THE CUTTIN’ HOSS by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)


photo © 2017, April Kelley, request permission to reproduce


by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

The cuttin’ hoss, I’ve allus said,
was sumpthin’ of a scholar.
He gits idees into his head
that’s mighty hard to foller.
You show him what you aim to cut,
he goes right after that;
He starts it off and moves about
as easy as a cat,
And if the critter doesn’t run,
he takes it nice and slow;
He cuts it out and gits it done
without no fuss or show.

But if some critter has a trick
and thinks that he’s a slicker,
The cuttin’ hoss is jest as slick
and mostly somewhat quicker.
When he works you’ll find fer sartin
it’s a job to stay on top,
‘Cause he’s mighty quick on startin’
and he’s just as quick to stop.
He shore don’t do no shirkin’
when he starts to move around;
He’s got all four corners workin’
when he squats and grabs the ground.

You will find it’s mighty nifty,
how he moves from left to right,
And he’s jest about as shifty
as a boxer in a fight.
He don’t git none fussed nor rattled;
he can jump and dodge and slide;
Fer his job is cuttin’ cattle,
it’s the cowboy’s job to ride.
He’s a shore enough go gitter
and it sometimes has occurred
That he came out with a critter
and the man stayed in the herd.

So when you start a cuttin’,
why you want a horse that’s wise,
And a cowboy, too, that’s sudden up
between the hair and eyes.
It takes a good clean sitter
and you’re never at a loss
If you allus watch the critter
and don’t try to watch the hoss.
Jes you screw down in your saddle;
that old hoss knows what to do,
Fer he savvys cuttin’ cattle
good as any buckaroo.

…Bruce Kiskaddon, 1932

In a 1932 article by Lee Shippey in his “Lee Side o’ L-A” column in the Los Angeles Times, where this poem was featured, he wrote, “Bruce Kiskaddon is a bellhop in the Hayward Hotel. He also is a poet whose verse is featured on the cover page of the Western Livestock Journal, for he used to be a cowboy before he became a bellhop. Harold Bell Wright recently told Nelson Crow, editor of that paper, that one of Bruce’s poems was the finest Western poem he had seen in a long time. And cattlemen who don’t care much for most poetry say that Bruce’s just hits the spot. We hope that Southern California is not yet too unwestern to appreciate Kiskaddon’s verse…”

The poem also appeared in Bruce Kiskaddon’s 1935 book, Western Poems, published by Crow. Find more about Kiskaddon and about Bill Siem’s Open Range, which collects almost all of Kiskaddon’s poetry and much biographical material, in our features at

Eighty-five years after the publication of the poem, it’s a pleasure to include this photograph by April Kelley of her daughter Hannah Rose Kelley at the Heguy Ranch on Reminics, practicing for the youth stock horse class at the Elko county fair.

Fourth-generation ranchers and horse trainers Hannah Rose Kelley, 10, and her sister Ruby Jo, 5, are featured on the cover of Western Horseman‘s July issue and in a story inside, “Starting Small,” by Susan Morrison and Kate Bradley Byars. The article tells that Hannah has been “…successful in starting about a dozen minis and ponies so far, as well as a few Quarter Horses.”

April Kelley comments about her daughters, “They learn that hard work pays off. It might not pay off that day, but it might pay off a week later or a month later. And that is really rewarding…” The entire article is worth seeking out.

Thanks to Deanna McCall for putting us in touch with April Kelley.