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PALM LATITUDES

Sport Report

July 14, 1991|Kent Black \f7 | Edited By Mary McNamara

Los Angeles' horsy set is giving new meaning to the term cutting edge.

Cutting, a rodeo event, is the latest rage among celeb cowpokes. "It's a sport that embodies the ethos of the Old West: honesty, ethics, hard work and camaraderie," says Sherry Wolfenbarger, Malibu resident and champion cutting-horse rider. "Those values have great appeal here."

Where? Malibu? Apparently. These days, interest is so intense that Wolfenbarger gets about 30 calls a month from potential aficionados.

A cutting competition usually takes place in a ring, where a horse and rider attempt to separate a yearling calf from a small herd. Once done, the horse and rider try to prevent the calf from rejoining the herd. Three judges subtract points based on the horse and rider's ability to match the calf movement for movement within the two-and-a-half-minute time limit.

"It sounds pretty simple, but it is one of those sports that you could spend a lifetime mastering," says Michael Keaton, Wolfenbarger's frequent riding partner and protege. Cutting is not exactly hobby material, however. The horses have been bred for their skills for more than 120 years, and they cost $5,000 to $100,000. To train, you also need a lot of land and, of course, cattle. A true competitor, like Wolfenbarger, spends about $50,000 a year on expenses and competition fees. For part-time cutters, like Keaton, expenses are less, though still considerable--a weekend with an instructor can run $1,000. But for devotees, these are small prices to pay. "Getting on a good cutting horse," Keaton says, "is like getting in a '91 Porsche Carrera after driving a '63 Plymouth."

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