Living on the ‘cutting’ edge

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:17 pm

As a competitive cutting contestant, Rhonda Helgeson can rein her American quarter horse, Lyddie, to wrangle a cow in a matter of minutes.

The vice president of Tri-State Adjustments Inc., a collection agency with locations in Brookfield; La Crosse; and Freeport, Ill., has been riding horses since age 3 and cutting for the past four years.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved horses, and I just love taking care of them,” Helgeson said. “I love riding them. I just enjoy the whole thing.”

Much of her passion for horses stems from her late grandfather, a horse trader who gave her her first pony.

Helgeson, who lives on an organic farm in Coon Valley, Wis., with her two sons, husband and farm animals, cut a path into the world of cutting when her son Jake became interested in the sport. As a cutting competitor, she belongs to associations like the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Cutting Horse Association.

She describes cutting as a sport of the unknown. In cutting, a rider maneuvers their way into a herd of cattle and tries to separate a particular steer from the herd. They work to keep that steer in the center of the arena and maintain control over the steer so that it does not return to the herd. Riders have 2.5 minutes to get a minimum of three cows out of the herd.

While Helgeson uses her reins to guide her horse out to the cattle, she also cues her horse with her feet. At her weekly training sessions, she focuses on how to position her horse and how to read the cow she’s attempting to command.

“You never know what the cows are going to do to begin with,” she said.

At competitions, which she travels to in Wisconsin and Minnesota about eight times a year, her cutting performance is scored on factors like how well she interacts with her horse, how she enters the herd of cattle, and how she separates a cow and maintains control of it.

While Helgeson has been exposed to a variety of equestrian riding styles throughout her history with horses, the thrill behind cutting and agility of her horse keeps her hooked to the sport.

“I am a competitive person and thrive on pushing my riding abilities to do better each time,” she said.

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