Nebraska Cutting Competition Returns to Thomas Co. |

Nebraska Cutting Competition Returns to Thomas Co.

Terri Licking
Marlin Fairbanks on Stylish Wind, came from Burke, South Dakota. All photos by Terri Licking

Thedford – The Western Nebraska Cutting Horse Association (WNC) returned to Thomas Coounty for a two-day cutting competition after a six-year hiatus.

For seven years, every July, they held competition at the Paxton Ranch, on the south edge of Thomas County. There, owners John and Jessica Warren hosted, with help from many friends and neighbors. The Warrens used it as a fundraiser for the Callahan Cancer Center in North Platte and every year several thousand dollars was gifted the Center. July 2014 was the last cutting event held there. Due to a large amount of cattle needed, not many ranchers can host such an event, be it even one day.

The WNC hold two-day events as the horses and their riders travel long distances to attend. This year the states represented as years ago, included Colorado, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.

2020 the WNC was hosted by Lon and Dana Larsen, on the Reed Hamilton ranch which is on the northern edge of Thomas County. The Larsens lease the ranch from Reed’s son, Dave and wife, Loretta. Lon and his son Quinn, who works alongside his parents on the ranch, built the new three pen arena earlier this year with the idea of hosting the WNC in the back of their minds. They removed many trees in the process, remnants of which were seen outside the pens and offered a play area of hide and seek for young ones not riding.

The two-day event lucked out weather wise, held on Aug. 28 and 29, the temperature had moderated from high 90s which had been the norm for ten days to the mid-80s.

“These two days we had over 150 entries. Not necessarily that many riders. Thirteen different categories are the norm, with riders able to enter different categories with one horse, $50 per category; using the practice pen costs as well. Categories are based not only on the status of the rider- amateur, novice or pro, but on the winnings of the horse; plus youth were also able to enter.”, stated Tana Jae Miller, from Pleasanton, Nebraska, secretary of the WNC.

“This is cutting #8 and #9 of 12 or more that we usually do every year,” Miller was recording the results and such on her laptop, and even had a printer when needed. “Several of us will be at the State Fair next weekend, go to the Huffman Ranch at Whitman with a two-day cutting September 12 and 13 and Apache Ranch Cutting at Hyaninis on September 26 and 27.”

The funds raised by the $50 entry fee per category for adults (less for youth,) covers the expenses of the WNC for the black tarps that cover the corrals between the pens, the year -end awards and banquet and scholarships for the youth. The riders provide the work force, free of charge be they the judge or the helpers in the arena that keep the cattle grouped. 80 points is what each rider begins with, with points added or deducted at the judges’ discretion. Two minutes, thirty seconds is the time limit each rider has, Cattle are social animals, they want to get back with the herd. Sorting and keeping it away is how the points are lost or added.

Lon and Quinn were well pleased with how their first hosting of this two-day event went. “We know what we can improve upon to make it better for next year,” stated the elder Larsen.

When open range was the norm, ranchers and their crews would gather two times a year for branding in the spring, weaning in the fall. Each ranch had a remuda of horses, all with different purposes that the men would choose from. A horse that would follow a critter with his ears forward, head low, not crowd it and could separate the animal from the herd with very little cues from the rider, was when a cutting horse earned its keep.

Texas is where the association began, with the first official contest held in 1898, and garnered the winner $150. Fort Worth is where the headquarters are for the National Cutting Horse Association and is where the main championships are held. The purse of today spread out over several championships is in the millions of dollars. To learn the full history of the National Cutting Horse Association, its rules, categories, go to

Cutting is gaining in popularity. If you have not seen one, put it on your bucket list. It is likened to a ballet on four legs, a team effort between two species not seen anywhere else. Both youth and adults compete. The National High School Rodeo association even has cutting as an event, divided between the boys and the girls.