Duluth's only cutting barn: Chasing cows on horses

While there are quite a few dressage, jumping and barrel-racing horse barns around Duluth, there's only one Western style cutting barn. Down an unlabeled dirt drive way, 10 minutes north of Duluth, a friendly group of horse back riders meet inside a white, metal barn at Northern Lights Cutting Center. Just as an outsider would expect, the riders sport black leather cowboy hats and smell like the dusty horses they've been riding.

The horses peak their long faces out of their gated stables as the group gathers and mingles. They're waiting for their owners to let them out and ready them for the ride.

One by one, the horses are led out of their dens and tied to the outside where they've got nothing else to do but itch their noses by rubbing their heads back and forth against the metal bars.

Before tacking up, the winter shed is brushed off their large, round bodies and the snow and mud is picked from their hooves. As the riders bend down and grab hold of their feet to get at their hooves, the horses shift their body weight to keep balance.

Soon enough a thin layer of horse hair and mud covers the cement floor.

"Just wait to see how much hair comes off with a single brush stroke after the horses are done riding and sweating," one of the riders says.

Next, the saddles are tossed up on the horses backs and synched under their bellies. The bit of the bridle slips in between their clacking teeth and the reins droop from their cheek bones to the riders' grips. They're ready to ride.

In single file, the horses saunter into the dirt floor arena led by their riders. Light-brown dust wafts up with every hoof step.

Once inside the gated circle, the nags stop and hold steady as their riders mount and swing their far legs over the animals' backs to the other side. The riders settle into their saddles, fitting their boots into the stirrups, then press their legs against the horses' ribs, commanding them to go.

Some walk and some canter, but nobody trots. The jarring short strides of a trotting horse are to the rider like sitting in the back of a long school bus while driving over an endless amount of deep potholes – it's uncomfortable.

After 20 minutes of running around the arena, the horses are warmed up and ready to cut some cows.

First, the riders practice cutting cows by following a mechanically moving flag that zips back and forth like a panicked cow would. Then, they move on to singling out real cows from a herd they bring inside from the field.

Watch the video above to see how the cutting is done.

This story is part of our #Five3Duluth project, a collaborative social media event chronicling a day in the life of Duluth. If you want to read more stories like this or participate yourself, check out our live feed, and join us on Saturday, May 3, by sharing your pictures and stories that day on Twitter and Instagram at #Five3Duluth.

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