Channelling Instinct


Cutting Horse Basics

Guy Heintz competes on Pepino Boon at the 2000 NCHA Futurity in Forth Worth, Texas
Photo by Barb Grazer

Cutting as a sport evolved from ranch work — the need to separate and quietly drive cattle from the herd for vaccinating or doctoring. Cutting contests began when ranchers thought they each had the better horse — and the sport was born.
The cutting horse has instincts that no other horse has; it’s not aggressive towards cattle and will control a cow by matching its moves. The instinct of a cutting horse is bred into it, much like a Border collie. Some dogs bark and chase livestock, but a border collie will read the livestock it herds. This rings true for the cutting horse as well. People have approached my father to ask him to train their horse; they say their horse chases cows and dogs all by itself. They believe it’s sure to be the next big star in the show arena. Overly aggressive with livestock,
these types of horses will probably never be a cutting horse.
The competition in the cutting horse world is tough. You must be at the top of your game. We have great horses here and great trainers — some of the best in the world fuelled by some of the biggest purses. In Alberta, you have the opportunity to win $5,000 to $25,000 at a single Futurity.
When we train a young horse for cutting, it takes about a year-and-a-half before we show them as three-year-olds at their first Futurity event.
When starting two-year-olds, we begin with groundwork and light riding. Then, in a few weeks or a couple of months depending on the horse, we introduce them to the mechanical cow (flag) and a cow. We work to develop trust in these young horses; we want them to enjoy working cattle. You can see their interest after only a few rides working cattle, their ears perk up and start to flicker. They like what they are doing. As they progress, we start to work cattle out of the herd.

Moneca Heintz competes on Miss Kitari at
the Calgary Stampede Non-Pro Derby,
where she won Reserve Champion.
Photos by Hudyma Photography; Forrest
Maria Heintz riding Smart Peppy Ote at
NCHA National Finals in Utah. Another Rafter
H Ranche stallion, this stud’s record includes
the Calgary Stampede Non Pro Reserve

We have a small herd of buffalo that we use to train and work horses on. We also like to borrow cattle from neighbouring farmers and ranchers. We prefer to use the wilder, snuffier heifers as opposed to gentle, quiet heifers. It’s a win-win; we get to work our horses and when the cattle go back to the ranch, they’re quieter, more manageable and respect a horse.
When spring comes, it’s time to haul our now-three-year-olds to the practice pen. This allows us to work them in a show situation. We also work at a few feedlots
and at cutting horse shows that offer practice pens. Hauling to other trainers is always good; you can check out each other’s horses and spot areas you each may need to work on.
We never want a horse to get bored or tired of the work, so we change it up; perhaps ride in the hayfield, move cattle in the hills or take in a branding and rope off them a bit. All this gets them ready and seasons them for the upcoming futurities. Hopefully they’re ready for “The Big City”.
In the show pen, once you’ve selected your cow to work, you must put your one hand on the horn and your rein hand on the horse’s neck. You can only use your legs to guide him when he needs it. Your horse is now working on its own pure instinct, honed with your training.
If you’ve never tried to ride a cutting horse before, add it to your “bucket list”. This is a thrilling sport, with the quick moves, the cat-like steps and the rush. I assure you — it is an addiction!

A Sampling of Guy Heintz’ Recent Major Highlights
• 2009 NCHA National Finals
Reserve Champion 3000, Novice Horse,
Call Me Smurf (Utah)
• 2009 Spring Cutting Spectacular
Champion, Open Derby, Miss Kitari
• 2008 NCHA Nationals Finals
Co-Champion, Open, Code Six Cat (Utah)
• 2007 Calgary StampedeOpen Champion, Miss Docaboon

Maria Heintz is the daughter of multi-discipline and multi-Champion
trainer Guy Heintz. She makes her home on the family ranch, the Rafter H, south of High River along with her parents, Guy and Moneca. Guy Heintz has won multiple Championships in Cutting, Cowhorse, Reining and rodeo. As well, both Moneca and Maria hold many titles in the cutting arena. For more information, visit