Doc West – Distracted Texting & Cutting 101

Illustration by Dave Elston

Illustration by Dave Elston

Welcome to the inaugural column of Doc West – our no-holds barred, brand new column on modern western culture. Watch each print edition for the latest sage advice for the lost and lonely gunsel, and this column for the occasional reprise of the print edition.

Q: It seems like everywhere you look today, people have smart phones, even at horse shows, and that brings up my beef. Are smart phones really necessary in the practice pen at shows? I don’t want to come off as an old codger, but really, isn’t there a safety issue here? For the kid, or “loper” who’s warming up someone’s horse, or, the competitor preparing for their next class, can’t you just leave texting and your compulsive checking on how many “Like’s” your last Facebook post has gained, until you’ve dismounted and are sitting somewhere safely? Don’t you think we need some rules here? Where do you weigh in on this, Doc West?

A: Safety issue? Yes indeed. Let’s legislate no cell phones in the warm up pen! Strike a committee perhaps? A study on the dangers of riding and texting? Helmets and flack jackets for all! What’s a bigger ‘beef’ to me than this pressing ‘safety’ issue is people like you who want to legislate and regulate every aspect of human existence. Without a doubt, it is indeed annoying having the 19-year-old bubble gum chewing, boy-crazy ‘loper’ manically warming up a $50,000 cow pony with no hands on the wheel, eyes down, frantically texting. However, is it really a pressing ‘safety issue’? An equine smash-up derby waiting to happen? Where is the last headline that read ‘Texting and Riding Causes Multi-Horse Pile-Up’?

Are a whole new set of rules and regulations required? 

Rules, regulations and safety measures are largely the child of eastern industrialists and pacified urbanites. Out West, clear from the clutches of suburbia we prefer solutions that are practical, flexible and individual – the Alberta NDP provincial government was loudly reminded of this when Bill 6 was tabled. If you have a legitimate safety issue with a runaway mounted texter, then you can certainly address the offender directly; a quick “heads up,” or “watch where you’re going, buddy,” may suffice. Talking to a trainer, or if need be, the show coordinator if there is a continual problem will rectify 99% of cases. Or, just minding your own business never hurt anyone either.

On a more philosophical level, Benjamin Franklin famously once stated, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Every safety rule that is made, every safety regulation that is passed constitutes a corresponding encroachment on personal liberty, however small or seemingly insignificant. Anytime someone saddles a horse, lopes a circle, cuts a cow, ropes a steer, runs a fence, crosses a bridge, there is risk to personal safety. Risk is a part of life. It was part of life on the high plains 100 years ago, it remains a part of life in the western horse world today. However, it is not the risk we face that separates the western path from the path of others, but the manner in which we face it, and rules for rules sake is not the western way.

 

Q: Recently some horse-owning friends of mine and I got together for a few drinks and the cost of horses as recreational activity came up. Now, I own a couple of horses, and I’m a trail rider, and what with the gear and tack, and feed and vet bills, I’m sometimes astounded at the money I spend in a year. However, when I learned what my friends, who compete in the sport of cutting, spend in a year, I hit the floor. They must be competing for incredible money and prizes, I thought. I hoped. But no, it’s for no more than a year-end buckle or piece of tack with “champion” for this or another class, emblazoned upon it. In other words, trinkets! They talked about cutting as a “bug” that once caught, never lets you go. My question is what kind of personality takes part in this sort of neurotic behavior, and how do I ensure I’m never at risk of catching this bug?

A: There is an Arabian Proverb that says, “The wind of Heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.” If you’ve ever had occasion to sit on an equine of the cutter variety, you’d understand. Nine hundred pounds of turbo charged, cat quick, equine muscle – twisting, turning, exploding into motion one second and slamming into a full stop, the next. Cutting to the cowboy is what rally racing is to the motor head, or the Drop of Doom at the local fair is to your nine-year-old hopped up on cotton candy.

Back when the range was open, cutting horses were used to separate or ‘cut’ cattle from one another. Whether a cow was sick and needed to be doctored, or a calf was unbranded – the little muscled stock type or foundation ponies with cow sense and agility – were used to go eye-to-eye with the most sour frontier longhorn. Cowboys would sometimes have informal contests seeing whose horse could hold a cow the longest, and winning was more a matter of pride than anything (given cowboys had little of value to wager), and so the ‘sport’ of cutting came to be.

Modern cuttings today are a far shade from the early jimmy-rigged contests on frontier cattle in dusty outdoor corrals. Cow ponies are now carefully warmed up in indoor air-conditioned equestrian facilities with deep soft #1 sand. They are booted, clipped, trimmed, shone, brushed and floated. Crowds of curious onlookers, horsie types and tourists have replaced the horsemen and the cowpunchers. Yet for all that has changed the power, the grace and the pure marvel of the cutting horse has not.

Today we find contestants of all shapes and sizes obsessively hauling all over North America chasing, yes, what are ostensibly, trinkets. What kind of personality breeds such idiocy you ask? All sorts I would say, but mainly the mid-life, well-heeled, athletically-challenged, neurotic glory seeker. You know, the ones you see in the cutting pen – on way too much horse, flip-flopping, tipped over, jacked up, teeth clenched, arms clamped like a vice to saddle leather and horse hair, legs and $1,200 dollar spurs holding on for dear life – all done with a fiery desire to win at all costs. Yeah, that kind.

If you don’t want to end up like one of those, the answer is simple, don’t cut. If you must, pen. However, that’s a psychological disorder all to itself. 

Send your western culture question to Doc West at editorial@westernhorsereview.com

Comments

  1. Jodi Sedach says

    You hit the nail on the head in both cases! !

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