Pro Cutter Mechanical CowBy Danielle Roof
Many of us probably think of cowboys as a thing of the past, a profession from another time when the west was wild. Wrong! There are still cowboys and cowgirls among us who participate in cutting, a sport where a horse and rider work together to separate, or "cut" cattle from a herd.
Cutting started out as a way to sort herds on the open range and separate cattle for branding or medical treatment. Today, it is a very competitive sport that requires extensive training and skill from both horse and rider. The National Cutting Horse Association hosts events throughout the year for professional and amateur cutters from around the world, where they demonstrate their skills.
Training a cutting horse requires around 18 months and extensive resources, particularly cattle for the horses to interact with. Cattle are very expensive, require a lot of space to maintain, and are not always readily available to trainers. For the last 32 years, the Pro Cutter has been a technological solution to these constraints. Created by ShowPro Industries in Texas, the Pro Cutter is a device that mimics the behavior of a cow, helping to train cutting horses without actually requiring access to cattle for a significant portion of the horse’s training. Eventually, horses must practice with live cattle, but the Pro Cutter allows trainers to save resources and avoid this costly element of training during the initial period.
The Pro Cutter consists of a control box, a remote controller that the rider wears on his or her wrist, and an ‘animation’ that moves along a set of cables that is the physical substitute for a cow. The animation can be a flag, a stuffed cow, or a ball, and trainers use the different options based on personal preference. The stuffed cow provides a more realistic approximation of an actual cow, and some trainers strongly believe that this is crucial to successful training. The flag provides a simpler tool, and is very useful for fine tuning a horse and rider’s technique, while the ball is a newer option that horses tend to react to very calmly and relate with well.
Recently, the ever-evolving control system reached a major turning point in its design: it now uses a digital radio frequency system for communication between the remote controller on the rider’s wrist and the control box. It is a frequency hopping spread system, where the communication frequency changes automatically. This means that there is no interference from other devices on the radio frequency, a feature that is especially useful when trainers use multiple Pro Cutters in a small area. The system also uses a minimal gain antenna, which provides a mile of range with very little power usage. The current system has greatly enhanced the use of Pro Cutters by increasing the battery life and allowing for the use of multiple devices without interference.
The Pro Cutter is also unique in its use of a programmable logic controller. John Estes, one of the engineers at ShowPro, developed a code for the controller to create a learn/teach function that makes training a more streamlined process. This function allows trainers to show the machine what movements or sequence of movements they want the animation to follow, and the machine can repeat this in the future. The trainers can easily choose what sequences they use in a training session based on what they have previously inputted. The controller also has pre-programmed movements and the capacity to produce random movements if the trainer wants a more general exercise for the horse. This makes the Pro Cutter a highly customizable and versatile tool, fit for any kind of training exercise or regimen.
ShowPro consistently improves existing products and develops new ones, such as a horse walker to assist with cooling down and exercising horses. While it is specifically made for cutting training, it can be used to train horses for any kind of event with cattle, making it invaluable to anyone who works with horses. By greatly reducing the need for cattle in horse training, ShowPro and the Pro Cutter make cutting a more accessible sport for individuals and a more economical one for large-scale trainers.
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Danielle Roof is a senior at Tulane University originally from San Carlos, California. She is studying Political Economy and Education, and hopes to go into teaching. Her favorite things to do when she's not studying are dance, yoga, and traveling to new places.