primary goal in building up a cutting facility is to introduce the sport to neophytes.
We are really trying to promote cutting in Cortez, he said. There isnt a whole lot of interest here, but it really is a big sport in other places.
The goal is to bring world-class trainers to his facility to provide clinics and practice sessions for area cutting enthusiasts.
Though it helps to be a well-trained rider, Spinney gives much of the credit to cutting horses, which are highly instinctual as well as highly trained.
They are born to work, Spinney said, while running his cutter, Amanda. It is automatic in their heritage. You cant take just any horse and make them a cutter; it has got to be in their blood.
Spinney said the attraction to cutting is the fact that it is not a spectator sport.
Very few people come just to watch, he said. You want to participate and when you get on a good cutting horse, there is nothing like it. This is the most exciting thing in horses. It is two minutes of pure adrenaline.
On the Net: Four Corners Cutting Horse Club, www.fourcornerscutting.com.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org.