Mental and Physical Preparation for Amateur and Non Pro Cutting Horse Riders.  Part 1.  An Overview

“If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.”

This is actually a twist on a phrase attributed to Ben Franklin more than 250 years ago.  Franklin said that … “if you fail to PLAN, you are PLANNING to fail.”

Some big words … and they ALL work.  “Plan … prepare … fail.”  Bigger CONCEPTS.

What exactly does it mean and specifically how does it “apply” to a cutting horse competition; especially for a non pro rider and MOST ESPECIALLY for an AMATEUR rider?

Cutting horse competitions are EXTREMELY difficult.    Having played multiple sports at a very high level, I still believe that baseball is the hardest “team sport” … by far.  The physics of hitting and trying to “square up” a  “round ball with a round bat” are mind boggling.  Harvard physics professor Robert Adair wrote a book entitled, “The Physics of Baseball” and in it he remarked that, “… if you didn’t see people do it (meaning hit a baseball), you would say that it’s impossible.”

He was talking about hitting a baseball and I agree however …

… Professor Adair never cut cattle.

No sport that I can think of involves the participation of  THREE separate  individual athletic performers …and TWO of them are animals.

The rider has to not only work WITH his horse; even if it is just to “get out of his horse’s way” but he AND his horse have to “compete” against … a COW.

Moo … Moo … Mooooooooooooo … !!!

The cow, by the way, obviously has some ideas of his own about what he wants to do and, in general, as we all know, what the cow wants to do is NOT COOPERATE!!!

There is a saying in life about the futility of trying to “herd cats” which offers some intelligent perspective on just how difficult cutting can be.

However … there is not only “hope” for the amateur but there are some excellent MENTAL SKILLS; mental “starting points” if you will that are worthy of consideration as the amateur learns how to cut.  These points will help the amateur to not only progress faster in his/her skill development but to be competitive and even … to WIN!!!

Here goes …

ACKNOWLEDGE how difficult cutting is.

Don’t be fooled when you watch the open division.  These men and women make it LOOK easy because they DO it 6o hours a week … and more.

Repetition is the key to proficiency in ANY and EVERY endeavour.

Do it.  Do it correctly.  Do it correctly over and over and over again.

One of my favorite words is  “HABITUTATE.”  Make the correct thing the HABIT through REPETITION.

Don’t understand?  Remember when you were little and you didn’t know how to tie your own shoelaces.  Now … today … do you have to think when you tie your shoelaces?  Of course not.  That’s “habituation.”

Oh, and by the way, it’s not!!!  Easy, that is.  It’s NOT easy.

Now, before you quit and run off screaming into the hills or plop down into your chair with your head in your hands and begin to weep, change your perspective and actually look at your  “acknowledgement of the difficulty of the sport” as a plus; a training “gift”; specifically with your own mental game.

What it means is that the PURSUIT of the skill is where the fun is.  The fun is in the challenge; the PROCESS OF GETTING BETTER.

You’re not SUPPOSED to be great at it by next week.

The Japanese have an incredibe word, “Kaizen”; which means “continuous improvement”.  On any given day … in your own ring at home or at any show; no matter what the size of that show is … your job is simply to show your horse to the best of your ability on THAT day.  Ride today.  Ride better tomorrow.  Enjoy the “process”.  The “winning” will take care of itself and … if your goal is simply to get better every time you ride then the sky’s the limit for you. THERE IS NO LIMIT!!!   Just never stop getting better!!!


Do NOT ignore your “mental skills” or your “mental game”.  It is EVERYTHING.

Think about it.  You do not do anything without your mind.  Nothing.  Your stomach doesn’t work. Your lungs don’t work.  Your heart doesn’t work.  Your excretory system (yes, even that!!!  Your mind controls your body even when you go to the bathroom and … Well, you get the picture.)  Nothing works without your mind so begin … TODAY … to learn how to use your mind.

BTW:  More on this in coming articles.  It’s called “focus”.


The word “professional” does not JUST mean that a person gets paid to do something.  It also means that … they get paid to do it EVERY DAY.   That means that they have a better “sense” of whatever that activity is.  Their “perceptions” have a huge broad foundation based on experience, acquired information translated into knowledge and abilities that are beyond WHEREVER YOU ARE NOW.

Translation: they can help you enormously.

