About this time of the year, the cow outfits are busy with spring roundups. We just finished working a lot of country and gathered a lot of mixed stuff into a big herd. The boss has decided to sell all of his yearling heifers, so we're going to cut 'em into another herd. When the old man steps on top of his cutting horse for this job of sorting and they start bringing out the heifers one at a time, we begin to see some action.
They get one out a little past the edge of the herd when she decides that she doesn't like the idea and makes a break to come back. Man, when the dust clears, she's found out she can't out-dodge the horse, so she heads for the other bunch of yearling heifers, which have already been cut out.
While this work's going on, I get to thinking about how hard it is to sit one of these cutting ponies when he really has to get busy. Now, as you know, a cutting horse is just about the fastest-handling, hardest-to-ride working pony in the world. The ability to not only stay with him, but to ride him right, is the ambition of every cutting-horse man.
I've been to a lot of shows where the top cutting horses contest, and seen most of the best men "fit a ride" to them. One of these men sure stands out as the best on my books, and his name is Milt Bennett. Mister, when you've seen him ride Trusty, Woody, Cricket, DuDu, Red Boy or any of the other top horses he's trained, you've seen tops in cuttin' ridin'.
Milt rides like he's part of the horse. He doesn't flop around and have to go to his saddle horn to stay on. When the horse moves, Milt leans into the direction which keeps him in coordination with its actions. This is called balanced riding.
There's more to it, though, than just leaning, for a man has to have something else, leg grip. He needs this leg grip to help steady his balance. Milt's legs are just the right length to get a grip from his knees down through the calves of his legs on the outside outline of the horse's sides. Using this grip only when he needs it, he's able to really get with a horse's actions.
Another thing is the way that he sits in a saddle. Milt is a straight-up rider, the kind your Granddaddy used to talk about. Milt doesn't slump on his rump and look like he learned to ride on a cultivator seat. This slumping causes the rider to ride behind his horse instead of being up in balance. Milt's with his horses all of the time, which helps them to get a top job of cuttin' done!
For comparison, I drew three other pictures of a man trying to ride and train a cuttin' horse. This rider might get with his horse now and then, but he doesn't have the leg grip needed to ride right. He interferes with the workings of his horse, and you can see that he was too busy just trying to stay on to get a top job of training done. This boy stays on by hanging on the horse's mouth, by all of his weight on the stirrups, and by his hand-hold on the saddle horn. Most of the time he's out of balance, both in front and in back of his horse's movements, about a half jump behind and having to ride like the devil to catch up. He never seems to get with the horse, nor does he give the appearance of being part of the horse.
To me, riding is like dancing. The rider leads and the horse should follow. But, in cuttin' it's the horse that has to do the leading, because he's watching the cow to block her every move back toward the herd. The faster and harder she tries, the harder the horse has to work. He can't do much of a job if his rider's flopping around throwing him off balance. Kinda like trying to lead someone on the dance floor who's always getting out of step.
Very few riders are able to train their horses to always do just right, and so they continually have to help the pony by reining. The horse is never sure of himself, which makes him unsteady. He loses his smoothness, his ability to always be at the right place at the right time, and is, consequently, harder to ride.
It is true that once in a while a rider has to touch a horse with a rein or spur to help him keep out of a storm and, again, I go back to dancing. I didn't mind a girl reining me a little when I got to running backwards and couldn't see that we were going to have a wreck. She helped me by keeping me out of a storm. I figure it's the same way with a well-trained horse. . . he might need a little help once in a while, 'cause horses are like humans, we all make mistakes.
Milt Bennett has that little bit of something extra when it comes to training a horse to do just the right thing at the right time. His horses know their business, and he makes it easier for 'em by always riding right. If the horse has to jump forward, Milt leans forward to ride the horse's driving power. When stopping, Milt's upper body goes to the rear because the drive is coming toward the rear. Milt, of course, follows the actions of the critter that is in front of his horse, and he always knows just where the pony is going next. His leg grip helps to steady his balance, which helps him to always do a top job of cuttin' ridin'!