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Local horse cutter headed to world finals

Jessie Hays has done it again.

The Covington native has qualified in the top-15 for the National Youth Cutting Horse Association (NYCHA) World Finals again after previously competing in the competition in December 2015.

Hays, who just graduated from Eastside, will compete in Fort Worth, Texas from July 25-26 and July 28 as a part of the youth division at the Will Rogers Complex. Though she’s been in this competition before, the stakes are higher this time around.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Hays said. “I was in the World Finals last year, but this is a different division, so I don’t really know what to expect. There’s different competition. We compete against people that are up to 18 years old, but the skill level is out of this world. It’s amazing.”

In December’s competition, Hays and her horse Clever Hickory Mate left with a top-3 world ranking and nearly $10,000 over 53 shows.

The Senior Youth division in which Hays competes is for riders that are between the ages of 14 and 18. The show season started June 1, 2015 and ended this past May 31. She competed across the Southeastern United States and against youth from all across the country, from California to Florida, said her father, Julius Hays. She will enter the World Finals in 14th place with hopes to advance throughout the four rounds of the competition.

“I expect it to be fun,” Hays said. “There’s no pressure. You made it to the World Finals, you know. So you just have to have fun and do the best you can.”

For those who don’t know, horse cutting is a competition that first began as a way to round up the cattle out west.

“There were certain horses that could ‘cut’ a cow out of the herd better than others,” Julius Hays said. “Once they started breeding these horses to become better ‘cutters,’ this was the start of the sport of cutting. Competitions began to see who had the best cutting horse amongst the cattle ranchers.”

The NHCA was formed in 1946 by a group of cowboys and ranchers with the main goals of “promoting cutting competition, standardizing contest rules and preserving the cutting horse's western heritage,” according to the organization’s website. NCHA held its first cutting in Dublin, Texas, in September of that same year.

In this year’s finals, Hays hopes to improve on what she’s already accomplished in the past.

“I always want to be a better showman,” Hays said. “You always want to show your horse better than you did the last time.”