Find someone who is truly “UNSELFISH”; a professional who is proud of his status and truly enjoys “giving and sharing” it rather than just “showing off.”

I understand and acknowledge that not everyone of us can afford a full time trainer to work with us.  That’s okay.  Part time is better than no time.  Go when you can afford to go.  Get a buddy and get a trainer to give you both some time for a discounted “buddy session”.  Go to a clinic.  Get  on youtube.  Do SOMETHING … ANYTHING which offers you good information and insight.


(As stated above) “repetition” is the key to CONSISTENCY in the advanced execution of any skill so …

… go cutting as often as you can.

BTW:  This is the fun part.  This is not work.  Why are you doing this in the first place? I assume it’s because you love it.  Concentrate on the love.  Concentrate on all those delicious feelings; the sights, the sounds, the smells of the ring.

Most people do these things first and foremost because they LOOOOOVE

to do them.

Go for it!!!

What happens when you do something repetitively is that you literally create what are called “neural pathways”.  Nerves connect to each other with “synapses”; the “connection” between nerves and those connections become stronger (see number 1.  above about “habituation”).

This is why golfers and baseball players take hundreds and thousands of swings.  It is why musicians play the same song over and over and over again in rehearsal.


Practice the “right thing” and that right thing will become the habit.


Welcome failure and give it no importance or weight emotionally.  In reality there is no failure, THERE IS ONLY INFORMATION; OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN and IMPROVE.

Thomas Edison reportedly had between 2500 and 10,000 FAILED attempts at inventing the light bulb.  When Edison was asked if he ever got discouraged, he replied that, “I have NEVER failed.  Ten thousand times I learned how to NOT make a light bulb and it all helped steer me toward the ultimate solution.


As much as you can, GO TO CUTTINGS.  Watch the professionals work.  Watch how they maneuver and POSITION their horses.

Very very very important that you begin to …


Cattle are all INDIVIDUALS.  The professionals and the four riders they work with are CONSTANTLY watching and selecting the best cattle to work and HOW to work them based on their actions; the PATTERN of their movements and positioning.  This is where winning rides are made.

There is a type of neuron in your system called a “MIRROR NEURON”.  Although the research is not complete and definitive it suggests that mirror neurons offer us human beings the means of “mimicry”.  In other words it is “how” we learn to  COPY the actions of another person; another athlete.  This is an aspect of visualization (which we discuss in detail in another post) and it works!!!

Go to cuttings and WATCH and LEARN!!!


With all the correct actions listed herein and the (occasional) help of a professional you should EASILY make advances in your abilities.

At an individual cutting you will have PREPARED yourself to the point of TRUSTING yourself and your reactions.  This is a truly wonderful “mental state” for any athletic competitor.  It means that you are not thinking about or FEARING your own performance.  Instead your mind is locked on the cattle and how to win.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky was not a big man physically.  What made him great was his ability to “SEE” the entire arena and (the saying is …) go … NOT to where the puck was but … to where the puck WAS GOING TO BE.

Again, with the help of a good professional and by practicing the mental skills delineated herein, you can become proficient at the same skill.  This means that you are ACTING … NOT REACTING.  You are prepared.  You have a plan.

You plan on … and are prepared … to win!!!

The process works when we work the process.

KAIZEN:  Constant Improvement. 

LEARN and GROW.  Break it down!!!  Slow it down!!!  Do it Correctly!!!

HABITUATE:  Correct habits. Do it correctly over and over and over again.

 “If you are a rider struggling with a performance issue that just isn’t responding to instruction and hard work, then call me now and let’s fix it.   The tip I gave you in this article is just the start.  If you’re sick and tired of competing with EITHER a MECHANICAL ISSUE that is impacting your performance OR the twin gorillas; FEAR and DOUBT on your back and ready to be done with it, I’ve got a systematic process that takes care of any interference you have to your ultimate performance potential that you have seen short bursts of…and want to see it show up consistently!  I can help make you feel great about who you are.  Call me or email me right now while you’re thinking of it!”  I work with clients all over the country on ZOOM! Over the internet!!!

Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help  just realize that ALL of us could improve something with our mental approach to our game.  Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask … or how.  Contact me and I can explain my sports mental toughness programs and you can learn how to quickly and easily improve your own mental game.

I work with athletes and their families from all over the world using ZOOM over the internet!!!








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