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How Cutting is Judged


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What is the Goal?

In the contest arena, the art of the cutting horse comes alive in a classic test of intelligence, training, breeding, and skill. In competition, the cutting horse and rider must work together as a team in demonstrating their cattle handling skills. 

The contest begins as the pair approaches the herd. The horse and rider have two-and-a-half minutes to complete their work.  As the team crosses the time line, the judge's job begins!

Cutting, like skating or gymnastics, is judged by NCHA-certified judge(s) who rate the horse's performance by using a point scale.  A score starts at 70 and then moves up or down from there based on credits and penalties for events that happen during the run.  The judge is the one who determines and applies those factors. Judges use the official NCHA Score Card to notate and mark their scores.  Most scores range from 60 - 80.

Factors that help determine a score

Credit on a run can be earned by a number of variables, such as:

  • excellence in herd work
  • skill in driving and setting up a cow
  • deftly handling a difficult situation
  • showing courage in confronting a difficult situation

Deductions will be applied if any of a variety of instances occur.  Major penalties include:

  • horse quitting a cow when not prompted by the rider
  • losing a cow
  • rider not using a legal method to quit working a cow
  • rider changing their mind and switching to a different cow after a specific commitment during the cut
  • failure to separate a single cow from the herd when performing a cut
  • horse turns its tail to a cow
  • fall of horse or rider
  • rider placing a second hand on the reins

These are just a sample of factors a judge considers when scoring a run.  

The NCHA Judging Department makes the most of today's technology. Video is used to monitor all NCHA-approved events. A videotaped contest can be reviewed immediately following the contest by the judge(s) to help determine if a penalty was applied (or not applied) appropriately.  Scores may then be adjusted to reflect a final score.


The NCHA Rulebook outlines all the criteria judges use to evaluate a run and it is updated once a year.  This is a must read for all new and renewing members.  Not only does it have all of the standing rules, it also contains the judge's Case Book that uses real show examples of situations and how rules would be applied.  

Other Resources

Check out our YouTube Channel with uploaded videos from seminars and other events covering a variety of topics.

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National Cutting Horse Association
260 Bailey Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76107

Office Hours

Monday thru Friday 8:30am - 5:00pm CST